America's Game note The second iteration of the 1981-97 puzzle board, before a digital one was introduced.
"WHEEL!...OF!...FORTUNE!"Just as Jeopardy was ending its daytime run on NBC, Merv Griffin introduced an even more durable Game Show format: Take the children's game of Hangman, add a carnival wheel with various dollar amounts, as well as hazards such as "Lose A Turn" and "Bankrupt", and allow the winner to spend the money on prizes right there in the studio. The 1973 pilot, Shopper's Bazaar, was very different from the series; a further two pilots in 1974 hosted by Edd "Kookie" Byrnes (who admitted that he was drunk) held far closer to the rules we know today.When Wheel debuted in 1975, Chuck Woolery was the host and Susan Stafford operated the puzzle board. By late 1983, after Woolery left the show in a salary dispute with Merv Griffin and Stafford left to do humanitarian work, Pat Sajak and Vanna White had become the show's full-time hosts in both daytime and syndication, although there was a ten-month period from 1981-82 in which Pat and Susan worked together. (White became popular out of proportion to the popularity of any other woman in a similar role on a game show.) The syndicated Wheel dropped the shopping element in 1987, then switched from a mechanical puzzle board to one with touch screens a decade later. Starting in the early 1990s, it has added (and occasionally retired) all manner of new wrinkles, including new puzzle categories and a trio of Toss-Up puzzles.After Sajak left the daytime Wheel to try his luck as a late-night talk show host on CBS, former football player Rolf Benirschke (who had very little previous TV experience) and Bob Goen tried unsuccessfully to take his place. Under Goen's watch, Wheel jumped to CBS for 18 months before returning to NBC for another nine (and eventually folding). In 1997, CBS and GSN tried a children's spin-off titled Wheel 2000, which did not fare well and remains the last daytime version. The nighttime version has carried on for an impressively long time, and is still one of the highest-rated TV series in syndication.The show has had multiple international adaptations, notably the Australian version which ran from 1981 to 2006. Versions in Brazil, France, Russia, Vietnam, Panama, Spain, Hungary and Turkey are still in production.
Bonus Round: Sometimes referred to as "Bonus Land" by Pat. Has changed over the years, but retains the same "core": the winner faces another puzzle and is given both the category and a number of letters. The contestant must solve the puzzle within a time limit to win a (generally) nice prize.
1973: Used on the Shopper's Bazaar pilot, the "Shopper's Special" was the prize the contestant was playing for. All vowels in the puzzle were revealed, after which she was given 30 seconds to give one correct consonant and solve the puzzle.
1975-76: During the seven weeks of hour-long episodes, the day's champion chose a difficulty from Easy, Medium, Hard, and Difficult with prizes increasing in value accordingly.
1978: A token marked "Star Bonus" was placed on the Wheel, and allowed a trailing contestant to perhaps win the game by way of the same puzzle difficulties above. In both cases, s/he chose four consonants and a vowel, then was told the category and given 15 seconds to solve.
1981-: Introduced at least a couple weeks before Pat took over. The contestant is asked for some letters, and given a short time limit to solve the puzzle for a prize; further details are given below.
Bonus Space: Free Spin and its successor, Free Play. Also the Wild Card, which allows a contestant to call a second letter during a spin, or call a fourth consonant in the Bonus Round.
Celebrity Edition: Played straight for some time in the 1990s. Later on, they tried variants where each team consisted of a celebrity and a contestant playing together; the contestant got their winnings as usual, while the celebrity had an equal amount donated to charity. These were most often done with Country Music singers or sports stars.
In 1980, a game show hosts edition was played, with a then-prominent game show host playing against two regular contestants for a show. The host would play for a designated player in the audience, selected at random before the show. Hosts known to have played were Tom Kennedy, Bill Cullen, Wink Martindale, and Jim Perry.
Confetti Drop: $100,000 and $1,000,000 winners get showered with confetti and streamers. Lampshaded multiple times by Pat, either by making verbal references to it, sweeping it up after a big win, or having the contestants sweep it up themselves.
In the earliest days, any money left over after shopping (less than the least-expensive prize remaining) was immediately put "on account", meaning that it carried over to the next shopping round and would be lost if the contestant hit Bankrupt. By mid-1975, contestants could put leftover money on a gift certificate while retaining the "on account" option. Until the shopping aspect was ousted entirely in mid-1989, almost all contestants asked for the gift certificate.
When the current Bonus Round was introduced in December 1981, contestants were asked for five consonants and a vowel to help fill in a blank puzzle; they almost exclusively picked some permutation of R, S, T, L, N and E because those letters are so common. The rules changed on October 3, 1988 to give them those letters automatically and ask for three more consonants and a vowel, and the time limit was cut from 15 seconds to 10. This trope showed up again even under the new rules, as countless contestants guess the next-most common letters C, D, M and A.
In the shopping era, contestants could pick from any of the remaining prizes in the bonus round, but almost always chose cars. After shopping ended on nighttime in October 1987, contestants were given the choice of five prizes in the bonus round ($25,000 cash, a car, and three other prizes that rotated weekly), but almost everyone went with the cash. Beginning in September 1989, the bonus prize selection was changed to a random draw from five envelopes spelling out W-H-E-E-L. If a prize was won, it was taken out of rotation for the rest of the week note (except for the $25,000 in Seasons 16-18; for the first few weeks of Season 19, all five envelopes were in play all week). The envelopes were ousted in November 2001 for a 24-space bonus Wheel, in which the top amount is $100,000 ($1,000,000 if the contestant in the bonus round lands and keeps the million-dollar wedge during the game.)
Some categories in general fall into this trope.
For its first season of use, Same Name spelled out the word AND, causing nearly every contestant to start the round with N, D and A. This was circumvented in Season 7 by replacing the word with an ampersand. Oddly, the category has occasionally relapsed into spelling out AND in the late 2000s and beyond.
Husband & Wife also guarantees the word AND. It, too, has relapsed into spelling out AND for reasons unknown. This may also be true for Family.
Song/Artist and Title/Author lend themselves to this, guaranteeing BY in every puzzle, or _____'S if reversed.
Similarly to the above, nearly every contestant calls N, G, and I first if the category is What Are You Doing?, due to the category using at least one -ING ending about 99% of the time.
If T_E is revealed as part of a Bonus Round answer, expect the contestant to call H among their "three more consonants and a vowel".
If the Wheel lands on Free Play, expect the contestant to call a vowel if any are left.
Consolation Prize: Initially played straight. Until Season 20, anyone who finished with a score of $0 got consolation prizes. From then until Season 23, they got $500; since then, they get $1,000 ($2,000 on weeks with teams).
Double The Dollars: The Double Play token from Season 13, which could be handed in prior to any spin to double its value if the Wheel landed on a dollar amount. It did not double the value of the regular prize wedges, however, several viewers recall the token being used on the 1/3-width $10,000 prize, which was won and doubled to $20,000.
Extra Turn: The Free Spin, retired in Season 27 for Free Play which is somewhat similar in concept. Wild Card is also one to an extent, allowing the contestant to call a second letter on a spin.
In daytime, contestants could stay for up to five days, later reduced to three. In nighttime from 1983-89, contestants were one-and-done, and from 1989-96 nighttime had a three-day champion rule. This was changed in 1996 to "Friday Finals", where the three highest winners from Monday-Thursday competed against each other on Fridays, and whoever won on Friday received an extra prize. Nighttime returned to one-and-done in 1998. Although the show has claimed that the enormous amount of contestant applications saw the need to remove any sort of returning-championship format, Pat said on the Sony Rewards website that the show doesn't have returning champions because the most skilled players are not always the big winners a good puzzle solver could end up hitting an endless string of Bankrupts, while a lousy puzzle-solver could stumble his/her way into a runaway lead.
Nighttime also had a $200,000 cap on winnings prior to the adoption of the Million-Dollar Wedge, which would've not only required a $100,000 win in the Bonus Round but also a six-digit win in the main game. Needless to say, the cap was nothing short of impossible to attain.
The show's official contestant application states that there is no such thing as a repeat appearance if you have ever appeared on the American Wheel, regardless of version or host, you can't come back.
Golden Snitch: Sometimes invoked if Pat hits $5,000 in the Final Spin. With a $1,000 bonus in later years, that's $6,000 per consonant in a game that usually averages $15,000-$20,000 for the winner. Also invoked if the Prize Puzzle prize is particularly expensive (most are only $5,000 or so, but some can be upwards of $10,000). In one particularly egregious example, a contestant went into Round 4 with $27,600 but still ended up losing because an opponent benefited greatly from a $6,000 Final Spin.
On the other hand, another contestant who had only $5,000 from the second and third Toss-Ups got $30,000 in a $6,000-per-letter Speed-Up, but still lost to someone who had $37,400.
And in one episode, a contestant whose only two spins had both landed on Bankrupt, and whose only winnings were from the $3,000 Toss-Up, managed to pull a come-from-behind win with a middling Final Spin value of $1,550.
Another weird variation came in a Spring 1984 episode, where a female contestant who had no money to that point hit $5,000 in Round 3, called a single letter, and solved. It was the last puzzle. Her opponents had $4,925 and $0, so she went from $0 to winner in literally the span of a single spin!
The Prize Puzzle is usually a guaranteed victory, since the prize is usually well north of $6,000.
Winning both halves of the ½ Car will most likely do the same by adding a $15,000 car to the winner's total.
