|Chuck Woolery in front of a vertical wheel on the set of Shopper's Bazaar.|
Wheel of Fortune was created by television personality Merv Griffin through his production company Merv Griffin Enterprises. The show was inspired by two things: long car trips in his childhood where he would pass the time with his sister playing hangman, and being drawn to roulette wheels in casinos. Griffin pitched the show to Lin Bolen, then-head of NBC’s daytime programming, who greenlit the idea so long as Griffin added a shopping element. In 1973, Griffin created the pilot for Shopper’s Bazaar with Chuck Woolery as host. Two more pilots tweaking the gameplay were filmed under the name Wheel of Fortune, hosted by Edd Byrnes, until the show was finally picked up in 1974 with Woolery again hosting and Susan Stafford as hostess. A few years in they would be replaced by Pat Sajak and Vanna White, respectively.
|Publicity shot of Woolery and Stafford on the Wheel of Fortune set.|
Wheel debuted on NBC on January 6, 1975. It featured three contestants competing against each other to solve a themed word puzzle (person, place, thing, phrase, etc.) by gradually filling in letters and calling out the solution once they knew it. They each took turns spinning a wheel carved up into 24 sections comprised of different money amounts or prizes (some changed each round), a “lose a turn” and two “bankrupt” spaces. A correct letter guess netted the contestant whatever prize the wheel landed on, with money amounts being multiplied by however many of the letter appeared in the puzzle. Vowels had to be purchased from their accumulated dollar amount during their turn. A contestant’s turn was over once they landed on one of the bad spaces or made an incorrect guess.
|Pat Sajak and contestants on a themed dressing of the Wheel set.|
Initially, winners of a round were allowed to spend their winnings on various prizes displayed on the stage, but that was dropped by the end of the 80s. The ultimate winner would play a bonus round where they blindly selected a prize, were spotted the letters R-S-T-L-N and E, and had to provide three more consonants and a vowel. If they were able to successfully guess the puzzle, they won the prize they had selected. While the rules, format, set and even its broadcast network may have changed over the years, the basic gameplay of the show has remained the same and the show has become a worldwide franchise with over forty international adaptations.
|The Wheel 2000 set.|
In 1997, Scott Sternberg developed a kid’s version of the show for American Saturday morning television (a German version, Kinder-Glücksrad, aired in 1992). The basic format remained the same, where kids aged 10-15 years would spin a wheel and guess a letter. However, instead of money, they played purely for points and prizes (won on either the wheel or awarded to the winner of the round). Each round, one of the contestants in succession would get to choose the puzzle’s category from an option of three. The categories were similar to the adult version, but used “hipper” designations like “Globetrotter” (geography), “Lab Test” (science), “Book Soup” (literature), “Above & Below” (stuff found above and below the Earth), and “Space Case” (outer space), amongst others.
|Publicity shot of David Sidoni.|
Along with a more manic and “kid-friendly” set, “lose a turn” was renamed the “Loser” spot (which netted the player that landed on it a “Big L” gesture from the hosts) and “bankrupt” became “The Creature”. “The Creature” caused the wheel to rise, belch smoke, and an unseen creature would “eat” that player’s points (in the first two pilot recordings, the Creature actually “ate” the player out of the remainder of the round). There was also a spot marked “www.wheel2000.com”, which allowed a player at home who registered on the site to win a prize, and a special spot which allowed a player to play a stunt (like sending balls down a tube system and guessing what color of a roulette wheel they’d land on) to earn three extra letters to fill in the puzzle. The stunts were only included in the first round; for the remainder of the game, they were replaced with large 250-point spots. The bonus round was the same as in the adult version, except with only two prizes to choose from instead of five.
|Cyber Lucy with the category choices.|
Wheel 2000 debuted on CBS on September 13, 1997, and then aired a month later on Game Show Network. David Sidoni served as the show’s host. However, the hostess was decidedly different than the adult version. Instead of an actual person, a real-time computer-generated character known as Cyber Lucy (voiced and controlled by Tanika Ray) appeared on the game board where the puzzle would appear and interacted with the players in real-time. She would handle the category selections, tell players if they selected a correct letter, and engage in some playful trash talk along with Sidoni. Lucy was designed by Don Shank and her animation provided by Modern Cartoons. To meet FCC educational requirements, Lucy would provide some kind of educational fact related to a solved puzzle, and Eileen McMahon served as the show’s educational consultant. Dan Sawyer was the show’s composer.
|Cyber Lucy with the puzzle in play.|
In early 1998, Wheel 2000 went on a 12-city tour sponsored by Discover and coordinated by DVC Group. The show was set up in shopping malls where kids could play the game live. Winners in each market were invited to appear as contestants on the televised version for a grand finale. Unfortunately, the show didn’t last beyond a single season of 24 episodes, ending that February. Reruns continued to air on GSN until 2001 and later on Discovery Kids Canada. The show’s website began to redirect to GSN in 2000 before being disabled altogether in the following years. Two more attempts at an international version of the concept were made: Cark 2000 in Turkey in 2000, and Chiếc nón kỳ diệu 2000 in Vietnam from 2007-2008. Both were as short-lived as the other versions.