‘Wheel of Fortune’: Pat Sajak Explains How Game Show Became a Family Affair for Viewers

by Josh Lanier
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Pat Sajak said he hoped Wheel of Fortune would become a success, but he never thought it would become part of people’s lives. He said he often has people come up to him on the street to talk about the impact the show has had on them and their families.

The popular game show host spoke with the Television Academy Foundation about his interactions with fans over the years.

“I began to notice that … someone would come up to me each week and say some variation of the following,” he said. “‘You know, this takes me back to my childhood my grandmother used to sit and watch this show.’ ‘I just lost my dad last week, and in the hospital, this was the one-half hour he lived through every day.’ ‘My kids learned the alphabet from watching this show.’ We intended none of this. We just wanted to do a game and get filthy rich.”

“We became in this strange way part of people’s lives, almost their lifecycle,” he continued. “It was dinner time, they played ‘Wheel’ — we just became part of the atmosphere. It’s kind of like the sunset: you might not go out and watch it every night, but it’s nice to know it’s out there. We’re a comfort to people, and it would seem odd if we weren’t there even if they’re not watching us every day. I don’t know how that happened and how we became part of that, but it’s a wonderful spot to be in.”

Pat Sajak Didn’t Want The Show to Hire Vanna White

Pat Sajak also discussed his displeasure of hiring Vanna White early in the show’s run. Sajak thought she seemed like a nice person, but there was one glaring problem that he thought would doom Wheel of Fortune.

“I thought Vanna was a terrible choice. Not that she wasn’t beautiful and charming and the sweetest person you ever wanted to know. She was so darn nervous when she did it,” Sajak told the Television Academy Foundation. “I mean you could barely see past her quivering lip. I thought I don’t know if she can get over this. She’s swell and obviously easy on the eyes and all that. And she seemed like she would be easy to work with.”

Sajak lobbied hard for her competition for the role, but show creator Merv Griffin wanted White. “That’s why he’s a mogul, and I work for him,” Sajak joked.

And, of course, over the years, Sajak and White have become dear friends and are one of the most memorable and beloved teams on television. White even filled in for Sajak when he was out in 2019.

“She really blossomed and became really comfortable very quickly,” Sajak said. “And the other great thing about Vanna is she really wanted to learn about this business.”

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