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Wheel of Fortune

Producer: Merv Griffin
Host: Edd Byrnes
Assistants: Susan Stafford
Announcer: Charlie O'Donnell
Taping Info: 1974, presumably Los Angeles
Made it to Air: Yes, although with Chuck Woolery as host. Woolery had hosted an earlier pilot called Shopper's Bazaar that somewhat resembles this show. Wheel debuted on the NBC lineup January 6, 1975, replacing Winning Streak. It first left the NBC lineup June 30, 1989, replaced by reruns of Golden Girls. It moved to CBS in July of 1989, replacing Now You See It. It left the CBS lineup on January 11, 1991, replaced by The Barbara DeAngelis Show, rejoining the NBC lineup until September 20, 1991, when the 10 o'clock hour was given back to the NBC affiliates.

Legend has it that Merv Griffin was given carte blanche to put a game show on NBC for the right to cancel Jeopardy! It seems a rather odd story, because why would you need permission as a network to cancel a show? Merv likes word games that he doesn't have to come up with, so he essentially took hangman and added a wheel to it. In addition, you would shop for your prizes instead of just being assigned them. Edd "Kookie" Burns, who ran out the 60s making spaghetti westerns, was the host of these two pilots.

Edd was hilarious. Unfortunately, he was not trying to be. Edd mentions in his autobiography Kookie No More that he was drunk during the pilot. In the first pilot, he was "crazy drunk", often making weird faces at the camera, that is, when he was not obviously reading from cue cards. In the second pilot, he was "happy drunk", often saying "whee" as the wheel spun. It also seemed to personally offend Mr. Byrnes that someone would actually be able to solve 11-letter puzzles based on three letters, imploring players to try for more letters.

Mechanically, the game was pretty much the game we knew on the daytime version. Most of the dollar values on the wheel were of the low three-digit variety, although the game did have the "Buy a Vowel" space. You still could buy them for $250 even if you didn't hit the space. One difference, however, was that the wheel seemed to have much less resistance during the spin, meaning much valuable air time was used to show a spinning wheel. Each of the two pilots got through only four puzzles without a bonus game.

Oh, and yes, you did shop for prizes. Unlike later episodes, there was only one shopping area which was used for the entire game. During the shopping, there was a scroll on screen listing the prizes available, their prizes, and whether or not the prize has been purchased. You could have the Las Vegas trip for $400, or the microwave for $430. Both the pilots had the same prizes.

There was a neat game here, unfortunately, the hosting had a lot to be desired. Merv Griffin was known for going off the board in finding hosts (Rolf Benirschke, Danny O'Neill, The Amazing Jonathan), but Edd was fortunately stopped before he made it on the air. By going with another game show rookie (Chuck Woolery), the show became legendary.

This pilot has been viewed 6454 times since October 6, 2008 and was last modified on Dec 12, 2009 14:46 ET
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