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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Pat Sajak’s final ‘Wheel of Fortune’ airs Friday. What to know about his spin as host

    LOS ANGELES — Pat Sajak will wind down his record-breaking spin hosting “Wheel of Fortune” on Friday night. Here’s what to know about the game show icon’s decadeslong tenure on the show.

    When does Sajak’s final episode air?

    The “Wheel of Fortune” Season 41 finale, titled “Thanks for the Memories,” airs at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday on ABC (check local listings). Thursday’s penultimate episode will include a farewell message from Sajak’s longtime co-host, Vanna White.

    How long has Sajak hosted?

    Sajak has hosted the Hangman-style game show for more than 40 years, stepping in for original host Chuck Woolery during the second season in 1982, when “America’s Game” still aired on daytime television.

    “Wheel of Fortune” debuted in 1975 with Woolery and Susan Stafford leading the show before the “Love Connection” host departed over a salary dispute with NBC. Legendary producer Merv Griffin hired Sajak and famous letter-turner White in 1982, and the two have become fixtures of the series. In 2019, Sajak scored the Guinness Book of World Records title for longest career as a game show host on the same show. He will retire with almost 8,000 episodes to his name.

    He earned three Daytime Emmy Awards as game show host during his run and a Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. He also has a People’s Choice Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame credited to his “Wheel” run.

    In 2021, “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune” premiered in prime time on ABC with Sajak usually serving as host.

    Why is Sajak stepping down?

    The 77-year-old announced his retirement a year ago, writing on X (formerly Twitter) that the current season would be his last. In an interview with his daughter, “Wheel” social correspondent Maggie Sajak, the host said that he could continue hosting the show if he wanted to but felt he needed to exit on his own terms.

    “I’d rather leave a couple years too early than a couple years too late,” he said, adding, “I’m looking forward to whatever’s ahead.”

    Who’s taking over ‘Wheel of Fortune’? And when?

    Less than a month after Sajak revealed his retirement, “American Idol” and “On Air” host Ryan Seacrest announced that he would step into the emcee’s shoes. At the time, Seacrest lauded his predecessor for the way Sajak “always celebrated the contestants and made viewers feel at home.”

    Seacrest, who signed a multiyear deal with Sony Pictures Television last June, will begin the new gig in September.

    White is set to remain on “Wheel of Fortune” for the next two years. She has previously filled in for Sajak as host on a few occasions and, before the brief search for Sajak’s successor came to an end, fans campaigned for White to replace her longtime colleague.

    What did Sajak do before ‘Wheel’?

    It’s hard to think about Sajak doing anything other than soliciting consonants and vowels or declaring a player “bankrupt,” but his storied career began long before “Wheel of Fortune.”

    Born and raised in Chicago, Sajak got his broadcasting start as a newscaster and announcer at a small radio station, looking to broadcast legends Arthur Godfrey, Dave Garroway, Steve Allen and Jack Paar for inspiration to shape his TV personality. He served in the U.S. Army in the late 1960s and was sent to Vietnam, where he hosted a daily show for Armed Forces Radio in Saigon shouting “Good morning, Vietnam!” each day.

    After being discharged, he worked at small radio stations in Kentucky and Tennessee, spending several years as a staff announcer, talk show host and weatherman at WSM-TV in Nashville, Tennessee. A talent scout for NBC-TV in Los Angeles spotted him and brought him onboard in 1977 to serve as the local NBC station’s primary weatherman. In 1981, Griffin asked him to assume hosting duties on “Wheel” when it still aired during the day on NBC, well before the syndicated version premiered in 1983.

    “The nice thing about working in local TV in L.A.,” Sajak has said, “is that decision makers are watching you every night.”

    What else is on Sajak’s resume?

    During his tenure, Sajak has entertained generations of fans, inspired “Saturday Night Live” and “South Park” jokes and generated numerous headlines about his behavior with contestants. He also briefly hosted the short-lived late-night talk show “The Pat Sajak Show” in the late 1980s and played himself in a number of films and TV shows, including “The A-Team,” “227,” “Airplane II: The Sequel,” “Santa Barbara,” “The King of Queens,” “Just Shoot Me!” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”

    “We became part of the popular culture ... more importantly became part of people’s lives,” he said in a recent interview with his daughter, who made her “Wheel” debut as a 1-year-old when she joined her dad onstage. The Princeton and Columbia University grad has been the show’s social correspondent since 2021.

    Sajak’s awkward dad jokes have raised eyebrows in recent years, with the stalwart host fully committing to an odd voyeurism quip while bantering with White during a 2023 episode. He also has landed in hot water for asking her if she liked watching opera in the buff and repeatedly raised social media hackles when he mocked and pranked a contestant over her fear of fish, poked fun at a man and his long beard by referring to him as one of Santa’s helpers, and put a winning contestant in a chokehold.

    What’s next for Sajak?

    Sajak said he’s looking forward to time to “with my crossword puzzles” and family. He will continue his duties as chairman of the Hillsdale College Board of Trustees, a position he took up in 2019.

    ©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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