Also a good way to earn a lot of money in a hurry: Wild Card + multiple letters on $2,500 or $3,500.
The Jackpot, when it existed, often got north of $10,000. Most of the time, a contestant would already have some money banked before claiming the Jackpot, so winning it often meant a pretty big total in that round.
Home Game: Several board games, video game versions as early as the NES, and several PC versions as well. One of the most recent home-game versions was released on the Wii and Nintendo DS in November 2010, along with a Wii / DS version of sister show Jeopardy.
There was an arcade version in the '80s, which even had a miniature, spinnable Wheel on its console.
Tiger Electronics produced a fairly cumbersome handheld game of Wheel (the QWERTY keyboard took up most of it). This release was notable for its inclusion of game cartridges, each of which contained about 200 puzzles.
In the mid-1990s, home viewers could enter sweepstakes for various things, including several variations that involved unscrambling words spelled out by differently-colored letters on the puzzle board.
The Prize Puzzle rounds qualified after each, the SPIN ID of a random home viewer was drawn, allowing them to win the trip associated with that puzzle. This was retired in Season 30 for "5K Every Day", which instead awards $5,000 cash to a randomly-selected viewer. Since their inception in 2004, the SPIN IDs are sometimes used in home sweepstakes.
Many sweepstakes have involved submitting bonus puzzles for a week (either on a form or online) to enter a prize drawing.
Let's Just See What WOULD Have Happened: If a contestant opts not to flip over a Mystery Wedge and solves immediately afterward, Pat will often ask the contestant if s/he wants to see what was on the other side.
On at least one daytime episode (June 7, 1976), a contestant who solved the Round 3 puzzle early was asked to spin the Wheel to see what she would have landed on; she landed on $1,500 (then the top dollar amount).
The Announcer: Mike Lawrence was announcer on the 1973 pilot, followed by Charlie O'Donnell from 1974-80. After Charlie's departure upon the show's announced (but retracted) cancellation to do The Toni Tennille Show, Don Morrow announced for a week; Jack Clark then took over and held the role until he died in 1988. M.G. Kelly announced most of the 1988-89 season, minus a two-week stint in New York City when Don Pardo held these duties. Charlie returned on February 20, 1989 and held the role until his death in November 2010, when various announcers filled in. Jim Thornton was named his replacement in June 2011. John Deeks was the most well known announcer of the Australian version.
Game Show Host: Chuck Woolery, Edd Byrnes, Pat Sajak, Rolf Benirschke, Bob Goen, David Sidoni for the American versions. Ernie Sigley, John Burgess, Tony Barber, Rob Elliott, Steve Oemcke, Larry Emdur, and Tim Campbell for the Australian versions.
Lovely Assistant: Susan Stafford from 1974-82, followed by the former Trope Namer, Vanna White, after two months of rotating guests. The latter's popularity skyrocketed in the 1980s in what was unofficially described "Vannamania". Adriana Xenides was the most well-known letter turner of the Australian version.
Tanika Ray did the mo-cap and voice acting for the animated assistant "Cyber Lucy" on Wheel 2000.
Progressive Jackpot: The Jackpot wedge, of course. It started at $5,000 and had the value of each spin added to it; to win it, the contestant had to hit the Jackpot wedge, call a correct letter, then solve right away. Retired at the end of Season 30.
From 1986-88 on the daytime show, a different Jackpot was played. Similar to the nighttime Prize wedge (picked up when landed on, had to avoid Bankrupt and then solve the puzzle to claim the prize), this Jackpot was an accruing cash prize that began at $1,000 and increased by $1,000 per show until won.
Rules Spiel: Used during the Shopping era: "Be careful not to hit Bankrupt because if you do, you lose your cash but not your merchandise because once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep."
Still used in Speed-Up rounds: "[That sound means time is running out.] I'll give the Wheel a final spin. I'll ask you to give me a letter and if it's up there, you'll have three seconds (five until 1999) to solve it. Vowels worth nothing, consonants worth..."
Until Toss-Up Puzzles were introduced: "Just before the show, we drew numbers to see who would start."
"We are playing for cash." - Pat used this after shopping was ousted and still found it necessary until ten years after the change.
Show The Folks At Home: From the second month of Season 23 through Season 30, the home audience was always shown what is on the other side of a Mystery Wedge if one was landed on. Starting in Season 31, they are now shown only if the contestant declines to flip it over.
Speed Round: The Speed-Up round (Final Spin). Vowels worth nothing, consonants worth the amount landed on (plus $1,000 since 1999). Unlike most examples of this trope, Speed-Ups aren't timed.
Another variant is the Express wedge, introduced in Season 31. Whenever a contestant hits the wedge, he or she can opt to stop spinning and keep calling letters for $1,000 a pop, but calling a wrong letter has the same effect as a Bankrupt.
Think Music: A light music bed plays under Toss-Ups and the Speed-Up round. Also, a 10-second beeping timer initially played during the Bonus Round, but it has been replaced by another music bed.
Undesirable Prize: Arguably every shopping-era prize that wasn't a car, all-expenses-paid vacation trip or possibly fur coat, but everyone remembers the $154 ceramic Dalmatian. The late 80s-early 90s also had some real stinkers in the Bonus Round, such as a build-your-own log cabin kit, a silver tea serving set, even historical documents signed by Abraham Lincoln. Arguably, the gift tags could also fall under this, particularly if it's a $1,000 gift card for Kmart.
Whammy: Bankrupt and Lose A Turn. At least the latter lets you keep your cash/prizes/etc.
The category for this round is "Tropes" (ding ding ding ding):
Absentee Wedge: The Million Dollar Wedge on May 2, 2011, the first episode of the season's New Orleans remote tapings. Amazingly, this error caused a contestant to win the game, as the $800 wedge it normally sat on remained in play for the whole game and a correct letter was called on it in Round 2. That player won by only $400. The wedge appeared as normal for the rest of the remote.
The $5,000 wedge during two episodes of the 1997 Ohio State Fair remote tapings due to the game ending after only three rounds. Also, one episode of Wheel 2000 ended after only two rounds, also resulting in that version's 5,000 point wedge never appearing.
The Surprise Wedge during a few 1997-98 episodes.
The $2,500 wedge on a November 2002 episode due to $3,500 accidentally being used in Round 1. Also, some special episodes during the mid-90s skipped the Round 2 Wheel layout (with $2,500 as top dollar) entirely due to time constraints, resulting in the Rounds 3 and 4 layouts (with $3,500 and $5,000) being in play in Rounds 2 and 3, respectively.
Aloha Hawaii: Often invoked with the many trips to Hawaii the show has awarded, but they have also taped outdoors in front of the Waikoloa Village on three separate occasions.
And Starring: Until the daytime show moved back to NBC on January 14, 1991, The Announcer introduced only Chuck/Pat/Rolf/Bob, who in turn would introduce Susan/[guest hostess]/Vanna. The nighttime show changed the opening spiel to introduce Pat and Vanna together on September 4, 1989.
Seasons 10-11: Anthropomorphic Wheel wedges walking down a staircase.
Season 12: Hand-drawn versions of Pat and Vanna "riding" the Wheel amid graphics related to the show; this animation ended with them parachuting.
Seasons 14-17: CGI of the Sony Pictures Studio, with the camera "zooming in" through the studio doors.
Season 23: One of three intros showing people racing to their TV sets to watch the show: one shows a man ostensibly getting ready for a date, one shows a man racing home from work, and one shows a suburban black family finishing dinner quickly, then running to the couch. The last one was recycled for an "America's Game" week in Season 31.
Season 28: Each intro is tied in to the week's theme, using the Pat and Vanna avatars from the show's Wii game. Some of these showed up again in Seasons 29 and 30 as bumpers.
1991: Vanna appeared to be pregnant in the final segment...until she pulled a cushion out from her dress.
1996: APRIL FOOL'S DAY was the Round 1 puzzle.
1997: Pat hosted that day's Jeopardy! while Alex hosted Wheel. Pat and Vanna also played Wheel that day with Pat's wife, Lesly, at the puzzle board. The entire flip-flop was lampshaded heavily by the puzzles, especially the Speed-Up and Bonus Round puzzles (IT'S NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS and TRADING PLACES, respectively).
2008: Pat revealed that he was actually bald. Vanna's reaction was priceless. It was a real wig on a bald wig.
2010: The show did ten things that were "out of the ordinary" and asked home viewers to spot them. All ten were revealed on the next show. Examples included the full-size Bankrupt wedges saying "Bankrut" note (Gratuitous Polish), Charlie taking Vanna's place for a couple shots, Pat wearing a barely-visible stud earring for a whole round, footage of a Final Spin from a 1996 episode over the current one, etc. There were also two seconds of rodeo footage in the opening montage of tropical shots, although this was never pointed out.
2011: All the puzzles (except the bonus round) had some form of the word "fool". Amazingly, the contestants never caught on.
The Artifact: Since the board changed from trilons to video screens in February 1997, Vanna isn't really needed on the show anymore, but since she's been so inextricably associated with the show for so long she stays.
They also don't need the green circle in the middle of the Wheel to do Chroma Key shots of the host and hostess anymore (high-tech in 1974, looks downright silly in the 21st century), but it remains because of familiarity.
Similarly, the "house minimum" for a round solve with anything less and you get a chunk of cash (originally $200, then $500, now $1,000) by default. This was initially done so the contestant would at least be able to buy something during the shopping rounds (although even that backfired at least once). Now, it's just there to make the contestant feel better for not having an opportunity to get more.
