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Wheel of Fortune is an Americanmarker television game show created by Merv Griffin, and hosted by Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Three contestants (occasionally three pairs of contestants) compete against each other to solve a word puzzle for cash and prizes.

The show first aired in 1975 on daytime network television. The current version has been syndicated in prime time access since September 19, 1983. Its 27th season premiered on September 14, 2009. It is the longest-running syndicated game show in American television history and the second-longest in either network or syndication (behind the current CBS version of The Price Is Right, which began airing in 1972). It is also the third longest running first-run syndicated program in the United States, behind Entertainment Tonight (which began in 1981) and the now-canceled Soul Train (which aired new episodes from 1971-2006). The show is produced by Sony Pictures Television and distributed by CBS Television Distribution.


Pat Sajak, a former weatherman, has hosted the syndicated Wheel of Fortune since its 1983 inception. Co-host and letter-turner Vanna White also reprised her role from the daytime version. Jack Clark was the first announcer on the nighttime version until just before his death in July 1988. Disc jockey M. G. Kelly filled in until original daytime announcer Charlie O'Donnell returned in February 1989; Johnny Gilbert, Don Pardo and Don Morrow have filled in at various times as well. Clark and O'Donnell have also worked as warm-up acts for the studio audience.


Before the syndicated version began in 1983, Sajak had hosted the daytime version of the show on NBC, taking over that role from Chuck Woolery in 1981. When it debuted, the nighttime Wheel offered a larger prize budget than its daytime counterpart, such as a $5,000 wedge on the Wheel. By 1986, the show had the highest ratings of any syndicated television series in history, and in 1987, it was renewed for another five seasons at that point.

Game play

The show's main premise is word puzzles, which are presented with an appropriate category and none of the letters revealed. Games typically include three contestants, each of whom spins the Wheel to determine the cash value of a letter in each turn, or buy a vowel if he or she has at least $250. The Wheel also contains special spaces which affect the course of gameplay, as well as special prizes. While other non-cash wedges have varied in the show's history, the Wheel has always featured Bankrupt and Lose a Turn, both of which forfeit the contestant's turn, with the former also eliminating any cash and/or prizes earned within that round. Since 2000, the show has also featured Toss-Up puzzles, which are filled in one letter at a time and can be solved after ringing in with a buzzer.

At the end of the game, the highest-scoring contestant plays a bonus round. Here, he or she is given a smaller, partially filled-in puzzle and asked for additional letters to assist in solving it within a ten-second time limit. A correct solve earns a bonus prize which is determined by spinning a smaller wheel prior to the beginning of the bonus round.


The Wheel of Fortune set, as seen in 2006.
Various changes have been made to the basic set since the show's premiere in 1983, including changes to the color of the floor and various additions of lights/strobes to the puzzle board and contestant backdrops.

In 1996, a large video display was added center stage, which was then upgraded in 2003 as the show began the transition into high-definition broadcasting. The set decorations change with each weekly set of themed programs. Dick Stiles was the show's first art director, and the production is currently designed by Renee Hoss-Johnson.

The show was originally taped at NBC Studiosmarker in Burbank, the same place where its daytime counterpart was taped. In 1989 the show moved to CBS Television Citymarker, remaining there until 1995 when production moved to its current home at Sony Pictures Studiosmarker.

Puzzle boards

Until 1997, the show used a manually-operated puzzle board composed of 48 trilons in four rows (11, 13, 13 and 11, respectively). The board was surrounded by a double-arched border of lights which flashed at the beginning and end of the round. When a letter was placed in the puzzle, its space would light up and Vanna White would turn the trilon to reveal it. On February 24, 1997, the show adopted a computerized board composed of 52 monitors (adding one space to each row). To illuminate a letter during regular gameplay, White simply touches the edge of the monitor, although the board may be controlled remotely to reveal letters or solutions. The new puzzle board made Toss-Up puzzles possible and also facilitated an evolution of the hostess' role, which was originally justified by the need to turn letters.

The digital board also no longer requires taping to stop in segments that feature more than one puzzle. With the prior board, while the viewers at home saw a seamless transition to the next puzzle, what actually happened was a show stop down, during which the board would be wheeled off stage while the new puzzle was loaded in by hand out of sight of the contestants, who would typically stand in some place on the sound stage where they could not see the board. With the new board, no stop downs were necessary, meaning tapings could finish more quickly at a lower cost to the production company. In 2007, the current puzzle board was revamped with new flat screens.

