For the next three weeks, the hit TV show Wheel of Fortune will air 15 episodes that were shot at the Las Vegas Hilton in mid-January.
The "Las Vegas edition" shows feature a specially-designed set with casino icons and, this week, the show celebrates "Sweethearts Week" with newly-married couples vying for thousands of dollars.
"No other city in America says excitement quite like Las Vegas," said Executive Producer Harry Friedman. "Bright lights, big money, big-name stars and non-stop fun. Wheel of Fortune and Las Vegas are a perfect fit."
Pat Sajak, the show’s host since 1981, says he and the crew always look forward to coming to Las Vegas (this is their fourth trip).
"Not only do we get to spend time in one of the world’s most exciting cities, we get to meet and entertain viewers from virtually every state in the nation," Sajak said.
Sajak added that the audiences in Las Vegas are much larger than studio audiences. "There’s definitely a kind of electricity when you’re in front of such a huge, enthusiastic crowd," he said.
Over three days of filming (five episodes per day), about 9,000 people passed through the Hilton Theater, according to Ira David Sternberg, the Hilton’s vice president of public relations.
"The audiences were great," Sternberg said. "They were enthusiastic and interactive."
In a backstage interview with Sajak and Vanna White, the two stars discussed the longevity and popularity of the number one rated show in the history of television.
"This is America’s show," Sajak said. "People who are walking by a television set can’t help but stop and watch — they either try to solve the puzzle before the contestants or yell at how long they are taking to solve it."
Sajak added that Wheel of Fortune has remained a simple game, with a simple concept that doesn’t put people against each other, as in newer shows such as Survivor, Dog Eat Dog and The Weakest Link.
"The appeal is to general audiences who want to see someone win, rather than a contestant knock another off the set," he said.
Sajak recalled being hired by Merv Griffin, the show’s creator, in 1981. But the ratings "really took off" in 1983. "We’re still all amazed at the show’s popularity," he said, adding that he doesn’t contemplate venturing beyond the Wheel any time soon. "I’ll keep doing the show as long as audiences like it," he said.
Vanna White joined the show in 1982, when she beat out throngs of others for the co-host job. "I was up against 200 girls, White recalled. "I never thought I’d get the job; I’m still not sure why they picked me."
Nevertheless, the show’s longevity is partly based on the popularity of its "silent star" as she is sometimes called.
"Really, this is the perfect job," White said. "I work three days a week to produce a month’s worth of work."
She also gets to wear unbelievable evening gowns and other apparel. "I never wear the same gown twice," she said. "Unfortunately, I don’t get to keep them all!"
Neither of the personable stars say the gamble much. Sajak says he doesn’t have the time; White says she doesn’t have the courage.
But one crew member recalls the time White was at a craps table with Charles Barkley ("We were standing together," she points out). Barkley had put down a $10,000 bet, while White could only plunk down ten bucks.
"I told you I wasn’t much of a gambler," she said.