Ascended Meme: As mentioned under Complacent Gaming Syndrome, RSTLNE is an example of this. Most contestants would pick those letters in that exact order, and they are now given to the contestants in that order.
Big Eater: If there's local cuisine to be eaten during a road show, Pat and Vanna will indulge. This was even referenced in the ceremonial 4,000th nighttime episode, which showed footage of Pat and Vanna eating while "Eat It" played.
Any time a contestant wins the game despite losing a lot of money and/or a big prize in a previous round (either by not solving the puzzle, or losing it to Bankrupt).
November 17, 2008: A team wins the $100,000...but they had failed to claim the Million-Dollar Wedge in a previous round, meaning that the $100,000 envelope would've been replaced with $1,000,000 had they claimed it.
Subverted on June 11, 2013. A contestant misses out on both the car and Mystery Prize in Round 2, but makes it to the Bonus Round regardless...and wins the $100,000.
For years, they'd had weeks where college students would play, and weeks where celebrities would play. They combined the ideas in 1992 for a Soap Opera College Challenge, which had a college student playing against two soap stars.
One episode had a contestant who could imitate Forrest Gump and another who could imitate the Road Runner. Pat then asked the former to "do Forrest Gump as the Road Runner". He did.
For a few years, the active categories included Fictional Character, Family, and Fictional Family.
November or December 1987 (nighttime): Pat said at the beginning of the show that he forgot to put a belt on because he was talking to Bob Murphy, then-president of Merv Griffin Enterprises. Come the end of the show, he deliberately drops his pants. Jack Clark was laughing his way through the fee plugs.
November 2003: Vanna said that she wished Thanksgiving were at a different time of year, perhaps in March. Come March 2004, Pat references that discussion and presents Vanna with a turkey dinner.
Butt Monkey: Some of Pat's comments to both Charlie and Jim have portrayed them as this.
Pat: [Jim] is sitting in a little 2-foot-by-3-foot cubicle alone, but he's having a ball.
California Doubling: The show is often themed after a major city or place (e.g., "Salute to New York", "Hawaii Week"), even if they're still filming in Culver City. Not that the show doesn't do, say, a Chicago week in Chicago.
Several times during the original NBC run, theme weeks (always [City] Week, including Portland and Philadelphia) were used, with contestants from the appropriate city flown to Burbank.
The Cameo: Several episodes have had celebrities walk on after a puzzle themed toward them. Beyond these, other notable cameos include:
In September 1977, Arte Johnson turned the letters, both to fill in for an injured Susan Stafford and to promote his new game show Knockout.
The New York episodes in November 1988 had several celebrity cameos, including Dick Cavett and Debbie Reynolds.
On a 1997 episode, Rosie O'Donnell made a cameo after her name was the answer. She then helped Vanna touch letters in the next round.
In September 2002, Donny Osmond made a cameo to promote the debut of the Pyramid revival (also a Sony property).
The Cast Showoff: Vanna can sing, and she's shown off her chops several times (most notably a week in December 1996 where she promoted her Christmas album Santa's Last Ride and sang a song from it every day).
Double-subverted this on the December 23, 1988 nighttime show, where he gave an intentionally off-key rendition of "White Christmas" with Vanna accompanying him on piano.
...But he played it straight on a December 1994 episode where, after a contestant failed to solve the bonus puzzle ZORRO, he gave a somewhat hammy (if perfectly in-key) rendition of the 1957 Zorro TV theme.
Catch Phrase: "I'd like to buy a vowel." and "I'd like to solve the puzzle." In Pat's early years, he'd often follow up the latter with "For [amount], solve this [category]."
"'Person'/'People' does not always mean 'proper name(s)'." was a catch phrase until they finally made Proper Name its own category in 1996.
In the shopping era, "...once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep." This was replaced with "We're playing for cash.", which Pat continued to say into March or April 1997.
Clumsy Copyright Censorship: Almost every episode in Season 30 began with a retro clip. In nearly all cases, the older music beds (prize cues, Toss-Up bed, puzzle-solve cue, theme song) were dubbed over with their modern counterparts. This led to particularly jarring dubs, such as the current Toss-Up solve cue on a clip obviously from the late 1980s. The pre-1983 Theme Tune "Big Wheels" remained untouched, as did all but one instance of the 1994-97 solve cue. (They showed a clip from 1994 twice: the first airing had the original cue, but the second airing had the current cue dubbed in.)
Perhaps the most egregious was a 1985-86 clip of Jack Clark describing a prize, in which they scrubbed out nearly all of the music around Jack's voice (which, for the record, was Merv's "Frisco Disco").
They also showed retro clips in Season 25, but in those cases the music was always left intact.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Like so many other game shows before and after it, Wheel separates the contestants into red, yellow, and blue motifs. For a time in 1975, the displays themselves also used these colors before going to white (which had also been used in the 1974 pilots). From 1981-96, colored backdrops appeared behind the contestants.
Credits Gag: For a few seasons beginning in late 2000s, full credit rolls put a gag title over Pat's name (e.g., "Pumpkin Picker" on a Halloween Week episode).
Vanna has spun the Wheel several times, including a January 1984 nighttime episode. She also played a round for charity in November 1989 while Pat turned the letters.
Pat had laryngitis during a College Week taping session in San Francisco (aired November 18-22, 1996). On Thursday, he decided to rest his voice, so he had Vanna host the bonus round while he turned the letters.
April Fool's Day 1997, as mentioned above.
In early 2011, the show held a contest allowing home viewers to be "Vanna for a Day": viewers could submit video auditions, which were then voted on through the show's website. The winner, Katie Cantrell, took Vanna's place for Rounds 2 and 3 on March 24, which was lampshaded by the Round 3 puzzle IT'S HARDER THAN IT LOOKS.
Deadpan Snarker: Pat makes a large number of self-deprecating jabs at his career. One notable instance is when a contestant claimed she had the job that paid the most money for the least amount of work, and Pat quipped "That would be 'game show host'."
He's also fond of snarking at contestants who seem to be playing the What an Idiot card straight...or ones who are really good at playing the game. (Prime example: claiming that a bonus puzzle will be "very difficult" when the contestant picks letters that leave it mostly or completely filled in.)
"I'd like to solve the puzzle!" "I wish you would!"
Department of Redundancy Department: FIREPLACE MANTEL, STAR CONSTELLATION, SPOTTED LEOPARD, and BABY DUCKLINGS have all been used as Toss-Ups. CHURCH HYMN and YOUNG CUB have been used as bonus puzzles.
Can also apply to gameplay. When a contestant loses their turn and the puzzle is obvious, the next contestant will often spin the Wheel once, call a letter that appears once (usually the top-leftmost letter that has yet to be revealed), and solve. Hitting any dollar amount other than the top one will result in their three-digit score being raised to the house minimum of $1,000. However, many players fail to realize that they could've won that $1,000 anyway by simply solving with $0, making their spin and letter call redundant in addition to a pointless risk of spinning a penalty wedge.
Averted if the contestant spins with the intention of landing on the top-dollar value, any prize or tag, the Wild Card, or the Million-Dollar Wedge (this includes the Mystery Wedge only if neither one has been flipped over).
Several times, contestants have hit ½ Car tags on occasions where winning the car is impossible (i.e., two players picking up one tag each in Round 3, especially if the first of the two also loses it to a Bankrupt).
Double Unlock: The Million-Dollar Wedge. To win the Million, the contestant has to:
Land on the wedge, which is 1/3 the width of normal wedges and surrounded by 1/3-size Bankrupts.
Call a letter that's in the puzzle.
Solve that round's puzzle without first hitting a Bankrupt.
Win the game without hitting Bankrupt.
Land on the $1,000,000 envelope (which replaces the normal top prize of $100,000) in the Bonus Round.
Solve the bonus puzzle.
Despite the large number of steps needed and the sheer odds against it, the $1,000,000 was won just a month after its introduction by a contestant who hit it on her first spin!
There were also the ½ Car wedges used for one week in April 2011. Similarly to the above, the contestant had to land on two one-third-sized wedges with "car" tags on them to win a car it was made easier by 1) not having Car tags get lost to Bankrupts hit in subsequent rounds and 2) putting a new one on the Wheel in the next round if somebody got one. However, the whole week, nearly everyone's spins were about as far from either wedge as you could get...
The ½ Car tags were made more accessible in Season 29, as they're now just placed over dollar amounts like the Gift Tag. However, they're vulnerable to Bankrupt in all rounds.
Vanna's first official episode (December 13, 1982) had some stellar gameplay: no Bankrupts, Lose A Turns, or wrong letters. However, the winner was unable to solve the bonus puzzle GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, remaining stumped on the last word until about three seconds after the buzzer.
Whenever a contestant solves or figures out the Bonus Round puzzle just after time runs out. Even more of a downer when it results in a $100,000 loss.
Season 3 (1985-86, nighttime): A contestant with a $60,000+ bank incorrectly solves the puzzle STAR LIGHT STAR BRIGHT FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT by leaving out the seventh word.
December 5, 1985 (nighttime): A contestant misses out on winning $62,400 by guessing an "S" in the puzzle THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT. She then misses out on another $10,000 in the Speed-Up round.
February 18, 2005: A contestant sets a new one-round record of $54,000 in the Speed-Up and wins $60,150 overall...then loses $100,000 in the Bonus Round.
