Wheel of Fortune Timeline - 1983

Reagan Announces "Star Wars" Initiative...M*A*S*H Closes for Business...Michael Jackson's Thriller is All the Rage...

January 3, 1983...NBC Revamps Daytime Lineup

NBC completed its most sweeping daytime lineup change since the near-cancellation of Wheel in 1980.  The focus for 1983 was simple--less soap operas, and more game shows--every game show fan's dream.  To that effect, the struggling hour-long soap Texas and daytime veteran The Doctors were cancelled, and 3 new game shows took their place.  $ale of the Century took the 10:30 AM slot Wheel had held, Wheel moved to 11, Hit Man premiered at 11:30, and Just Men! at noon.

Just Men! and Hit Man were gone in 13 weeks (although Betty White won a Daytime Emmy for Best Game Show Host for Just Men!), but $ale and Wheel stuck around on the NBC schedule until 1989.  Before this date, Wheel had been the only game show airing on NBC daytime, but this date marked a renewed dedication on the part of NBC to promote game shows in daytime.  At one point in 1987, 3 consecutive hours of game shows aired on NBC between 10AM - 1PM.  Several shows came and went throughout the decade (who could forget Time Machine and Your Number's Up), but a few hits, such as Win, Lose, or Draw and Scrabble were born.

Wheel remained at the 11:00 AM time slot until its departure for CBS in July, 1989.

For a video clip of a January, 1983 Wheel episode, click here.  The clip is found between clips of other NBC game shows from early 1983.

September 12, 1983...A Syndicated Legend is Born

To say that the syndicated Wheel of Fortune got off to a slow start would be an understatement.  The King brothers of King World could only find around 50 stations around the country willing to give a syndicated version of Wheel a chance.  The show was shut out of the big 3 markets--L.A., New York, and Chicago, with Philadelphia being the biggest market in which the show could make inroads.  The program took off in these smaller markets, and by early 1984, the rollout expanded across the country.  By the May, 1984 sweeps period, Wheel was the #1 show in syndication.  The victors were obviously the King brothers, who built on Wheel's success with other mega-hits in syndication such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Jeopardy!.  The losers were the traditional victors in the game show syndication wars, Tic Tac Dough, Joker's Wild, and especially Family Feud.  Each of these shows was off the air by 1986, thanks to the Wheel juggernaut.

At its peak of success, over 40 million people were watching the syndicated Wheel of Fortune five nights a week.  That number has been cut down to around 12,000,000 or so in 2004, but the number of channels available has exploded exponentially in the last two decades, and Wheel is still the highest rated show in syndication. 

Here's a freaky screen shot from a syndicated Wheel of Fortune promo circa 1983.  What is the $5,000 spot doing there??

Here's the opening shot from the first syndicated episode in 1983.

At the beginning, the syndicated version of Wheel differed only slightly from the daytime version.  In the first few syndicated episodes, the only noticeable difference was the $5,000 space in Round 3, and the bonus prize added to the Wheel in Round 2, as well as an overall increase in the prize budget.  The first syndicated episode even had a "turn your backs" moment in Round 2, indicating that the daytime commercial pacing was being used.  Soon after its premiere, "turn your backs" was gone, and a $1,000 space was added to the wheel in Round 1.  Still, the nighttime version of Wheel remained remarkably similar to the NBC version until 1987, when the shopping format was dropped and an all-cash format instituted.

This was about $30K more than you'd see on the daytime version at the time.

Here's the first syndicated puzzle...can you solve it?

One other change to note--the syndicated version of the show marked the end of the beloved Alan Thicke "Big Wheels" theme on the show.  With the show now airing 10 times a week, Merv Griffin found it more financially prudent to pen his own theme for the show, "Changing Keys", and it began to be used on both versions of the show at this point.  The introduction, instead of beginning with a shot of the prize turntable, now started with the recognizable crane shot of the wheel and crowd cheer of "WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!"

The first bonus prize on the wheel was a $6,000 fur coat.

This looks way more normal than the first pic.

November, 1983...NBC Goes Sweeps Crazy!

In November, 1983, NBC celebrated sweeps with crazy stunts across all of its game shows.  On $ale of the Century, a month-long Tournament of Champions was played (keep in mind the show hadn't been on the air for a year at this point).  On Dream House, Diff'rent Strokes stars dropped in to help the couples win a home of their dreams.  On Go, teams of soap opera stars played against one another. 

Here's a good shot...

Kinda crowded up there, huh?

Wheel of Fortune got stuck with Couples Week.  An episode from this week exists on the trading circuit with a hilarious bonus round.

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