For people of my age and younger (and really a bit older as well), Wheel of Fortune is Pat Sajak and Vanna White. It’s an institution, on nightly for more than 30 years now, and shows no signs of stopping (and its companion program, Jeopardy!, has held up equally well). But many don’t realize the history of the program, and that a different host and hostess could be the ones we’re still watching today, had things gone differently.
Chuck Woolery, of “Love Connection” and “Scrabble” fame, as well as the awesome GSN show “Lingo,” was the original host, heading the proceedings for more than half a decade. The show was on during the daytime, so it had a looser feel, and Woolery was certainly a different host, but it also showed why we loved him so much. And classic “Wheel” announcer Charlie O’Donnell was there at the beginning, too.
A salary dispute led him to be replaced by Pat Sajak, and shortly thereafter original letter turner Susan Stafford left, to be replaced by Vanna White. A nighttime version of the show debuted soon thereafter, and the rest is history.
The theme song may be different, the shopping segment eliminated (although that did survive the first few years of the nighttime show), but ultimately it’s the game we all know and love.
While we’re at it, here’s the first episode of the syndicated version that still airs today.