Very, very quietly, one must assume, Wheel of Fortune turns 40 this year. The current syndicated version has been around since 1983, but the show started off as a network entry 8 years earlier on NBC.
Actor-singer Chuck Woolery was tapped as the show's initial MC, with Susan Stafford as the letter-turning co-hostess. This was after creator-producer Merv Griffin had tried out Edd Byrnes (ex-77 Sunset Strip) as host in not one, but two pilots, but Byrnes was sacked because he had to remind himself what the vowels were. Woolery lasted six years (1975-81), before being replaced by a Chicago-based weatherman, Pat Sajak, who, except for a nearly 2 year period (1989-91), has been at the helm ever since. Stafford left in 1982, succeeded by Vanna White, who's now the longest tenured at 33 years and counting. As we previously documented, Sajak left to try his hand at doing a talk show. Wheel eventually followed Sajak to CBS, but was back at NBC in due course. During this time, Griffin tried to fill Sajak's role with former San Diego Chargers kicker Rolf Benirshke, who lasted six months before being replaced by Bob Goen. After Wheel ended its 2nd NBC run (w/Goen) in 1991, it's remained exclusively in syndication ever since.
Let's take a trip back in time to New Year's Eve 1979, with Chuck and Susan.
The game format has long since changed, but I thought it'd be a nice idea to give you a look at what it used to look like. Eliminating the shopping portion of the game, in ye scribe's opinion, might've been a mistake, but without the change, would Wheel still be on the air today?