September 10, 2007: A $100,000 loss on Season 25's premiere.
Anyone who sweeps the game but loses the Bonus Round. On November 26, 2008, a contestant did this and lost the $100,000.
Season 28: Ten consecutive games, four $100,000 losses. These happened on December 29, 2010; and in January 2011 on the 4th, 7th, and 11th.
January 4, 2011: The puzzle solution? A KNOWN FACT. The contestant's repeated guess? ANUNKNOWN FACT.
Incidentally, a $100,000 loss occurred exactly two years before December 29, 2010, and another $100,000 would be lost exactly one year after January 4, 2011.
Season 29: The first two Bonus Rounds of the season were solved just after the buzzer. The third had a $100,000 loss.
The week of November 5, 2012: Four Bonus Round wins, one of which had a contestant fill in their bonus puzzle entirely, and another who had only one letter missing from it. But on Friday, a team lost $100,000.
December 21, 2012: Leanne wins $69,300 in the main game, including a $10,000 Mystery Prize and $36,000 in the Speed-Up, setting a new record for the highest pre-Bonus Round total. However, she loses $30,000 on a very tough Bonus Round answer of HIT THE BUZZER.
Dramatic Timpani: Used in the current Bonus Round until 1989 on nighttime, and until 1991 on daytime. Also used for some road show intros in the 1990s.
When the show debuted in 1975, the "special" wedges (Bankrupt, Lose A Turn, Free Spin, and Buy A Vowel) had white outlines on the lettering and white borders, and spaces on the Wheel went as low as $25.
In the earliest days, contestants played puzzles to the last consonant and rarely bought vowels. Lin Bolen, then NBC's vice president of daytime programming, insisted on this so contestants would have more money to shop with she thought that putting more emphasis on shopping would help the show appeal better to the female demographic. Once she was ousted in 1975-76 for poor programming performance and replaced by Earl Greenburg, contestants began playing puzzles at their own pace.
Yet another mannerism that was phased out around 1985 (at least, in the US): contestants almost always used to call their letters "C as in Chuck" (though this is still a common practice among foreign versions), but this supposedly annoyed Merv. The producers prefer that contestants say only the letter to help minimize confusion, but variants on "Can I have a(n)..." or "Is there a(n)..." aren't rare.
After the daytime show moved to CBS, $50 and $75 were used again, and diamonds were added to these wedges on the next show. The minimum dollar value was increased back to $100 after just two months.
In its first two seasons of use, the Jackpot wedge was modified six times.
For their entire first season of use, the Toss-Up rounds weren't split-screened, meaning that viewers had no visual indication as to who had just rung in. (Also, there were only two instead of three.) They now use a split-screen identical to the one seen in Speed-Up rounds.
Easter Egg: Throughout Season 30, Sheldon the ceramic dalmatian was hidden somewhere on-set.
Enforced Plug: The Jackpot round was sponsored by various products, which got a plug at the top of the round. After the Jackpot round's retirement, the Mystery Round inherited its sponsors. Some companies regularly place $1,000 gift cards on the Wheel as well.
On at least six occasions, contestants have mispronounced a puzzle that was completely filled in, and been ruled incorrect as a result. One such occasion in January 2010 (the answer REGIS PHILBIN & KELLY RIPA) turned this Up to Eleven as the contestants had already amassed three incorrect guesses before the last letter was filled in.
On at least two other occasions, contestants who failed to solve their Bonus Round puzzle have mispronounced it even after it was revealed entirely.
May 15, 1995: A contestant's attempt to solve Clue puzzle PORTRAIT ON THE U S DIME. Having been told that only vowels were left, he bought the I and attempted to solve but got hung up after the third word, despite having had more than enough to buy the U. After the next contestant solved, none of the contestants could provide the answer to the clue (Franklin Roosevelt).
February 18, 2004: A contestant managed to call four of the six letters which are already given in the Bonus Round. Even worse, one of them was R, which was already in the puzzle.
March 2, 2006: On a Soap Stars week, a celebrity on the red team wastes time in the Speed-Up round saying "I know it!" and doesn't say the answer until after the buzzer. To add salt to the wound, the next team ties their score and wins the tiebreaker Toss-Up.
September 19, 2007: A contestant loses $39,746 ($33,450 in cash and a $6,296 Prize Puzzle trip) by pluralizing the puzzle.
April 23, 2008: A contestant lands on the Mystery Wedge on her first spin, and flips it over to find $10,000. Her second spin nets her an additional $25,000 from the Big Money Wedge. Guess what she hits on her third spin?
On a few occasions, a contestant has only gotten to spin once in the entire game, and ended up calling a wrong letter (although at least one also got to solve a Toss-Up). On the Season 14 premiere, one poor contestant spun only once in the whole game...and hit Lose A Turn. Even worse, she didn't get to call a letter, because the Speed-Up was solved before she got a turn.
Until its retirement, any time a contestant turned in their Free Spin token only to hit Bankrupt or Lose A Turn on their very next spin, especially if they hit that same wedge before using the token.
Any time a contestant loses the Million-Dollar Wedge to Bankrupt on the very next spin after picking it up. On April 15, 2010 and February 24, 2012, that's exactly what happened...on the first two turns of the entire game!
November 30, 2009: One for the staff. Occasionally, special wedges are placed incorrectly on the Wheel. In this case, somebody managed to place the Million-Dollar Wedge adjacent to another penalty wedge!
February 14, 2011: A teenage team loses out on $18,000 and the win by starting the say the answer to the Speed-Up puzzle, then stopping upon hearing the buzzer, even though completing the answer would've counted.
October 4, 2011: Of the six Bankrupts from Round 2, only the third was the result of a whole Bankrupt wedge. The other five occurred on the 1/3-sized Bankrupt spaces on the edges of the Million-Dollar Wedge. The 3rd and 4th Bankrupts were also hit consecutively, as were the 5th and 6th.
January 16, 2013 began a 10-game streak of Bonus Round losses. Following a win on the 30th, an 11-game streak of losses began on the next show.
During the New York City remote tapings of 2013, only 2 out of 20 Bonus Rounds were won, largely due to some very difficult puzzles such as FIZZLE OUT, ZIP UP YOUR JACKET, and FINICKY BABY. The only wins occured on the first and sixth shows, with the latter 14 consecutive losses breaking a record for the longest known streak of Bonus Round losses in show history. It has been speculated that the increased difficulty was a result of a $1,000,000 win that occured in Culver City before these episodes were taped (but would not air until the week after them).
November 28, 2013: In a single round, a total of nine spins land on either Bankrupt or Lose A Turn.
December 12, 2013: One for the post-production staff. When the show airs, the "only vowels remain" beeps appear to sound in the Speed-Up. However, no such notification is given in the studio, so two of the teams continue to call consonants! Doesn't quite look good on TV.
Everything's Better With Sparkles: The top dollar amount in each round is always on a sparkly wedge (except for the now-retired $1,000 before 1995). The Million-Dollar Wedge is sparkly, as were most iterations of the Jackpot wedge before it went neon. When the show went HD in 2006, sparkly outlines were added to all letters and numbers on the Wheel. The Wild Card is sparkly as well, along with the former Surprise Wedge (the lettering on its second iteration and the background on its third) Free Spin, Double Play, and Star Bonus tokens.
Foregone Conclusion: Before $1,000 was added to the Final Spin, having it land on a lower value could guarantee the current leader a trip to the Bonus Round.
If a contestant has a lot in their bank already and/or is holding something significant like the Million Dollar Wedge, then it's pretty obvious that they will not flip over a Mystery wedge. Especially true on October 11, 2013, where a contestant got $11,000 from finding eleven M's at the wedge's $1,000-per-letter face value, meaning that flipping it over actually had less of a potential reward than taking the per-letter amount (since the per-letter amount is forfeited if you choose to flip it).note It turned out that the Bankrupt was on the other side, anyway.
Foreign Remake: Pole Chudes ("Field of Wonders", an interesting choice taken from Alexey Tolstoi's Buratino...a foreign remake of Pinocchio) is very similar, except the word is an answer to a question, you can't buy a vowel, there's Black Box instead of Mystery Wedge (you can either immediately quit the show with the contents or keep playing, it can contain anything from a house to a cabbage), but the most important and memetic part is the fact that most contestants come from pretty obscure and interesting places all over Russia and bring their local crafts and so on along with them to give to the host - they are then placed in the Museum, which is seriously a lot like an ethnography museum at this point, especially considering this remake has run for 21 years and counting.
Freudian Slip: On the first episode after the retirement of shopping, a contestant accidentally asked to buy an owl. Pat instantly quipped that they no longer sell birds on the show.
Sometimes in the 1980s, Pat would scramble the letters in the bonus puzzle while Jack was reading the fee plugs, so that once the board was seen again near the end of the credits, it would say something funny (e.g., FRANK SINATRA becoming RANK RATS).
For a while in the mid-2000s, the Jackpot round was introduced with a shot of the contestant area with the Jackpot logo superimposed over it. Sometimes, Pat would do something funny in this shot, such as read a newspaper or "fight" Vanna with a styrofoam sword.
A 1982 daytime episode had contestants filling in the puzzle DAVID HASSELHOFF, and there was a point where the H's and E's were not revealed but the A's and S's were, something that Pat made note of. He also playfully chastised a contestant on a 1983 show after solving the puzzle HELL-BENT FOR ELECTION.
