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‘Wheel Of Fortune’s’ Pat Sajak Retires As Longest-Running Game Show Host

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After 43 seasons and well more than 8,000 episodes, Pat Sajak is calling it a career. The 77-year-old will sign off his final “Wheel of Fortune” episode Friday evening, after a week of tribute episodes entitled “Thanks for the Memories.”

Unlike Alex Trebek, who also hosted numerous other game shows before (and during) his 37-year run as “Jeopardy!” emcee, Sajak has solely hosted “Jeopardy!’s” sister program for his entire television career. Sajak got his start on the network version of “Wheel of Fortune,” and remained with the program when it began its syndicated run in September 1983. In the time since, he topped the late Bob Barker’s record for the longest stint on a single game show by a single host.

Notable Conservative Celebrity

Sajak, who outside the game show realm briefly hosted a late-night talk show on CBS in 1989 and 1990, stands as one of the few Hollywood celebrities publicly recognized as conservative. During his tenure, he has served as a director of Eagle Publishing, of the Claremont Institute, and as chair of the Board of Trustees of Hillsdale College since 2019.

Ironically, Sajak’s predecessor as “Wheel” host, Chuck Woolery, also holds conservative views — an improbable coincidence in leftist Hollywood. In 1981, a salary dispute with Woolery prompted “Wheel” creator Merv Griffin to look elsewhere for a new host. He quickly settled on Sajak, then a local weatherman for NBC’s local affiliate in Los Angeles.

Over the decades, Sajak has entered millions of Americans’ homes five nights a week, engaging in light-hearted banter and witty repartee with contestants as they try to solve word puzzles. Unlike “Jeopardy!,” where the amount and tenor of the material generally require a serious tone from a host, “Wheel” lends itself to Sajak’s quick wit and improvisational style — skills that have served him well since his time as a deejay for the Armed Forces Network in Vietnam, following in the footsteps of Adrian Cronauer of “Good Morning Vietnam!” fame.

Game Shows in Flux

While “Wheel” co-host Vanna White will remain with the show for at least two more years, Sajak’s departure signals another shift in the game show world. “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest will replace him when “Wheel’s” 42nd season starts in September. Trebek’s sad passing in the fall of 2020 led to a drawn-out search for a replacement host, and the botched process ultimately led to a new producer for “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel,” which begat a series of changes to the former’s format and presence.

Sajak’s departure adds an air of change to “Wheel,” at a time when game shows have enjoyed a renaissance on television. Particularly during the summer months, networks have ordered revivals of old game shows (“The $100,000 Pyramid,” “Card Sharks,” “The Weakest Link”, and “Press Your Luck,” among others), while also commissioning new series like “The Wall.”

With the rise of multiple streaming options leading to declining viewership and difficulty for stations to retain eyeballs, networks apparently hope that reduced production costs allow them to deliver “fresh” material at a lower price point than scripted dramas. (The Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strike last summer and fall also resulted in a predominance of game shows, as the networks scrambled to reshuffle their lineup.)

The question remains how the two pre-eminent game shows on the television landscape — “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel” — will fare as the personalities that have propelled them since the 1980s move on, and their formats get tweaked and tailored to meet 21st-century tastes. As the saying goes in television, “Stay tuned.”


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