‘Wheel of Fortune’ Then & Now: Remember the Shopper’s Bazaar?

Wheel of Fortune Vanna White, Pat Sajak, 1975-
Mario Casilli/TV Guide/Sony Pictures TV/Everett Collection

Wheel of Fortune began in 1975 and continues airing nightly, making it the longest-running syndicated game show on American TV. If you’ve been watching for decades, you’ve probably noticed how the game show has changed over the years and what has stayed the same. Soon longtime host Pat Sajak will be leaving and shaking things up once again.

Before Pat & Vanna

WHEEL OF FORTUNE, (from left): host Chuck Woolery, co-host Susan Stafford, (1976), 1975-.

Everett Collection

Merv Griffin, created the show in 1975 and was hosted by Chuck Woolery and actor Susan Stafford turned the letters. Sajak, then just a weatherman, took over in 1981 after Woolery and Griffin had a contract dispute (Woolery wanted more money). Just a year later, Stafford left the show and they were left looking for a new beautiful lady to turn those letters. Vanna White, a model from South Carolina, was cast and has been in the role ever since.

More Hosting Changes

WHEEL OF FORTUNE, from left: Vanna White, Rolf Benirschke, (1989), 1975-,

ABC/Everett Collection

In 1989, former NFL player Rolf Benirschke (pictured above) took over when Pat Sajak started a talk show and seemingly sunk the show. The ratings dropped significantly and the show was canceled just months later. CBS took over the show from NBC with a new spin, starring former sportscaster Bob Goen as the emcee of the daytime game show. It also didn’t last due to competition with the nighttime show.

When you had to shop for prizes

Remember when contestants got to shop for their prizes? It was called Shopper’s Bazaar and prizes were presented at the beginning of the show and ranged from big, exciting stuff like expensive cars to bizarre items like a Dalmation statue. After each round, the contestant with the most money would go on a shopping spree with the amount they had. It was cut in 1989 to reduce the amount of taxes paid by the contestants and speed the game up a bit faster.

The Puzzle Board Changed

Wheel of Fortune co-host Vanna White, (ca. mid 1980s), 1975-.

Everett Collection

The puzzle board got an upgrade for the first time in almost 20 years in 2022. White now works with an LED screen board with sensors that know when to flip the letters, the same technology used with the Mars Rover. While some fans liked the upgrade, others thought the new look and colors hurt their eyes. What hasn’t changed is the cost of buying a vowel. It has remained at $250 all these years, despite inflation.

Wheel of Fortune Vanna White, Pat Sajak, 1975-

Everett Collection

Sajak has hosted the show for over four decades and is planning to step down next season. White will remain on the show and Ryan Seacrest is taking over as host. Prior to these announcements, the game show made some big changes and fans had their opinions.

Tell us, what’s your favorite part of watching Wheel of Fortune? Will you miss Pat?

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November 2020

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