October 1989 (nighttime): The puzzle board reads _AR_EC_E S_IT. The contestant calls an "H".
Five words: "A GROUP OF PILL-PUSHERS". See the Funny tab for elaboration.
Although the show is rated TV-G, Pat has gotten away with a few "damn"s and "hell"s.
In one oft-cited moment, a contestant mis-solves the puzzle FRANKLY MY DEAR I DON'T GIVE A DAMN by replacing the last word with DARN.
January 7, 2011: First, after a Before & After puzzle of VICTORIA'S SECRET RECIPE, Pat remarked that it involved "two cups of sugar" (a joke he had previously done when the same puzzle was used in 1996). Then, a contestant who lost the bonus round told Pat to "show me something small" (in reference to the prize money), but Pat played up the Accidental Innuendo and began walking off the set. The contestant then opened up the envelope to find $100,000.
February 29, 2012: In the Bonus Round, a contestant confidently and without hesitation picked D, C, K, and I for his letters. While this was never confirmed to be intentional, the contestant couldn't help but smirk...until the only letter he lit up was one I and failed to solve HOMETOWN FAVORITE.
May 13, 2013: While trying to solve the Bonus Round puzzle HALFWAY POINT with __LF___ _O_NT showing, a contestant accidentally lets the word "MILF" slip out among his random guesses of DOLPHIN ("DOLFIN"?), DIVING, WOLFING, etc.
Subverted twice in Season 30, literally. Two contestants have exclaimed the word "crap" after solving the Prize Puzzle, and in both cases, it was censored. The first instance was simply muted out, but the second was censored with the "wrong letter" buzzer (see Sound Effect Bleep below).
Gratuitous Foreign Language: Pat is of Polish descent, and will often speak Polish to contestants who are fluent in the language and/or are of Polish decent as well.
Alex Trebek filled in for both Chuck Woolery and Pat Sajak (having done the latter for one daytime episode in 1985 and the aforementioned April Fool's Day '97 show).
Summer Bartholomew filled in for Susan in 1977 after she hurt her back, as did Arte Johnson (mentioned above). In 1979, Susan dislocated her shoulder in a car accident, so Summer and Cynthia Washington (ex-wife of San Francisco 49ers' Gene Washington) filled in for her for just over two weeks.
Summer, Vicki McCarty, and Vanna filled in between Susan's departure and Vanna's first official episode. Susan returned for a daytime Teen Week in June 1986 so Vanna could recover from the death of her then-boyfriend.
Tricia Gist, then-girlfriend and now-wife of Merv Griffin's son Tony, filled in for two weeks in January 1991 to accomodate for Vanna's wedding. She apparently returned for one episode a couple months later due to Vanna having a bad cold.
Charlie O'Donnell filled in for Jack Clark for a few weeks in 1985 due to Jack having schedule conflicts (which ultimately led to Jack leaving The $25,000 Pyramid). Charlie returned from May-June 1988 due to Jack being stricken with bone cancer, which ended his life on July 21. Until about September, Charlie and Johnny Gilbert took turns filling in on daytime before M.G. Kelly was hired. And of course, when M.G. was let go in February 1989, Charlie came back.
Don Pardo, whose most recent game show work at that point was Jackpot in 1975, served as announcer when the show went to Radio City Music Hall in November 1988.
Johnny Gilbert also announced two weeks of shows in 1995.
And after Charlie's death, several guest announcers note (Lora Cain, Joe Cipriano, John Cramer, Rich Fields, Johnny Gilbert, and Jim Thornton) rotated until Jim Thornton was chosen as the permanent replacement.
A rare example of a guest director. Longtime director Mark Corwin died after directing only two weeks of Season 31. As his death came right before a set of episodes was to be taped on location in Las Vegas, Jeopardy! director Kevin McCarthy, a friend of Corwin's, filled in for him. Meanwhile, subsequent tapings in Culver City have used associate director Bob Cisneros, followed by a two-week batch done by Jeopardy! technical director Robert Ennis Jr. before Cisneros was promoted to full-time director.
Halloween Episode: Since 1997, they almost always have a specifically-themed Halloween week, often with spooky music, smoke machines, animatronic gargoyles, and even various "scary" sound effects when a contestant picks an envelope in the Bonus Round.
Helium Speech: On one episode, the set was decorated with balloons, and neither Pat nor Vanna could resist. The clip can be seen on the ceremonial 3,000th and 4,000th episodes.
High Definition: Wheel and Jeopardy! went hi-def in 2006, becoming the first game shows to be shot in that format.
Hilarious Outtakes: These shown up in a few special episodes, or during the post-game chats. One has Vanna repeatedly tripping over the line "What's with all the exclamation points?" when shooting a bumper for a local affiliate, followed by Pat snarking, "Don't make me come over there." Another one involved Vanna repeatedly screwing up the line "Highlight your night life" when shooting footage of herself modeling a car; one of the takes had "Highlight your knife light."
His and Hers: In the late 1980s to early 1990s, his-and-hers cars were sometimes up for grabs in the bonus round.
Hurricane of Puns: Jim Thornton likes to ad-lib all sorts of puns pertaining to the Prize copy or, occasionally, Bonus Round prize.
I Always Wanted to Say That: In the episode where Pat plays as a contestant, he says he is "very excited" to finally utter the phrase "I'd like to buy a vowel."
Idiosyncratic Wipes: The category graphics at the bottom of the screen are usually given special wipes pertaining to that week's theme (for instance, a school bus "drives" across the category graphic on Teacher's Week). There are also wipes for the Toss-Ups and Final Spin on every episode (the Prize Puzzle one was dropped after Season 29).
I Need a Freaking Drink: Edd Byrnes stated in his memoir Kookie No More that he had a few before doing the 1974 pilots. For the first pilot he was "crazy drunk", badgering a contestant who wanted to solve for $1,300 into spinning again; he kind of improved for the second pilot to "happy drunk", saying "Whee!" at some points.
In January 2012, Pat Sajak revealed he and Vanna used to get drunk during their two-and-a-half-hour breaks between taping during the Burbank era. He later revealed that this was an exaggeration.
Inflation Negation: Buying a vowel. The cost was $250 in 1974, and it is still $250 in the syndicated version.
The vowel price was reduced to $200 when the daytime version moved to CBS in July 1989 and cut to $100 six months later, due to that version's lower stakes.
Jump Cut: Present in the days that the mechanical puzzle board was used. Right after "Our category is...", they would Jump Cut to the blank puzzle board and category reveal. What the home viewer didn't see was the puzzle board getting rolled back into the studio after having that round's puzzle loaded onto it.
A rather blatant one shows up in a nighttime bonus round on May 5, 1986: the contestant says the first part of the right answer (AT MY WIT'S END) just before the buzzer, then the rest of it during and after said buzzer. Since they don't have another commercial break, the only option was to stop tape before declaring that he won the Pontiac, resulting in a very sloppy edit:
Pat: To my ear, it was very tight. We're gon (jump cut) Offstage voice: winner. (contestant screams and jumps up in air)
Earlier, however, the contestant made a guess that has shown up in many specials. The audience was originally silent, but Wheel added laughter to the clip for the ceremonial 4,000th nighttime show; they also added a buzzer right afterward.
Jump cuts are also present if Pat hits something other than a dollar amount on the Final Spin, or if three consecutive wrong letters are called in the Speed-Up.
When a round starts with a cycle of three consecutive lost turns that were edited out, the wide shot of the first spin is that of the original spin whose corresponding letter call was edited out, which always results in a jump cut with the Wheel landing in a different area than where it was originally headed. For example, if the first spin looks like it's about to land on Lose a Turn but ends up on the other side of the Wheel.
Just Following Orders: Pat tends to say this when he has to take away a wedge or token, or show Bonus Round players the prize they lost.
During the second pilot, contestant Roseanne is pressured twice by host Edd Byrnes to keep spinning when she wants to solve. She solves three out of four puzzles, but loses by $90 (although she would have lost by only $40 if not for a scoring error).
Matthew Fenwick, wanted for two counts of child molestation, appeared on Wheel in March 1998. He won $4,400 but one of his victims recognized him while watching his show and alerted the authorities. Fenwick was arrested two days later and served seven years in prison.
Like an Old Married Couple: Parodied on a 1997 episode where, in the final segment, Pat and Vanna are at a table, respectively reading a newspaper and knitting. They both joke that people often interpret them as a married couple (even though in Real Life, both are happily married to different people), with Pat nodding and bluntly finishing all of Vanna's sentences.
Literal-Minded: One contestant, after being told by Pat to "throw to commercial", literally throws the Prize wedge she won...much like Pat in the 1980s-90s, actually.
Loads and Loads of Rules: The game has become increasingly complex in the 2000s, with the likes of the Jackpot, Gift Tag, Toss-Ups, Mystery wedges, Wild Card, Million Dollar Wedge, Free Play, ½ Car tags, etc.
Long Runner: Wheel, counting daytime and nighttime as one series, has run for over 37 years without interruption, placing it second behind only The Price Is Right for the longest-running game show currently on the air. Even counting only the nighttime seasons, it's still second only to Price.
The Wheel itself has racked up quite a lot of mileage: with 4,215 daytime shows and 5,800+ nighttime shows, this comes out to a shade over 10,000 episodes.
