Wheel of Fortune is the long-running daytime network and syndicated game show in which three contestants spin a giant wheel and solve Hangman-type word puzzles to win thousands of dollars in cash & prizes. Currently in syndication, the show is commonly known as "America's Game".
In each round, a puzzle was revealed followed by a category to that puzzle. The player in control spun a large wheel which is fully calibrated with dollar amounts and penalty spaces (Bankrupt & Lose a Turn). When the wheel landed on a dollar amount, he/she then called a letter. If the letter is in the puzzle he/she earned the amount times the number of appearances of that letter and continued his/her turn. Along the way he/she can buy a vowel which costs $250 ($200, later $100 on Bob Goen's version) each no matter how many there are or if it appeared in the puzzle or not. If at any point the contestant in control picked a letter that was not in the puzzle, picked a letter that was already called, picked a vowel instead of a consonant after spinning, solved the puzzle incorrectly or if he/she hit Lose a Turn, that player lost his/her turn and control went over the next player in line; if the player hit "Bankrupt", the player in control loses all his/her money and his/her turn and gives up prizes (if any were earned). Previously in the first round there was only one Bankrupt, and there were at least two with each subsequent round. Since Season 27, there has always been at least two Bankrupts throughout the entire game. The first player to solve the puzzle won the round and kept all the money earned in that round with a minimum guarantee on each version:
Special Wheel SpacesEdit
In addition to the money amounts and penalty spots, the wheel also consisted of special spaces. Some of them last for just one round.
- Buy A Vowel - In the pilot and early months of the series, one of the spaces, marked "Buy A Vowel", gave the contestant who landed on it a chance to buy a vowel at its usual price of $250 provided he/she had enough money, but if it was landed on with a total less than $250 or if there were no more vowels in the puzzle, it acted as a Lose A Turn space. It was not a successful space, and so it was shelved in favor of the current vowel buying rules which still exist today.
- Free Spin - When a player landed on that space he/she received a Free Spin token. The Free Spin can be used whenever a player is in a position to lose his/her turn. In 1989, the space was removed in favor of a single Free Spin covering the first number of one of the money amounts; when claimed he/she can call a letter for the amount under the Free Spin. Later he/she must call a correct letter to claim the Free Spin and since the 25th season also received $300 a letter, as the token was covering a $300 space with the "3" revealed rather than concealed (similar to the old rule). The Free Spin token was originally tan with "FREE SPIN" written horizontally across, but by 1989, it would change to green with SPIN in the center and "Free" on the top and bottom in yellow script.
- Prize Wedges - When landed on, the player must call a correct letter to pick up the wedge or tag and place it on his/her triangle under his/her bank. Originally in early years, that player just picked up the wedge immediately and then call a letter for the value under the wedge. To keep the prize, that player must of course solve the puzzle without hitting Bankrupt. The gift tags are valued at $1,000 towards the sponsors of the tags. Starting in Season 30, if the contestant calls a correct consonant, he/she also earns $500 per appearance of each one (similar to the old rule).
- Jackpot - This was a very special space which lasted for two seasons. It worked like the prize wedges on the nighttime shows at the time, for when landed on the contestant in control picked it up, placed it under his/her bank, then called a letter for the value underneath it. If the contestant can avoid Bankrupt at all times and solve the puzzle, he/she collected the Jackpot which started at $1,000 plus that much more for every day it's not won. However, the Jackpot money could not be spent on vowels or shopping rounds.
From 1975 to 1989, contestants who solved the puzzle used their money to shop for prizes including the expensive ones. They can buy as many prizes as they want, but if they were low on money, they can put the rest of the cash on a gift certificate or "On Account". Upon putting the money "On Account", it was taken out of their score and placed on a backdrop behind the player(s) with "On Account" above. That was taking a risk because if at any time the player hit Bankrupt not only the money from that round was gone, but the "On Account" money was gone, too. The "On Account" money was also gone if the player failed to win the round. If the contestant can solve the puzzle, the "On Account" money was added to the player's round score and available for shopping.
When the show instituted the playing for all cash format, the shopping format was discontinued, and the game went faster. Plus, contestants were now tax-free because before the all-cash format was implemented, players had to pay outrageous taxes for the prizes they won after the show ended.
Final Spin/Speed-Up RoundEdit
When time is running short, a bell would sound, and the host would give the wheel a final spin. (If the host lands on a prize, Bankrupt, Lose a Turn, etc., the host will spin again.) Then the contestant in control was asked to give a letter. If the letter is a consonant and is in the puzzle he/she received the cash landed on (since 1999 $1,000 was added to the value landed on), but if the right letter was a vowel no money is earned (or lost). Pat would remind everyone at home and in the studio audience what the category is. Then, the in-studio audience is told to be quiet since they do not want to give the solution away and to give the players some concentration in this round until the puzzle is solved. Either way, the contestant had three seconds (originally five) to solve the puzzle. During the Shopping era, if there isn't enough time to shop for any more prizes, then the round would be played for a gift certificate (savings bond for teen contestants) unless of course they have enough for the bigger prizes. In the video games for the Nintendo Wii and DS, the amount of time to solve the puzzle is 15 seconds. Until Season 17, some games ended without a Speed-Up.
