The 7 Network has studios in the heart of Sydney, very similar to NBC in New York in fact, as they have a glass enclosed newsroom on the first floor where you can watch and wave at the newscasters while they do their thing.
Unfortunately, this is not where they film Wheel. The studios for Wheel are in Epping, which is a 45 minute train ride west of the city. The grounds are very unassuming and small and are located smack in the middle of a middle class residential neighborhood. This didn't help when I arrived an hour early and was told I couldn't get on the lot until that point. So I walked around in the 100 degree weather for a bit until I found a place to get a soda and beef kabob and watch a little tennis.
When 5:15pm came back around, I schlepped back and entered the studio with about 100 other fans, most of them women with a bit of a crush on the host, Larry Emdur. If the name sounds familiar, it's because he hosted Aussie Price is Right for years in the 90s and up until last year in fact, when the show was finally sacked. Coincidentally, Wheel had been on a year hiatus (apparently MASH reruns were doing just as well in the timeslot) before coming back, and the show needed a new host. I'm not sure exactly why, but it may have to do with the fact that the last host had a Edd Byrnes quality about him, not being able to call out the correct wheel values and asking contestants with no money to buy vowels.
In any event, in the show's 25 year history in Australia, they have now had 6 different hosts. Larry does a commendable job for a guy just getting the hang of things, and his ad lib qualities are pretty sharp. His new hostess, an attractive young number, has good rapport with him and they play off each other pretty well.
The announcer, John Deeks, might as well be the Australian Randy West. He's got a very similar wit and is extremely good with audiences. He was more than happy to answer questions during the breaks, hand out candy, and generally keep people pretty relaxed and happy.
The show plays similar to the US version, with a few odd twists. Players keep all the points they've won, even if they didn't solve the puzzle, which means you could theoretically win the game without ever solving a puzzle. Hitting a bankrupt means you lose any points that aren't "banked" by solving a puzzle, although it's a bit difficult for viewers to keep up with exactly how that works.
They've adapted many of the recent changes to the US version; there are toss up puzzles (called "Flip Up" puzzles), there's a prize puzzle (although it's ironically tied in with one of the Flip Ups), and even a Mystery Round.
The set is pretty swanky. Contestants stand in front of color specific plasma screens, which change based on the spin of the wheel (the pulsating question mark when a contestant hit a mystery wedge was particuarly interesting).
The bonus round is a bit of a hoot. They spin a wheel to determine the prize (a car is always a possibility, but hard to hit.) What's more interesting is that the outlay of vowels and consonants for the bonus round is based on your score from the main game, with a minimum of 2 consonants and a vowel. At $3000 and above, for each additional $1000 won in the main game, you get an additional letter. I'm not sure the exact formula, but I saw one game where a contestant got 2 consonants and 1 vowel, and another game where a contestant got 10 consonants and 1 vowel.
There were 5 shows to be recorded. I was fascinated by the relaxed atmosphere towards the audience. After every episode finished, there was a break, but it was far from mandatory that people return. So after each show the audience grew smaller and smaller. I think I could have left during a commercial break if I'd wanted to! I took advantage of it and left after show 3, not because I wasn't enjoying myself, but it had been 3 hours and it was time to move on.
There were a few other hilarious moments. One round featured a "True or False" puzzle--this is a clue-like category where the puzzle is a statement and a bonus can be won for determining if it is true or false. The puzzle was LOS ANGELES IS THE CAPITAL OF CALIFORNIA. After the contestant solved (pronouncing Los Angeles as Los Angeleez), he confidently answered true to the statement.
In another segment, Larry told a contestant he'd won a skin package when he was meant to say sink package.
Some other notes: Larry is kinda on the short side, a good 5 inches shorter than his attractive co-host. The studio is much smaller than you'd think but looks great on camera. The show will be paired with Deal or No Deal, which is a huge hit down here, for the "Wheel/Deal Hour" as they are calling it.
That's about it for now. All in all it was a great experience and I'd recommend it for anyone who comes down to this part of the world.