Unlike broadcast, cable and now potentially digital — where the shelf life for the typical hit scripted series hovers around six to eight years — first-run syndication is home to an endless stream of programs, in all categories, that often last for decades.

One such show, Wheel of Fortune, is being honored by the Paley Center for Media Arts from Nov. 15 to Dec. 3 with an exclusive exhibit called Wheel of Fortune: 35 Years as America’s Game. The exhibit features interactive games, Vanna White’s gowns, memorabilia and photos.

In addition, a Wheel of Fortune panel at the Paley Center in New York City on Wednesday, featuring hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White and executive producer Harry Friedman, signified the growing trend of enhancing the viewer experience outside of just consuming it on television.

“As appointment television, we don’t stream and we are not on demand. Our viewers actually watch the show live,” said Sajak, who describes the Wheel of Fortune experience as a “safe haven” where families can still watch together.

“No one is embarrassed and no one is voted off, but if you screw up badly enough there still is social media and you could end up on the Today show the following morning,” he joked.

Fans of the game show, of course, were featured at the panel, as were former contestants, media executives and members of the press.

“The Paley Center has a rich history of celebrating media, going back to when it was The Museum of Television and Radio,” said Friedman, who joined the game show as a producer in 1995. “Bringing the audience here and making it more of an interactive experience will only enhance the brand, which we continue to make slight tweaks to each season to keep it fresh while staying true to the format.”

What’s New in Season 35

“We have made one change this season, which is seemingly a small thing, but a lot of viewers have already told us they like it,” said Friedman. “The contestant who goes to the bonus round has a choice of three categories for their bonus puzzle. I think this creates a lot of discussion for people at home, which in today’s social media world could create more interest.”

Originally developed by Merv Griffin in his conference room under the title Wipeout, Wheel of Fortune at 35 seasons in first-run syndication has produced in the vicinity of 6,700 original episodes. It’s produced by Sony Pictures Television and distributed by CBS Television Distribution.

Other fun facts: Vanna White has been cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as “Television’s Most Frequent Clapper;” Wheel of Fortune is credited for teaching people how to speak English; Edd “Kookie” Byrnes (77 Sunset Strip) hosted the initial two pilots under the Wheel of Fortune title; and the original incarnation of the series premiered on NBC as a daytime series on January 6, 1975 and stayed on the network until June 30, 1989 (ultimately moving to CBS and back to NBC until 1991). The current daytime version premiered on September 19, 1983.

With a current fourth-place ranking this season to-date, according to Nielsen Media Research, in households (behind Judge Judy, Family Feud and corporate cousin Jeopardy), the wheel will likely keep spinning years into the future.

“I don’t think Vanna and I will be here for another 35 years,” said Sajak, who, together with White, is confirmed to host through the 2019-20 TV season. “But Vanna and I are unlikely to be leaving anytime soon.”

[Cube image courtesy of Marc Berman]


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