Contestant Area

Various changes have been made to the backdrops seen behind the contestants.
The contestants stand behind a large, padded railing that provides leverage when spinning the wheel. The area behind the contestants originally contained colored shapes that provided a backdrop as well as an additional scoreboard for displaying the amount a contestant had placed "on account" (see Shopping). In 1997, the backdrops were removed in favor of a display that fit the theme for that week's set of tapings. In 1998, a video wall replaced the themed backdrops displayed behind the contestant. This video wall was upgraded in 2003.

Until 2002, the show used eggcrate displays to display scores. The eggcrate displays were replaced by LCD monitors in 2002 and again were replaced by flat-screen plasma displays in 2007. Also beginning in 2002, special animations play on these monitors if a contestant lands on "Bankrupt" or "Lose a Turn".

The Wheel

Season 26 (2008-2009) Wheel configuration.
The Wheel mechanism weighs two tons (4,000 lbs.) and is surrounded by light extensions. Until 1997, the Wheel was spun automatically during the show's opening and closing and featured alternating gold lights and panels. These were replaced by a metallic blue circle surrounded by gold panels, with several similar paneled spikes going around the Wheel and the Wheel no longer spun automatically during these segments. The current LED and glass light extension debuted in 2003, but was changed from blue to gold in 2009.

Prior to 1996, three different dollar value configurations were used during each show. There have never been amounts under $100 on the syndicated Wheel and the only cash space not to end in "50" or "00" was a $175 wedge that was subsequently removed in 1985. The current configuration is based on the one formerly used in Round Three (Round Two prior to 1987). In 2008, the configurations were revamped slightly, with the addition of a few new colors and dollar values.

From 1983-1984, the lowest value on the wheel was $100. This was increased to $150 in 1985 and to $250 in 1996. The lowest value has been $300 since 1999.

Theme music

From 1983-2000, the show's theme music was "Changing Keys" by Griffin. Over the years, the theme was re-recorded several times in various arrangements from jazz to big band. The arrangements were by Griffin's longtime musical director, Mort Lindsey, with some of Lindsey's sidemen including Plas Johnson, Nick Ceroli and Jack Sheldon participating in the recordings.

Since 2000, the main theme of the show has been "Happy Wheels" by the late Steve Kaplan, which was remixed in 2002 and 2004 by Kaplan and in 2006 by Frankie Blue. Since 2007, a theme by John Hoke has been used.

Winnings records

Contestant Michelle Loewenstein became the first, and to date only, winner of the $1 million bonus prize on October 14, 2008, with total winnings of $1,026,080.


Board games

Numerous board game versions of the game show have been released by different toy companies. The games are all similar, however, incorporating a wheel, a puzzle display board, play money and various accessories like Free Spin tokens.
  • Milton Bradley released the first board game in 1975. In addition to all the supplies mentioned above, the game included 20 prize cards (to simulate the "shopping" prizes of the show; the prizes ranged in value from $100 to $3,000). Two editions were released.
  • Pressman Toy Corp. released several different editions between 1985 and 1991. They also released two Deluxe versions in the mid-1980s that featured a real spinning wheel which allowed dollar amounts on the wheel to be changed for each round (with the help of extra wedges).
  • Tyco/Mattel created three editions between 1992 and 1998.
  • Parker Brothers released their own version in 1999.
  • Pressman, which currently retains rights to the home game, has released four editions since 2002 including a 20th Anniversary edition, a Simpsons Edition and a Disney Edition. The "Disney Edition" has a "hidden Mickey"-shaped wheel in the same style as the company's Deluxe Editions, albeit with only a few specific spots to place certain Disney-related prizes.
  • Endless Games released a card game version of the show in the summer of 2008.
  • Irwin Toys released a tabletop version in 2009.

Video, arcade, slot and online games

Mobile game

In 2005, Info Space Games teamed up with Sony Pictures Mobile to create the mobile game Wheel of Fortune for Prizes. Players competed against others across the U.S. in multi-player tournaments for a chance to win daily and weekly prizes.


  1. David Schwartz, Steve Ryan and Fred Wostbrock, The Encyclopedia of TV Game $hows, Third Ed., Checkmark Books, 1999, p. 224.
  2. Wheel of Fortune

External links

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