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As 'Wheel of Fortune' gets a new host, what makes it so evergreen?


JACK CLARK: And now here's your new host, Pat Sajak.

PAT SAJAK: Thank you. Thank you, Jack Clark.


In 1981, Pat Sajak started hosting "Wheel Of Fortune."


SAJAK: As Jack mentioned, my name is Pat Sajak, and I've been fortunate enough to wander onto the set of a very successful program, has been for a long time...

RASCOE: And the game show made him a household name. My own mom still watches the show today.


SAJAK: And now, I'd like to announce that I'm leaving the show - no. Just...


RASCOE: Sajak may have been kidding back then, but just a few weeks ago, he did announce his retirement. He's got one more season up his sleeve, and then super host Ryan Seacrest will take over in 2024. To delve into why "Wheel Of Fortune" holds such a special place in the hearts of many Americans, we turn to NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: So can I buy a vowel, or is it too early?

RASCOE: (Laughter).

DEGGANS: That's too early. OK. OK.

RASCOE: It's too soon for that. It's too soon for that.

DEGGANS: (Laughter).

RASCOE: So, first, Pat Sajak has been the host of "Wheel Of Fortune" for over four decades - I mean, my whole entire life. Why is he leaving now?

DEGGANS: I don't think he said a whole lot about why he wants to step down. But I think there's a sense that, you know, he's ready to leave working this high-profile job. And they moved pretty quickly to name his replacement.

RASCOE: So what made Pat Sajak such an American institution?

DEGGANS: Pat Sajak is just a really affable, middle-class-looking white guy. And those are the kind of guys who were often hosts. And especially on "Wheel Of Fortune" - I mean, you know, I know there are people out there who love the show, but basically you just have to be charming. You have to make the guests feel comfortable. And then it's a game of hangman, which is pretty simple.

RASCOE: They are moving on, though, from Pat Sajak to Ryan Seacrest. What do you make of him as the new host? I feel like the hair is not, like, exactly the same as Pat Sajak, but they're both, like, sandy blonds kind of.


RASCOE: I can see the similarity. Am I... (laughter)

DEGGANS: That's true. In one sense, I think this is another step in Ryan Seacrest's endless quest to become the modern version of Dick Clark (laughter), who hosted everything from "American Bandstand" to award shows on television to "New Year's Rockin' Eve," which now Ryan Seacrest hosts.

Of course, Seacrest's new position has brought renewed attention to past allegations. Back in 2017 and 2018, a former stylist for E! accused Seacrest of years of unwanted sexual aggression and said that he sexually harassed and assaulted her in various ways. He denied it, has consistently denied it. E! conducted an internal investigation and said they couldn't find any evidence of it.

Sajak has endorsed Ryan taking over for him and in fact, had even joked that Ryan Seacrest might take over for him before this was even announced. So all of this has the sense of a very well-mannered, well-staged transition that Sony is desperate to have in a show where people want constancy. They want stability.

RASCOE: Yeah. They want continuity. Yeah. I mean...


RASCOE: ...And which brings us to Vanna White, the show's longtime co-host. You know, she is the one who, you know, presses the letters or at least points to them, and then was...

DEGGANS: (Laughter) She used to turn them back in the day.

RASCOE: She used to turn them.

DEGGANS: And now, you know...

RASCOE: I do remember that. I remember. But now she can just touch them.


RASCOE: There was some grumbling that she should have been picked as the host. I mean, she is an institution, just like, you know, Pat Sajak.

DEGGANS: Yeah. And I think there's always a sense that maybe the show hasn't valued her as much as they should have. There's some reporting out there that suggests that Vanna White hasn't had a raise on the show for almost 20 years. I can certainly see why fans would want her to have a shot at hosting.

Now, we don't know if she actually wanted to do that or whether she wants to keep the job that she has. I think if Sony is smart, they'll back up the money truck, and they'll keep her on the show because, you know, Ryan Seacrest will be enough of a difference. You don't want to send the message, even unintentionally, that as Ryan Seacrest comes, they have to eject Vanna White. That will upset, I think, a lot of fans of the show.

RASCOE: Do you think that Ryan Seacrest will bring a new feel to the show?

DEGGANS: The question is, how strongly will Sony want to insist on not changing much or having changes that are mostly superficial? So far, they seem to have navigated it well. I think their next big challenge is getting Vanna White to sign on, and then their next big challenge after that is figuring out how much they might change things and whether Ryan Seacrest really has some revolutionary ideas about what he wants to do.

RASCOE: OK. But for right now, Pat Sajak and Vanna White will still be around for a little while longer. NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans, thank you so much.

DEGGANS: All right. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.