‘Wheel of Fortune’ Star Pat Sajak Credited Johnny Carson, Arsenio Hall for His 1980s Talk Show Flopping

by Evan Reier
wheel-of-fortune-pat-sajak-johnny-carson-arsenio-hall-1980s-talk-show-flopping

Did you ever watch The Pat Sajak Show? No? Don’t worry, not many people tuned into the Wheel of Fortune star’s foray into late night.

It’s not a slight against Pat Sajak in anyway, mostly because he is just one of many that tried and couldn’t get traction. The battle for late night talk show television is notoriously competitive and tough.

It doesn’t help when you’ve got to compete against a legend of television and a rising star, too. That’s exactly what happened to Pat Sajak when he attempted to branch out from Wheel of Fortune. The program ran just a year and a half before it eventually folded.

In 2003, the Wheel of Fortune icon actually opened up on the topic to Observer in 2003. At that point, enough time had passed to not be overly bitter. Sajak revealed he was between a rock in a hard place. The rock, being Johnny Carson not retiring when he was expected to.

“We had a couple of things going on at the time,” Sajak said. “No. 1, the conventional wisdom was that Johnny Carson was going to be leaving after that season. Our thought was, ‘We will do The Tonight Show.’ Essentially, that was what we were doing-Johnny will leave, Pat is already there, the format is there, the audience will just move over, turn the dial a couple of notches and there we are. Johnny screwed up and didn’t leave for a couple of years-so I’m still upset about that.”

Instead, Carson would continue all the way until 1992, marking 30 years of hosting The Tonight Show. It’s a bad beat considering the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the time, but also, Johnny Carson wasn’t going down easily.

Wheel of Fortune Star Pat Sajak’s Other Issue

Right around the same time, Arsenio Hall began to become one of the biggest names in entertainment. A week prior to the The Pat Sajak Show beginning on January 9, The Arsenio Hall Show began on January 2.

It was an immediate hit with the demo that neither Carson or Sajak could consistently get: young folks. He went on to host the show until 1994, long after Sajak had already been cancelled.

The Wheel of Fortune star explained his point of view as his program was squeezed by Johnny Carson and Arsenio Hall.

“The other thing that happened was that Arsenio Hall came on the air,” Sajak said. “The conventional wisdom then was that younger people didn’t watch late-night-but suddenly it was a very hip kind of thing and introducing a different audience. So we were kind of stuck in the middle. We were Johnny Carson Lite, and why do you want that if you’ve got Johnny Carson, and I was a 42-year-old white guy-I wasn’t going to be doing Arsenio Hall stuff. So I don’t think we ever found our footing.”

To put it simply, it seems like The Pat Sajak Show never had a chance. But it all ended up working out for Sajak. He is now the longest-running game show in the history of television, and Wheel of Fortune is still beloved by fans the world over.

Outsider.com