Wheel of Fortune Timeline - 2001

Tragedy of 9/11 ... Mariah Carey becomes Mariah Scary ... "Shrek" laughs all the way to the bank ...

September 3, 2001 ... 19th Season Premiere

The 19th season premiere involved a couple of minor twists to the format, although the biggest twist was to come later that year (see below).  A second Toss Up Puzzle, worth $2,000, was added, falling after the contestant introductions.  This meant that the $1,000 Toss Up at the very top of the show now only earned the contestant the right to be interviewed first; the second Toss Up now determined who would spin first.

The jazzy new intro... ...featured rotating clips of past Wheel moments.

The second change was to the bonus round.  Of the five prizes to be won in the bonus round, three were now guaranteed to be cars, with the other two guaranteed to be $25,000 in cash.  In addition, the prizes stayed available for selection even if they were won earlier in the week.

The new $2,000 Toss Up was now the one to win...unless you just had to be interviewed first. Coming up next: "Harsh Alaskan Winters Week"

November, 2001 ... The New Bonus Round!

The most significant retooling of Wheel of Fortune's format since the conversion to an all-cash game occurred during Sweeps in 2001.  Instead of picking at random from five mystery prizes, contestants now spun a miniature bonus round wheel with *24* spaces that included the familiar prize envelopes.  Among the prizes were $25,000 in cash, several cars, and one envelope that offered a $100,000 payoff.  The exact frequency of the prize distribution (outside the $100,000 prize) has never publicly been announced.

December, 2001 ... First $100,000 Win

Despite the only 4% chance of landing on the $100,000 wedge (not to mention the growing difficulty of solving the pint-sized bonus round puzzles at this point), contestant Douglas became the first to win the big new prize in December of 2001.  By picking his 3 consonants and a vowel very deftly (he left just one letter unrevealed), he was easily able to solve the puzzle A HAPPY MEAL.

Douglas' will be able to buy a lot of Happy Meals with... ...this fat paycheck.

Douglas reacted (understandably) with glee when the $100,000 was revealed.  During the final segment, Pat revealed how close Douglas was to missing out on the $100K; the prize wheel arrow hung precariously on the winning rung, and had Douglas had one extra swig of milk before the show, he would have probably edged past it.  Douglas' total for the day: $113,800.

Here's a happy man. For posterity, an overhead shot of the new bonus round wheel.

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