‘Wheel of Fortune’ Host Pat Sajak Once Hosted One of the Biggest Talk Show Flops of All-Time

by Emily Morgan

Before Pat Sajak booked his “Wheel of Fortune” evening gig alongside Vanna White, he started as a talk show host. This fact comes as no surprise considering Sajak is the charismatic, easy-to-talk-to host well-known to his millions of viewers. Unfortunately, his talk show wasn’t all well-received as “Wheel of Fortune.”

In 1989, Sajak left the daytime “Wheel of Fortune” and was replaced by former San Diego Chargers placekicker Rolf Benirschke. That same year, CBS recruited Sajak to host a late-night series to create competition with the popular late-night show, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” 

CBS Books Pat Sajak to Compete With Johnny Carson

The network was so serious about being the best late-night show that CBS spent $4 million to build a new studio for “The Pat Sajak Show.” The show premiered on January 9, 1989. 

CBS also paid Sajak $60,000 a week for his hosting duties. Sadly, the show had stiff competition as Carson was the undeniable king of late-night at the time. Sajak also had to compete with the “The Arsenio Hall Show.” As a result, Sajak’s ratings were half of what Carson had.

To compensate for the ratings, CBS tried to make up for it by booking guests such as Chevy Chase, The Judd family, and Dolly Parton.

CBS then decided to remove Sajak and put in a group of guest hosts while calling it “The Pat Sajak Show.” Sadly, CBS pulled the plug on April 9, 1990, after too many low ratings.

Even though he was out of a job, CBS compensated him fairly for his work. His contract was also for two years, so he got paid to host “The Pat Sajak Show” until early 1991.

During the show’s last few weeks on air, Sajak worked four days per week with a guest host on Fridays. On April 13, 1990, the final show aired, and instead of Sajak, and comedian Paul Rodríguez hosted. 

After, CBS reverted to its late-night block of movies and reruns, which “The Pat Sajak Show” had replaced. CBS didn’t air another talk show until the “Late Show with David Letterman” in August 1993. Letterman’s show was much more successful as Letterman held on to his hosting gig until May 2015.