Loophole Abuse: Attempted on the Megaword puzzle PROLIFERATION. When asked to use it in a sentence for a $500 bonus, the contestant said "The contestants did not know what the word 'proliferation' meant." It bizarrely didn't work.
Luck-Based Mission: Whenever a contestant lands on a Mystery Wedge. One contains a $10,000 cash prize (previously, it could contain a compact car or other prize in the $10,000 range) on the flip side, and the other contains a Bankrupt. The contestant may choose to take its "face value" of $1,000 (originally $500) per letter, or forfeit that amount and flip it over. If one is flipped over, the other one functions as a regular cash space for the rest of that round.
Metaphorgotten: At the end of an episode from the first week of Season 21, he and Vanna reminisced on how long they were doing the show. Pat then said, "It's like riding a bicycle: I'm all sweaty and my rear end hurts."
Moon Logic Puzzle: Some of the bonus puzzles practically seem set up to be lost. In the 1990s, it wasn't rare to see three- to five-letter answers, often compounded in difficulty by not having any RSTLNE in them. BABY BOY, WIG, WAX, and ZOO all occurred in October 1992 alone (and amazingly, all but WIG were solved; BABY BOY in particular was solved with no letters showing). YO-YO and I DO (1993 and 1996, respectively) were also solved.
Nowadays, the difficulty is usually ramped up by relying heavily on rarely-called letters (e.g. JAZZ BAND), arcane and rarely-used phrases (e.g. WHAT A KICK), or completely arbitrary noun-adjective pairings (e.g. AVID HIKER, FAVORITE MUG).
In rare occurences, RSTLNE will reveal only the S at the end of a pluralized puzzle (e.g. HIGHWAYS, WHIZ KIDS).
A Clue puzzle in 1993 reading SILENT BUTLER'S TARGETS proved to be this, as none of the contestants or Pat knew what a silent butler was.
No Indoor Voice: This show gets its fair share of screaming contestants, particularly on Teen Best Friends Week where it's common to have teams of two teenage girls who scream like banshees at everything. Often lampshaded by Pat, who will jokingly ask such contestants to speak up.
Though also subverted with the overall atmosphere of the show today. Most contestants now appear to be more calm and focused. The studio audience is also noticeably more subdued and less reactive (such as not always cheering after a contestant spins the top dollar value, or not always groaning when a contestant spins a Lose A Turn) than they used to be, with or without the help of an applause machine.
Numerological Motif: The week of May 27, 2013 was "Celebrating 30!", with contestants who had a connection to that number, many of whom were 30 years old. Most of the puzzles had to do with the number 30, the 1980s, or age including PEARL BRACELET and GREEN BAY WISCONSIN on the 29th, which ended with Pat and Vanna talking about how they were themed (30th-Anniversary gift and 30th state admitted to the Union, respectively).
May 30 had the second $1,000,000 win, although it had been rescheduled from the 31st (the date was leaked right after that week's taping session) because, you know...30.
The final tally of $1,030,340 was not lost on Jim Thornton.
The 1973 pilot, Shopper's Bazaar; Lin Bolen thought a shopping element could make the show stand out, but this pilot took it a bit too far: the intro featured the three contestants being introduced by browsing through the "store" while the announcer described their prizes, whilst simultaneously playing their first turns each. Among other things, there was a motorized carnival-style Wheel (with a mind of its own at times), a rotary telephone to dispense clues (if a contestant landed on the "Your Own Clue" wedge), an ugly pull-card puzzle board, a way-too-easy first attempt at a bonus round, a way-too-hard to understand scoring system, a rule where the contestant that won a round started the next one, a set that NBC boss Lin Bolen called "old-fashioned", and an instrumental "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" as the theme. Once thought to be lost in the archives (only about four publicity shots ever turned up, only one of which was in color), the pilot now circulates on YouTube, so you can experience the horror for yourself!Not even Griffin himself liked it.
A better-received (although not by much) pair of pilots were taped in 1974, with Edd "Kookie" Byrnes as the host. A few differences were seen from these shows and the eventual premiere, including the host giving a more specific category (e.g., "something you eat" was the clue for the puzzle SPAGHETTI, rather than the more generic categories that would be used by January 1976), a consistent set of prizes to choose from throughout the episode (as opposed to going to a different platform of prizes in a subsequent round). Although there was still lots of criticism, Lin Bolen put her job on the line and NBC accepted...under the condition that Chuck Woolery was host.
Even the Bonus Round underwent changes prior to the permanent version being implemented in December 1981. However, those versions had the same basic rules as the ones that would become most familiar to contestants, except that the contestant chose only four consonants (plus the vowel). The major difference with the hour-long and Star Bonus bonus games, the puzzle they were faced with had everything to do with the prize the contestant chose to play for that is, if the contestant picked the Cadillac Eldorado parked onstage, he could be assured of facing a very difficult puzzle (one with few of the common consonants in it), while if he played for just a living room set, the puzzle would be fairly easy to guess with the right pick of letters. The difficulty of the puzzles starting in 1981 would have nothing to do with the prize selected.
Buying a vowel. From the 1973 pilot through part of 1975, there was a "Buy A Vowel" wedge (later two) on the Wheel even though players could buy vowels anytime through at least the premiere note (making it really obvious was that the '74 pilots added the wedge in Round 2). Sometime in '75, around the time the minimum Wheel value was bumped to $100 and gift certificates were introduced, this was revoked in favor of needing to hit the wedge. Even then, contestants unfairly lost their turn by hitting it without enough money to buy a vowel, or after all the vowels had been revealed. By November 3, the wedges were just kicked out and contestants could buy vowels freely again.
The addition of Proper Name in 1996, ending more than two decades of inconsistent "Person does not always mean proper name." reminders. Strangely, the reverse is now true: Proper Name can also refer to a business, sports team, college, etc.
Even weirder is the retirement of Fictional Place. This means the category Place can also refer to any fictional town, country, etc.
The rename of On The Menu (introduced in Season 21) to Food & Drink in Season 24. Previously, some food-and-drink puzzles were shoehorned into On the Menu note (most egregiously, the bonus puzzle BIG GULP), while other foods that wouldn't necessarily be found on a menu were called just Thing note (such as CABBAGE) or Around The House note (another egregious example in the bonus puzzle ALMOND JOY). This could be seen as a Real Life example of Snowclone, as they were obviously snowcloning On the Map.
The introduction of the Toss-Up to decide play order. Before, a number draw backstage determined the position of the three players, meaning the person selected in the red (1st) position was always guaranteed to start two puzzles during a game, and quite possibly the yellow (2nd) player as well, leaving the blue (3rd) at a disadvantage. The Toss-Up could also use one as well, since there are two to kick off the show: one before contestant introductions and then one to decide who goes first, which doesn't seem so fair to the person who solved the first one...especially since, no matter who got the first Toss-Up, the red player starts Round 1 if the second goes unsolved.
Originally, the Free Spin was a regular space on the Wheel, and could be landed on multiple times (the contestant was given a cardboard disc), meaning s/he could stock up several tokens. Many contestants ended up turning in Free Spin after Free Spin and therefore hogging the Wheel, including at least one daytime episode where the blue contestant never got to touch the Wheel at all (but still ended up winning thanks to a $2,000 Final Spin).
Starting in Season 30, landing on the ½ Car tags, Wild Card, Gift Tag, or Prize wedge now award both the extra and $500 per letter. Previously, it awarded just cardboard, which can be rather disappointing if one lands on a Prize wedge early in the round and calls a letter that's up there several times.
As mentioned above, the two changes in the Bonus Round: first, by offering RSTLNE automatically, and second, by forcing the contestant to pick a random prize.
Reducing the cost of vowels on the daytime version after it moved to CBS to compensate for the drastically-lowered budget, as mentioned above.
Adding $1,000 to the value of the Final Spin in 1999 to reduce the number of Foregone Conclusions (although sometimes this can over-compensate).
Due to strict limitations in the UK, the British version originally had an either-or trivia question every time the Wheel changed hands; get it wrong, lose your turn. After at least the first two series, they realized it slowed games to a crawl and changed it to a toss-up question at the start of each round.
Older than They Look: Many people are unaware that Vanna is in her late 50s. Pat occasionally jokes that Vanna started working on the show when she was a child.
It used to be that only some games had Speed-Up rounds, and having one was more the exception; since about 2000, every game has one to bring a definitive "end" to gameplay and level the playing field a bit.
When they were first introduced in Season 21, Prize Puzzles occurred at random throughout the week. Since the Season 23 premiere, they now appear daily.
Once a Season: Many of the theme weeks, such as Big Money, Going Green, College Week, etc.
Ironically, none of those three themes were done in Season 30, not even College Week, which had been done at least once every nighttime season (usually on-location) since 12.
One-Book Author: It isn't Susan Stafford's only TV role, but it's her most notable. It was also Vanna's only real TV role until she got some others thanks to her Wheel fame. For that matter, this was also the only real TV role for Rolf Benirschke.
Opening Narration: From 1975-89, over a shot of the studio the announcer told the viewer to "Look at this studio, filled with glamorous prizes! Fabulous and exciting merchandise! note (From 1975-77, Charlie would say something along the lines of "Wonderful and inviting items sure to dazzle the imagination." Sometime in 1977, he began naming three prizes at random, and beginning near the end of Woolery's tenure as host in 1981, Jack Clark would give a longer description of some select items.) Over [amount] thousand dollars, just waiting to be won on... Wheeeeeel of Fortune! And now here's your host: [name]!"
