San Diego takes a spin at Wheel of Fortune
by Laurie Smith
Published - 04/09/07 - 08:05 AM | 6920 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Wheel of Fortune, complete with Pat, Vanna, cash and prizes, spun into San Diego recently to the delight of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of the show's loyal fans.Crews rolled into town with several tractor-trailers hauling about a million pounds of equipment, including the 4,000-pound wheel. That's right "¦ 4,000 pounds "” and it's the same wheel used in the permanent studio in Los Angeles.Wheel of Fortune, nicknamed "America's Game," hits the road a few times throughout the year seeking out contestants and giving viewers across the country "” who may never get to L.A. "” a chance to be in the audience.Harry Friedman, executive producer of both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, added that the show hires local carpenters, electricians and stagehands to put up lights, set up equipment and set the stage, which included surprisingly authentic-looking reproductions of San Diego landmarks, such as a cupola from the Hotel del Coronado, Seaport Village buildings, the Coronado Bridge, sailboats and, of course, scads of palm trees.This visit to San Diego wraps up the popular game show's 24th season. Three weeks of themed shows were taped in three days at the San Diego Convention Center in March."Mom and Me Week," airing April 30 through May 4, pairs mothers with sons and daughters to celebrate Mother's Day; "Sunny San Diego Week," airing May 7 through 11, celebrates the sights and sounds of the city; and "Armed Forces Week," airing May 14 through 18, honors America's men and women in uniform.The whirlwind weekend began with the Wheel Watchers Club Backstage Pass event, offering 15 lucky San Diegans and their guests a chance to check out all the behind-the-scenes activity, see the puzzle board, play a mock version of the game, meet the crew and even learn a few secrets."We're excited to be here. San Diego is awesome; the weather is beautiful and everybody is so friendly," said Annette Dimatos, senior director of marketing for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy."We're really proud of the Wheel Watchers Club. It's the first loyalty program a television show has ever done. It rewards viewers for doing what they already do "” watch the show and solve puzzles," Dimatos said. "The more you watch, and the more you participate, the more chances you have to win."The series, created by Merv Griffin and produced by Sony Pictures Television, is seen by more than 46 million viewers each week, and was named one of TV Guide's "50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time."According to Friedman, the show has awarded well over $150 million in cash and prizes and donated nearly a half million to charities, including St. Jude's Hospital.A big topic of interest at the Backstage Pass event was Vanna White's gowns.Alan Mills and Kathi Nishimoto, the show's wardrobers, showed off the size 4 gowns for the San Diego shows "” all from local boutiques: Caché in the Fashion Valley Mall, Villa Moda in the Gaslamp Quarter and La Donna Boutique in La Jolla. They explained that every effort is made to get the flavor of the area when the show is on the road.One Wheel Watcher asked the inevitable question, "Does Vanna get to keep the gowns?"The answer is no. The designer gowns are either sent back to the boutiques or donated to charities to be used as a fund-raising item.White, who is actually recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as "Television's Most Frequent Clapper," joined the show in 1982, not long after its debut. She claims she doesn't have a particular favorite designer, but after donning more than 5,000 different designer outfits, she knows what she's not fond of."Heavy beaded gowns are hard to wear," White laughed. "They weigh about 10 to 15 pounds, and I'm walking on stilts and trying to turn letters."As a result of fan interest in her wardrobe, White launched the "Vanna Style" Web page (accessed through the Wheel of Fortune site).An avid crocheter, White's latest project is a line of Vanna White Yarn. What is different about her yarn is that she is donating half the proceeds to St. Jude's Hospital."I'm proud to be able to donate to St. Jude's," she said. "It's really special; they help so many children. I toured the hospital in Memphis recently. I didn't realize the research that they do and cures they have found."Regarding the visit to San Diego, White said enthusiastically, "This is one of my all-time favorite places to visit. There's so much to do in this family-friendly city."Pat Sajak, the other name synonymous with the show title, boasts one more year on the show than White. Having majored in broadcasting in college, Sajak worked in radio as a newscaster and announcer. He joined the U.S. Army and spent a year and a half with Armed Forces Radio in the former Saigon, Vietnam, starting each day by shouting, "Good morning, Vietnam!" Sound familiar?Sajak eventually made his way to television, where he was discovered by Merv Griffin, who chose him to host his new game show."I was very lucky," Sajak admitted. "I always knew that I wanted to be in broadcasting."His current projects, in addition to his "Wheel of Fortune" duties, include his own production company "“ P.A.T. Productions, a music publishing company, a couple of radio stations and his own line of games through PatSajakGames.com.Sajak has amassed an impressive number of awards and honors, including three Emmy Awards and a People's Choice Award. And both Sajak and White have earned stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.White and Sajak's years of experience and professionalism add to what one local contestant, computer programmer Dave Turczyn, of Hillcrest said: "[It] was an almost overwhelming experience. But the show was taken very seriously. It was all about fairness and legality."He added that the entire staff and crew "were great, and they were all very genuine. They worked with us all day to make us comfortable," he said. "Right away they had us spinning the wheel. The first time you spin it, it hardly moves, but it was kind of a fantasy to spin that wheel."It was great being part of a show that's so familiar with all of America. I've been watching since I was a kid."The entire crew of the show appeared to have as much fun as the fans and the contestants while in San Diego. Friedman summed it up and said, "America's Finest City is home to some of the most beautiful natural scenery, but also some of the most enthusiastic Wheel Watchers in the country."Wheel of Fortune can be seen in San Diego Mondays through Saturdays at 7 p.m. on KNSD-TV, channel 7/39.
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