Hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to look at the near-40 years “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak has been at the show’s helm and point to how good of a choice he was. But there was a time when the untested local weatherman looked like a bad choice to replace Chuck Woolery on the hit game show.
Merv Griffin, the mastermind behind classic game shows “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” had a vision. The previous host of “Wheel,” Chuck Woolery, left after six years due to a contract dispute. And when it came time to replace him, the network wanted someone proven in the role.
Griffin, however, liked the cut of a local weatherman’s jib. Sajak was hosting a local talk show and doing the weather for KNBC-TV. And he used his reporting gig as one big audition for producers who may have been tuning in. It’s a good thing he approached the job that way because Griffin loved him. Even though Sajak had no big-league programming experience, he was getting called up.
But it took Merv Griffin going to bat for him to seal the deal. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, the longtime “Wheel of Fortune” host recalled how the network executives were against Griffin’s choice.
“When he wanted me to take over the daytime show, it wasn’t a popular decision within the NBC hierarchy,” Sajak said. “So Merv says, ‘I got this guy who’s doing local weather I want him to do-‘ and they said, ‘We don’t want another new guy, let’s get an old dependable guy.’ And Merv said, ‘Fine, you want to do that, great I’ll just take the show somewhere else.'”
Merv Griffin’s Commitment to the Now-Iconic ‘Wheel of Fortune’ Host Represented Who He Was
It wasn’t just that Griffin saw a guy on local TV and took a passing interest. If he thought someone was the right guy for a job, he didn’t compromise.
And according to Pat Sajak, that extended to other aspects of his life as well.
“Whether they succeeded, or whether they failed, he just had the courage of his convictions,” Sajak said in the 2007 interview. “That’s the kind of loyalty he had, and that’s the way he believed in what he wanted to do. He was a great talent. And he didn’t rely on focus groups and taking surveys.
“He figured if he liked something, there’d be enough other people who felt the same way.”