On August 8, 1983 (with the first use of "Changing Keys"), the show began using a pre-recorded chant of "Wheel! Of! Fortune!" at the very beginning over the show's logo, superimposed over the Wheel. From 1989-91, the daytime show kept the last part of the original intro.
The current intro is simply the aforementioned chant, followed by "Ladies and gentlemen, Pat Sajak and Vanna White!" On road shows, it's extended to "From [venue], here are the stars of America's Game: Pat Sajak and Vanna White!"
Starting in 2001, the show extended taping sessions to six episodes, and compiled the sixth episodes into various weeks throughout the season. This often means that sixth-episode weeks will have different set pieces every day, and it formerly led to such oddities as a Teen Best Friends episode airing in the middle of the week.
The "sixth episode" variant became particularly obvious in Season 29 because the ½ Kia tags were introduced one week into the season, and the Mystery Round moved from Round 3 to Round 2 on the fifth week. However, a few episodes throughout the season were taped before one or both changes, resulting in a few episodes (including all six Halloween shows) where the Mystery Round reverted to Round 3, and a stray episode on December 5, 2011 without the ½ Kia tags. The Halloween week (the first taping session of the season) opted for ½ Car tags offering a Ford Fiesta, despite being taped only a day before the first aired week with the ½ Kia tags. Even more strangely, the first two episodes of the latter week didn't offer $500 per consonant along with the tag, even though Halloween Week did and stranger yet, they taped the Kia-less season premiere week after the Halloween shows.
Pie in the Face: Pat and Vanna exchanged pies in the face in the tag ending of a 1991 Cruise Week show. Spawns a Call Back in the tag of a later show when Vanna mentions that she's wearing the same outfit she had on when Pat pied her.
Player Nudge: When a contestant is holding a Wild Card and calls a correct letter on the top dollar value, Pat will usually convince them to use the card for another letter at that same value. Notably, contestants only seem to use it when he does this (except for its first season of use where several players used it on three-digit amounts). On some occasions, he forgets; on others, he convinces them to use it on non-top dollar amounts; and on at least one occasion, he was about to convince a player to use it on $3,500, but was cut off by him asking to solve.
If a contestant buys a vowel and the puzzle has at least one more vowel yet to be revealed, Pat will usually say something to the effect of "You can buy another."
Pilot: The first, Shopper's Bazaar, taped in 1973 with Woolery and focused more on the prizes than the puzzles (in addition to having a vertical Wheel instead of a horizontal one). A subsequent pair taped in 1974 were much closer to the final product, but with the shopping prizes behind the puzzle board and a drunk Edd "Kookie" Byrnes hosting.
Call X to Lose Your Turn: There's a Used Letter Board out of camera view to show contestants which letters have been used already (contestants can often be seen looking to the side to check it before choosing their letter). If, despite this, a contestant calls a letter that's already been picked, they forfeit their turn (unless, of course, the contestant is on Free Play).
However, they're at least kind enough to inform contestants if all of the vowels in the puzzle have been revealed, even if all five haven't been bought yet. Even so, this has failed to stop at least one contestant.
Sometimes contestants forget to add an "S" on a pluralized word when solving, or vice versa. This got subverted at least once during a Teen Best Friends week where one contestant rang in on a Toss-Up and said CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE, with her partner quickly adding the S to form the correct answer.
Product Placement: The Sony Card is ubiquitous, along with the Sony Rewards program, since the show is produced by Sony's television division.
A few episodes in Season 25 used a separate People category in honor of People magazine. The puzzles were show business-related answers that could be found in the magazine.
Beginning in the late 2000s, Maxwell House sponsors the Bonus Round. Any wins result in the company donating $2,500 to a Rebuilding Together fund.
The "Rock On!" category, in part because Pat would always let Charlie introduce it in a deep "rock DJ" voice.
Classic TV and Best Seller. The former had only one appearance between 2008 and 2011, and the latter has only been seen twice since 2007. However, there is evidence that the re-appearance of Classic TV after a long hiatus was a fluke, as at least one classic TV-related puzzle in between was just called TV Title.
Chuck and Susan both got legitimate and wonderful sendoffs, but they're pretty much treated this way by the show now. Goen and Wheel 2000 didn't get proper sendoffs, as neither knew their ends were happening. And while Benirschke's last day had the full credit roll typical of NBC game show finales, Rolf didn't get a proper sendoff because CBS hadn't said "No, we want Goen." yet.
Rattling Off Legal: Back in the shopping era, the announcer's sign-off was prefaced with "The prices of the prizes have been furnished to the contestants prior to the show and have been rounded off to the nearest dollar. Gift certificates do not include sales tax."
Real Song Theme Tune: The 1973 pilot used an instrumental version of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", while the 1974 pilots used "Give It One" by Maynard Ferguson.
The Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games specials used pieces from John Williams' "Summon the Heroes", the official theme of the Games (and later one of NBC's sub-themes).
The show's second (not counting pilots) theme, Griffin's own "Changing Keys" (introduced in August 1983), was re-orchestrated in 1984 (less "chirpy" sound, glissando added to intro), 1989 (mellower instrumentation), 1992 (mellower yet, except for the electric guitar solo), 1994 ("big band" mix with a radically different melody) and 1997 (similar to 1994, but slower tempo) with the last two remixes barely resembling the original.
The "big band" theme from 1994 also had many alternate mixes: a softer mix used for a celebrity week and some road shows (and sometimes as a bumper), a marching band version for episodes taped on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1995, another marching band version for College Weeks, and a lap steel guitar version for weeks taped in Hawaii.
A separate opening theme was used from 1998 to about 2007 for road shows.
"Happy Wheels", first introduced in September 2000, was remixed in 2002 and again in 2007. The 2002 mix even sampled the 1997 "Changing Keys".
Even the Think Music (Speed-Up, Bonus Round) has been remixed a few times.
Recycled Script: Invoked on April 6, 2011, where in honor of "Going Green" week each puzzle was "recycled" from an older episode. They even lampshaded this a bit by showing a clip from an older episode when the blank puzzle was revealed.
Early 1989: A puzzle misspells Charley Pride's name as "Charlie".
A November 1992 episode had the bonus puzzle FOG HORN, which is actually one word.
On November 14, 2003, the bonus puzzle answer was PIECE OF MIND; they were obviously going for PEACE OF MIND but conflated it with A PIECE OF YOUR MIND.
April 26, 2010 had WAIT A WHILE in the bonus round. While "a while" is a legitimate way to use the term, it must be used with a preposition (e.g. "for"); the proper way to use the term in this case would be as one word, "awhile".
Incorrect hyphenation is sometimes a problem. One early episode had a hyphen in BACHELOR'S-BUTTON for no reason, and they've inexplicably hyphenated AMUSEMENT-PARK FUN HOUSE and JINGLE-BELL ROCK (the latter at least twice).
Prior to sometime in the late 1970s, there were no punctuation marks, meaning (for instance) it was possible to have a puzzle read FISHERMANS WHARF or DONT SQUEEZE THE CHARMIN.
Using "El Niρo" Is Spanish for "The Niρo" during interviews ("You live in Los Alamos, which is Spanish for 'The Alamos'."), or whenever a Spanish-named town is used in a puzzle.
Using Pluralses whenever a plural category comes up.
Comically Missing the Point on the Prize Puzzle, and making the contestant believe they've won a booby prize themed to the puzzle instead of a trip. It's actually pretty harsh, as the Prize Puzzle has only ever offered a non-trip prize something like three times.
Saying "beep beep" or "S/he'll be right down!" after the car horn sound effect whenever a ½ Car tag is landed on. Similarly, if a contestant has only one of the ½ Car tags after Round 3 (the last round in which they are available), Pat often jokes that it will be parked in the ½ garage.
Joking about the Speed-Up music, particularly if the round is taking a long time.
Something along the lines of "There would be a federal investigation if you had gotten this" after a contestant fails to solve a bonus puzzle because the letters they picked weren't helpful.
Saying that the answer to the puzzle was also his nickname in high school, particularly if it involves an adjective ending in Y (such as HEAVY DUMBBELL, LIGHT AND FLUFFY, and PUDGY CHEEKS).
Every Spring, he tells a joke along the lines of "I thought I saw the first robin of Spring, but it turned out to be a pigeon with a chapped breast." Lampshaded in April 2012, where he said that it was the 14th year in a row he'd done that joke.
Averted with Jack Clark, who left both versions in early May 1988 (with Charlie O'Donnell and Johnny Gilbert filling in) and died July 21. While the Summer repeats began with him doing the newly-recorded Promotional Consideration plugs before the credits, Pat and Vanna began doing them once it became evident that Clark was too ill to announce anymore. By September 5, M.G. Kelly had taken over as announcer.
Since the show tapes in a very Out of Order fashion, Charlie ended up announcing 40 episodes that didn't air until after his death. Wheel dubbed him over with different announcers and edited out or dubbed over any direct references to him. The official reason was that "it was a tough decision, but it would have been too sad to hear Charlie's voice so close to his death". Fans were...not amused.
And in Summer 2011, Jim Thornton was dubbed over the other guest announcers (although reruns of episodes originally aired before Charlie's death kept him, including the weekend feed). The official reason was to "establish" Jim, but it really smacked more of cheapness and/or displeasure in the other announcers' work; the smacking got louder in early 2013, when the show used unaired outtakes from the intro of a 2011 episode as the opening retro clip and, despite this and the week not being reshown in Summer 2011, dubbed Jim over John Cramer.