The Speed-Up Round depends on what round will start or what round is in progress.
All players get to keep whatever they won, but the player with the most money at the end of the show won the game. If contestants who finish with $0, he/she gets parting gifts until season 20. Starting in season 20, he/she gets the house minimum amount. Starting in 1981, the winning player went on to play the bonus round.
If the game ended in a tie, all three players returned the next day.
Two bonus rounds have been used on the show.
Star Bonus (1978)Edit
If a contestant landed on the Star Bonus space, he/she had a chance to play a special bonus round at the end of the game. If he/she was not in the lead, the bonus game would give the contestant an opportunity to overtake the leader at the end of the last round. The contestant was given a choice of four Star Bonus puzzles, ranging from easy to difficult. The more difficult the puzzle, the more the contestant could win. The game played similar to its successor bonus round, with the difference that the contestant had four consonants and one vowel to pick from (as opposed to five consonants and one vowel), and was not told the category until AFTER their letters were revealed (as opposed to telling them the category at the outset of the round). This bonus proved to be a problem, as it took up so much time and caused heavy editing including a cut back on promotional consideration plugs at the end of the show.
Current Bonus RoundEdit
In this more well-known bonus round, the contestant is shown one final puzzle which he/she must solve for a prize selected at the start.
The winning contestant selected a prize branded with a gold star on it. Later, after Shopping was removed when Bob Goen took over as host, the contestant had a choice of five prizes, one of them being $5,000 in cash, which was mostly chosen every time.
Once the prize was chosen, the puzzle was revealed and the contestant was given six letters to start, which are consonants R, S, T, L, N, and vowel E. After all instances of those letters were revealed, the winning contestant is asked to give three more consonants (four if he/she has the Wild Card) and one more vowel (before that time he/she was asked to give five consonants and one vowel which were usually the six letters previously mentioned, which probably led to the current rules). Once the contestant's letters were revealed, the contestant had 10 seconds (originally 15) to solve the puzzle and the contestant was always told to talk it out. Additionally, the in-studio audience is told to be quiet so the solution to the puzzle isn't given away; it is unknown if disobeyers of this rule are forced to leave the studio.
In the daytime version, champions can stay on the show for up to 5 days (later 3). In Bob Goen's first show, 3 new contestants appeared on the show even though the winner of Rolf Benirschke's last show didn't win 3 games.
- The original name for Wheel of Fortune was called Shopper's Bazaar. It featured altered rules, a vertical wheel without Bankrupt, and a flimsy motorized puzzleboard. They were all scrapped in favor of the more traditional rules, a horizontal wheel, a hand-operated puzzleboard, and the addition of hostess Susan Stafford.
- Wheel of Fortune started out as a replacement show for the now-cancelled original version of Jeopardy! after 11 years on the air though it was supposed to be on the air for one more year according to Merv Griffin's contract (the other show cancelled & replaced at that time was the short-lived Bob Stewart production Winning Streak), but it quickly grew into a daytime phenomenon and it even spawned a nighttime version of the show. Because of Wheel's nighttime success, Merv decided it was time to revive Jeopardy! (for the 2nd time) this time in primetime syndication & pairing it with Wheel.
- At one time, daytime Wheel of Fortune was almost cancelled by NBC. Its near cancellation angered fans who started writing into the show asking them "Will it really be cancelled?" However, during the final segment of an episode that aired on June 20, 1980, Chuck cleared up those rumors and announced to the viewers that the show is not cancelled and it lives another day (or in this case, many more years). The shows that really got the axe were Hollywood Squares, The New High Rollers, and Bill Cullen's Chain Reaction, all in favor of a 90-minute talk show hosted by none other than David Letterman. As it turned out, it was Dave's show that got cancelled after a mere six months, but in 1982 Dave was given a standard 60-minute late night talk show which would be on CBS until 2015. The cancelled morning show was replaced by Las Vegas Gambit and Bill Cullen's second 1980 show, Blockbusters.
- Chuck's last show was during a Christmas special, Pat's first show was during a Teen Week, and Vanna's first show was during a Philadelphia week.
Merv Griffin - he based the game off Hangman, which he played a lot as a kid. The wheel itself is based off of Roulette, which is the French name for "Wheel". The show itself should not be confused with the casino game of the same name that is often referred to as the Big 6 wheel that involves betting on dollar bills.