When they were airing some episodes from the late 80's and 90's, one thing that struck me was how the pace of the show has been so much different. Back then, the answers were read faster and the questions were responded faster. The pace was really something else as compared to recent years.
And yet they get through the same number of questions in the same amount of time. Slightly less time, actually, as there are longer commercial breaks now. And there seem to be fewer unfinished categories these days.
The reruns over Xmas and New Year’s were heavily edited to compress them into the new, shorter airtime. That may account for an apparent quicker pace.
Thursday kicks off ABC's eight-week event Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, marking the TV institution's prime-time debut. For the first time ever, celebrity contestants will be spinning that iconic wheel, solving the show's classic word puzzles for the chance to win up to $1 million for charity. Thursday's premiere features Leslie Jones, Chandra Wilson, and Tony Hawk, and contestants to come include Chrissy Metz, Drew Carey, Karamo Brown, Chris Harrison, Jennie Garth, and more.
Ahead of the premiere, EW spoke to longtime host Pat Sajak about what to expect on Celebrity Wheel, bringing the show to prime time, and what it's been like filming Wheel in the time of COVID.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is Celebrity Wheel going to look like? Are there going to be any adjustments to the game?
PAT SAJAK: As far as the game, it's going to be the same. We've jazzed up the set a bit, made it look a little more prime-timey, whatever that means. And it's going to be a different kind of vibe. We want [the contestants] to play a good, solid game, but we're mainly there to have fun. It'll be a little lighter in attitude.
Celebrity Jeopardy famously is a little easier in that incarnation than the regular games. Is that going to be the case with Celebrity Wheel?
Wait, I've done Celebrity Jeopardy — are you saying they gave us easy questions? No, look, we're not Jeopardy. We're not asking for world capitals and all that stuff. You know, we're playing hangman, so you don't have to change it all that much. We've got a couple of the more exotic categories that only regular viewers might have a way to play, but other than that we're the same kind of game, same difficulty level, I would say.
I'm also curious, what took so long for a celebrity version of the show to happen?
Part of it is, we've always been careful about not getting the show overexposed. We've been on a very long time, and I don't know how much Wheel is too much, but you don't want to water the product down too much. And this seemed like the time to do it because of what's going on in the world. Wheel of Fortune is kind of a sign of normalcy for people; they were very glad to have us back on the air. So this seemed like a good time to expand into prime time a little bit, at least one time, and extend that normalcy. And also, the networks frankly need programming. A lot of stuff can't shoot the way [we] do, so the timing worked out. It was good for everybody.
What has it been like producing the show during the pandemic?
I would lie to you if I wouldn't say it's mildly depressing for us backstage, because you've got people running around in masks and hazmat outfits, and human contact isn't there, and there's no audience, so it's a different atmosphere. Our job is not to let that translate on the air. We try our best in the way we shoot the show and what we do here to make it as normal as possible, so that people can forget about it. We never talk about it, we just go about our business, and whatever our politicians are dictating, we do it. But we try not to let it spill over into the show. Celebrity Wheel of Fortune premieres Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
The Chase stars on what they learned from Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek
Jeopardy! GOATs James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter share the lessons they took from the late host.
Before Thursday's premiere episode of The Chase gets underway, host Sara Haines presents a brief but poignant tribute to the late Alex Trebek. It's a fitting start for a show featuring the three greatest Jeopardy! players of all time — James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter — and there was never really a question that the premiere would begin that way.
"We started to shoot the show within a day or two of Alex's passing," Haines tells EW. "There was no way to go into it without saying [to the audience], 'We recognize this, we feel what you feel.'"
Adds Jennings, "We were speaking for an audience that was grieving. People had Alex in their house every evening for decades. It wasn't just a broadcaster, they felt like he was part of the family. And I think we wanted them to know we felt the same way. We miss him too."
Of course, the trio's connections to Trebek ran deeper than the average viewer's. All three spent extended time with the Jeopardy! host, during their initial winning streaks as well as several subsequent tournaments and special events, which for Jennings and Rutter spanned multiple decades. During that time, they got to observe Trebek doing the job he loved up close, an experience they carried not just to The Chase, but into their everyday life.
"The thing that always impressed me about Alex, watching him work, was that he had extraordinarily high standards for himself, but he was also having a great time every time he stepped out there," says Rutter. "I think that's great advice for anybody in their job: expect a lot out of yourself, pursue excellence, and have a great time, and you can't go wrong. That's what I was trying to do [on The Chase], and that's probably the biggest thing I've taken from Alex generally, in life."
Holzhauer, meanwhile, first appeared on Jeopardy! after Trebek had announced his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and drew inspiration from the host's persistence in the face of a dire prognosis and difficult treatment regimen.
"So many of the times Alex was hosting when I was on, he was going through chemo or had had a setback in his treatment or something like that," Holzhauer recalls. "You could tell it took all of the energy he had to get through five taping episodes in one day. And that might have been all he was able to do that day, but he poured his heart into what he loved and did not let this prognosis stop him, which I think is just amazing."
"Alex was genuine. You could not do that job just reading answers off a piece of paper," adds Jennings, who recently joined Jeopardy! as a producer and sometime clue presenter, and will serve as the show's first interim host after Trebek's death. "He knew all that stuff, and that was what was always inspiring to me as a kid about him. Jeopardy! was a space where nobody was going to make fun of you for knowing stuff. That's kind of the secret sauce of the game, is that it's cool to know a lot of weird stuff. That really formed me as a person, honestly. A half hour of that a day was a pretty big deal for me. And I think it's nice that maybe The Chase will be that for some kid watching next week."
Indeed, the team behind The Chase also recognized, and wanted to acknowledge, that they were very much playing in the same sandbox as Jeopardy! "We hope [Alex] would love what we're doing here, because we're taking three men that he worked so closely with and kind of carrying a torch," Haines says. "We're not trying to be Jeopardy!, but we are in that trivia game show world, and we hope he'd watch."
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