Sdrawkcab Name: Played for Laughs on September 12, 1996, while discussing the Jackpot round that debuted the next Monday. Pat held the wedge upside-down and said that "Beginning next week, we have our Topkcaj..." before Vanna took it from him and turned it right-side-up.
Scenery Porn: Some of the specially-themed weeks are given rather intricate set pieces. They go all-out on Halloween week with gag tombstones, animatronic gargoyles, a haunted house, smoke and lights, various "spooky" sound effects in the Bonus Round, etc.
Shaped Like Itself: Done at least twice with the Place category: a late-1988 nighttime episode had a Place puzzle of SECRET HIDING PLACE, and a 1999 Bonus Round had the answer WORKPLACE in that category.
Several to sister show Jeopardy!, including JEOPARDY as a Title bonus puzzle in 1995, and JEOPARDY PREMIERES as a The 60's puzzle early in Season 13.
The category Rhyme Time appeared on Jeopardy! frequently before it appeared on Wheel. Jeopardy! returned the favor by adopting Before & After, which works just like its Wheel counterpart.
On March 9, 2004, SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS was a Fictional Character puzzle. After it was solved, Pat remarked "What do you mean 'fictional character'?" and proceeded to quote the entire theme song.
Spoiler: Whenever the Bonus Round is lost, Pat always spoils when the envelope is $100,000 by opening it, then quickly closing it before showing it to the camera.
Sudden Death: Originally, nighttime ties were broken by a Speed-Up round between the tied contestants. Since the introduction of Toss-Ups, a fourth Toss-Up is used instead.
Sound Effect Bleep: On January 7, 2013, a contestant forgot that Round 3 was a Prize Puzzle; after being told so by Pat, she exclaimed "Oh crap, I forgot!" The word "Crap" was censored out by the "wrong letter" buzzer.
On a Season 6 episode, a contestant unintentionally made a wrong guess in the Bonus Round that had to be censored with the Pyramid cuckoo.
If Pat thinks the puzzle is odd, he'll make sure everyone knows. Megaword in particular was a victim of this during the six months it was used.
November 29, 1995: From an episode where Johnny Gilbert filled in for an ill Charlie:
Pat: This is not like Jeopardy!, you know. If somebody wins something, they actually take their money home. Not like Jeopardy!, where if you finish in second place with $10,000, you get a lounge chair! Johnny: But it's a $10,000 lounge chair. Pat: ...I think I struck a nerve.
September 22, 2003: Before the $3,000 Toss-Up, Pat said "there are shows on Game Show Network that don't give that away in a month!"
March 10, 2009: In a Family Week episode, the yellow team solves the Speed-Up puzzle PLEASE REPEAT AFTER ME less than 1/10th of a second after the buzzer. The blue team then solves; Pat states that the scores are only tentative, and this also determined if the red team really would be going to the Bonus Round. Cue Pat saying "It's like reality TV but without all the fake stuff!"
February 24, 2012: After the Prize Puzzle I LOVE MY PASSPORT PHOTO was solved, Pat remarked that he's never heard anyone say that.
November 20, 2012: Following the $3,000 Toss-Up I WANT MY MTV, Pat explained to younger viewers that MTV is a network that used to play music videos.
April 29, 2013: On an episode taped in New York City, Pat hauled out a giant soft drink cup and took a drink from it, to poke fun at New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's policies against soft drink sizes.
June 13, 2013: Following the Round 2 puzzle LIVE-IN NANNY GOAT, Pat sighed and discouragedly said "I know exactly who wrote that." We may not know who submitted the puzzle, but current showrunner Harry Friedman approves every puzzle that's used during the tapings.
Technology Marches On: Even though Wheel switched to an electronic puzzle board in February 1997, people still refer to the letters being "turned" as if they were still trilons.
Tempting Fate: On October 21, 2003, a contestant had _____PS showing in the Bonus Round. Pat quipped "If you solve this, I'm retiring." After a few seconds, the contestant blurted out the right answer of HICCUPS.
November 28, 2011: A contestant has GLO_E showing in the bonus round. Pat says "Well, I'm gonna be surprised if you don't get this." With that setup, there's a 50/50 shot it's either GLOBE or GLOVE guess one, and if Pat says no, guess the other. She guesses GLOVE before the timer starts, is told that it's wrong, then spends the entire 10 seconds in silence.
Thememobile: The contestant coordinators travel cross-country in a "Wheelmobile" (a specially-designed Winnebago), making stops at various venues to hold contestant auditions.
Tick Tock Tune: The Bonus Round music bed has a ticking clock sound in it. The Speed-Up round has a faster one.
Timed Mission: The Bonus Round must be solved within 10 seconds. Also, the three seconds that contestants get to solve the puzzle in the Speed-Up round.
The "Slang" category (1992-95), where the slang used was almost always dated, obscure, or just plain nonexistent ("OFF THE BEAM", "LET'S CUT OUT OF HERE", "THE BLAHS", etc.).
Still happens now and then. A Teen Best Friends week in February 2011 had TOTALLY AWESOME WATER PARK as a Prize Puzzle (which makes it worse since Prize Puzzles aren't exactly known for their quality...or quantity of hits on Google), and the puzzles all week were (sometimes poorly) skewed towards teens in general.
Painfully present on Wheel 2000: Place became Globetrotter, any puzzle about grammar became Word Rap, and Thing became Just Stuff. The Wheel on that version also had Bankrupt and Lose A Turn renamed "Creature" and "Loser", respectively. Oh, and it had No Budget. Radical!
Trailers Always Spoil: In recent years, the show uploads a preview of the next week's shows on Sony's website every weekend. Nearly every preview shows contestants landing on or picking up prizes, the $10,000 side of the Mystery Wedge, or the Million-Dollar Wedge...or just outright spoil outcomes. Occasionally, similar previews air on TV.
On October 13, 2010, one preview that aired near the end of the show was devoted entirely to a woman picking up the Million-Dollar Wedge, complete with suspenseful music and an announcer saying that the episode "just might have a million reasons to watch". When the episode aired, she lost it to Bankrupt.
The promo for the week of May 27, 2013 outright stated there would be a $1,000,000 win that week, showing very brief footage of when in the game the Million-Dollar Wedge was hit and the big winner celebrating. It only became more obvious (still before it aired) when said $1,000,000 winner posted the week's contestant blog part of her outfit could clearly be seen in the promo during the "post-win" clip.
Trope 2000: The children's version Wheel 2000, which ran from 1997-98.
Understatement: Pat, to million-dollar winner Michelle Loewenstein. "You may be one of our bigger winners." Oddly, he didn't say anything similar to the second $1,000,000 winner (Autumn Erhard), even though...you know...she took the "biggest Wheel winner" record from Michelle.
Useless Useful Wedge: Buy A Vowel. Its redundancy from the 1973 pilot suggests it was meant to simulate the "impulse buy" that may or may not backfire, putting it closer to Lose A Turn and Bankrupt than Free Spin. Strangely, the wedge wasn't actually present for Round 1 on the '74 pilots, and the thing never even came into play for the first two pilots.
Victoria's Secret Compartment: On a 2011 episode, Pat was talking to Vanna about being cold, and how you have "handwarmers or footwarmers or..." and she pulls two warmers out of the top of her dress, saying "They have to stay warm." note (Boobwarmers?)
While not itself an example, VICTORIA'S SECRET COMPARTMENT was the answer to a Before & After puzle on October 16, 2013.
Voice Of Dramatic: Charlie O'Donnell. Starting in the late 1990s, if someone won the $25,000 in the Bonus Round, he would let them know that they'd just won "twenty-five THOOOOOOOUUUUSAND dollars!" This, of course, also applies to any other amount of money won ever since figures higher than $25,000 were offered starting in 2001-02.
By comparison, Jack Clark and M.G. Kelly were far mellower and lower-key (but by no means phoning it in). Jim Thornton is somewhere in between.
Vocal Evolution: Charlie's voice got deeper over time. He also had a spell throughout most of the 1990s where he was noticeably mellower, but actually became only more enthusiastic come the 2000s (see above).
On the March 8, 2013 episode, Pat popped a button off his jacket during the Final Spin. Even though the wardrobe department was able to get him a new button during the commercial break, he wore stage manager John Lauderdale's jacket for the rest of the show as a joke.
Written-In Infirmity: As mentioned above, Pat and Vanna traded places for one Bonus Round due to Pat having laryngitis. The next day, Pat used hand signals throughout a round as a further means of resting his voice.
If a contestant is wheelchair-bound or unusually short, they are allowed to have a friend or family member spin the Wheel for them. Obviously, unless it's a Best Friends or Family Week with two-person teams, the spinner can't play along.
On a Best Friends Week in 1997, one team consisted of a deaf contestant and his friend, who doubled as a sign-language translator.
You Keep Using That Word: At least once, Thornton told the contestant they won a "cash advance" of $xx,000 in the Bonus Round. It certainly isn't a "loan taken out against a line of credit or credit card, typically imposing higher-than-normal interest charges" (as Investopedia says).
You Say Tomato: In one episode, Pat pointed out that Charlie says "ca-RIB-be-an" and he says "CARE-uh-be-an". He then added that he says "Wheel of Fortune" while Charlie says, quote, "Wheeeeeeeeeeel of Fortune".