Wheel gets first prime-time exposure
Another syndicated game show is taking a spin in primetime.
Wheel of Fortune is heading to primetime with a first-ever celebrity edition where it’ll air on Thursday nights starting January 7 on ABC. Those celebrity contestants have a chance to win a million dollars for their favorite charity.
Sony Pictures Television produces Wheel of Fortune in syndication and is distributed by CBS Television Distribution, who’ll have no involvement with the prime-time version.
It also marks the first time Wheel has actually aired in prime-time. Since 1983, the show has aired in “prime access” in most markets, the hour designated for local or syndicated programming before prime-time begins (the show DOES NOT air in daytime, as many trade magazines erroneously reported.) The FCC made that declaration in September 1971 and for the first 25 years, disallowed programming – network and off-network (rerun) alike on Big 3 affiliates in the nation’s 50 largest markets – allowing Wheel to rise to prominence to become the highest-rated show in syndication until Judge Judy knocked it off its perch.
With the ABC deal, Wheel now joins a exclusive club of programs to air on all three major commercial networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) including The Price Is Right, Bachelor Father, To Tell The Truth (whose current revival airs in primetime on ABC) and various incarnations of Password. Wheel began in daytime on NBC in 1975 and moved to CBS in 1989 before returning to NBC for a final nine-month run in 1991.
The move is also perfect given Wheel already airs as a lead-in to prime-time on numerous ABC affiliates and seven ABC-owned stations including WLS-TV, who has aired Wheel at 6:30 p.m. since January 1984. Wheel has aired on O&Os WABC New York and KABC Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. since 1990 and 1992, respectively. In most eastern and pacific time zone markets, it’s paired with Jeopardy! (also from Sony/CBS) from 7 to 8 p.m.
Wheel is the latest syndicated game show to get exposure in prime-time on ABC, where the network has had success with Celebrity Family Feud and last January’s Jeopardy! The Greatest Of All Time. ABC obviously plans to make prime-time game shows a near year-around thing, with the revivals of Match Game, Press Your Luck, and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire all doing well. In fact, the number of game shows on prime-time schedules nearly matches those in the 1950s, before the quiz show scandals brought the entire genre down.
The only syndicated game show not to have exposure in prime-time is Fox’s 25 Words Or Less, whose ratings have increased in season two.
Sony dealing a celebrity version of Wheel to ABC is also surprising in a way, given Wheel is one of the oldest skewing programs on television – one that doesn’t exactly scream “youth appeal” as much of its audience is 55-plus. Wheel is going to be judged by the 18-49 rating it gets as this is key prime-time demo and the results may not be pretty. But it’s basically a good promotion for an existing show that airs right down the street on your TV grid and could give young viewers a chance to sample the syndicated version.
And Pat and Vanna need it. Because when you Google Wheel of Fortune, one of the questions that came up is “Is Wheel of Fortune canceled?”