Pat Sajak, who has presided over the long-running ‘Wheel of Fortune’ for 40 years, says his upcoming 41st season will be his last.
Wheel of Fortune, America’s third-longest running game show (behind The Price is Right and Jeopardy!), will be searching for a new emcee after the end of the upcoming season. Host Pat Sajak, shown above with his wife, Lesly Brown Sajak, just confirmed he will retire at the end of the new season, which will be his 41st behind the big wheel.
For game show fans, the announcement is notable: Sajak is the last long-running host still on the air. The next longest-serving host is Steve Harvey on Family Feud. But Harvey, while a great fit for the current incarnation of that show, has only been hosting for 13 years.
I grew up during the 1970s when game shows were a staple on daytime TV. Viewers enjoyed the likes of long-serving emcees like Bob Barker, Bill Cullen, Allen Ludden, Gene Rayburn, Monty Hall and Dick Clark.
Sajak, the record holder
Viewers of a certain age will recall that Wheel of Fortune premiered on NBC in 1975 with Chuck Woolery as host. The original hostess was Susan Stafford, who left a year later. Vanna White, who remains as the current hostess, joined the program in 1982.
So that places Sajak as the longest-running host of any game show, a title the Guinness World Records recognized him for back in 2019. While Bob Barker enjoyed a 50-year run on national television, in terms of a single show, his record was 35 years as host of The Price is Right. Sajak has hosted ‘Wheel’ since 1981.
In 1983, it entered syndication, outliving the NBC network daytime version by decades. So while Sajak will retire after hosting the syndicated version for 41 seasons, it will mark the end of an even 40 for the Sajak-White partnership.
That sort of explains the timing of the announcement. It seemed strange to me that if he were ready to retire, he wouldn’t have called it quits at the end of the 40th season. That would be a nice, round, even number.
Perhaps, he’s just tired of hosting after doing it so long. (But from what I hear, they tape show many shows at once that it’s essentially about 35 workdays a year shooting five episodes or so each day. That adds up to about 175 episodes a season.
How’d you like to make more than $15 million a year for 35 workdays a year? I could live with that.
Are you a ‘wheel watcher’?
I don’t have a way to stream Wheel of Fortune each night. I can stream some repeats depending on the channel and I think Hulu carries the Celebrity Wheel of Fortune prime time episodes. But I don’t watch them.
I don’t mind the show, but it’s never been a show I ever made it a point to watch, even when it was on daytime. It’s a great format, created by none other than Merv Griffin. Yes, it’s essentially the classic childhood game of “Hangman” with a money element involving the wheel.
Over the years, they’ve added far too many gimmicks for my liking. I’ve seen some fans of the show who aren’t necessarily as fond of Sajak himself accuse the host of “phoning it in.”
While Pat Sajak isn’t at the top of my list of all-time favorite emcees, I don’t think he’s a terrible host, either.
To be fair, there’s not a great deal of room for a big personality. Griffin’s format doesn’t need a lot of hosting work. The Price is Right needs a host with a personality much more because there’s a lot of explaining necessary to help the audience navigate the more-than-70 pricing games they rotate from episode to episode. The old 1970s Match Game, on the other hand, was such a weak format that it needed a host with a lot of personality. Gene Rayburn proved to be the perfect fit for that one.
Barker retired at 83 after 35 years on the job. At 76, Sajak, barring any health issues we don’t know about, could have stretched his run to 45 seasons. At about 85, he could have a 50-season run.
The future of ‘Wheel’
If there’s one thing we can all be certain about, it’s that Pat Sajak retiring won’t spell the end of the show.
Will Vanna White step down at the end of the new season as well? If so, we’d have a new host and hostess combo (assuming we have a new male host and a new female “letter-turner”).
I haven’t heard any names as possible replacements for Sajak. I hope the show won’t do what other shows have done: Bring in a comedian to host. There’s enough going on with Wheel of Fortune that they don’t need a comedian trying to steal every moment for laughs.
The New York Post reported there’s a contingent of fans who want White to take over as host. But after 40 years, she might be ready to step down as well. So even if you get her to sign a short-term contract, you’d still be looking for a new host within a few years.
The website For The Win, meanwhile, suggests six possibilities, including White. Of the remaining five, the one that’s probably the least surprising is actor LeVar Burton, who campaign unsuccessfully to take over hosting duties on ‘Wheel’s’ sister show, Jeopardy! If Burton became the show’s new host, that might satisfy calls for justice for fans who didn’t appreciate what they consider the snub on Jeopardy!
In any case, the show has a year to figure all that out as Sajak plans his post-show life.