Pat Sajak Interview
(Wheel Of Fortune)
Pat Sajak is the Host
of t.v.s "Wheel of Fortune” which just happens to be the most watched
show of any kind in syndication.
Pat Sajak’s personal honors include 3 Emmy’s, a People’s
Choice Award and a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Pat Sajak talked with us about his background, “Wheel of Fortune”,
and the popularity of the show, his website, and what he does away from the
set of "Wheel”.
Q – Before we begin, I must tell you that this
is a very special interview for me. You are my 1,000th Interview.
A – Now, is this something you tell everybody so that they feel special
or am I actually your 1,000th interview? (Laughs).
Q – You are actually my 1,000th Interview!!
A – Did you tell that to somebody in the 70’s? (Laughs).
Q – No. This is really true.
A – Well, congratulations! That’s wonderful.
Q – It’s a milestone.
A – It is.
Q – You know, that 1,000th slot is only open once and you’re
A – That’s right. I’m honored. It means almost by tradition
that you’ll make me number 2,000 as well.
Q – Do you think I’ll make it to Number 2,000? It’s
taken me over 20 years to reach 1,000!!
A – (Laughs). Will I? That’s the question. But, that’s
Q – It wasn’t that long ago that you
premiered your website.
A – Award winning I should point out.
Q – And then you decided to come back with a “Bigger, better,
all new re-designed website”. What prompted that?
A – Well, it’s a lie first of all, the latter part of it. I’m
not sure how bigger and better it will be. I’m fairly private by nature.
It has nothing to do with being in show business that I want people to know
my business. That’s just always been that way. I’ve been annoying
to my friends all my life with my evasive ways. My friend said, “You’re
going to do a website”? Do you want total strangers to know what you
had for breakfast? I said, well, let me try it and see how I feel. The site
was pretty good I thought. We put a lot of effort into it. There was a lot
of information. I found in fairly short order, 6 months or so, that I wasn’t
terribly comfortable with the nature of it. One of the great strengths of
the Internet people say is the anonymity. But, that’s also one of
the great weaknesses. You go into these chat rooms and message boards and
when you’re undercover of anonymity it allows for so much bile. There’s
so many angry people out there. (Laughs). When you don’t have to tell
anyone who you are-----you can just be …..People are just yelling
at each other all over the Internet!! Not that there was an abusive side
to what I was doing, but, I just felt uncomfortable in that normally I know
who I am talking to. If there’s an audience in front of me, I can
see them. I know someone’s tuned in to see a particular show. But,
I don’t know someone surfing around just to have some laughs. It just
was not a comfortable fit. I can’t point to anything that made me
feel that way except I felt as if I was sharing personal matters with people
I didn’t (know). In an attempt to shorten this long story I just decided
I didn’t like the nature (of it) and closed it down. I talked to the
people who designed it and said let me put it on hiatus. It’s been
saying Bigger and Better for months. But, we’re only now getting to
re-design it. It’ll be more professionally informational of what I’m
up to as opposed to here’s my family, here’s my dog and -----how
are you doing?
Q – I don’t recall seeing any personal
information on the site. I thought it was all professional.
A – Well, the bulk of it was, but, there was a fair amount of personal
stuff and bios and pictures and what not. We also had a contact page. I
was pretty diligent about personally answering people when they’d
ask. It became a lot of work because of that. It became a little more work
than I wanted to do. I wanted to de-personalize it a little bit. I found
it was running contrary to my closed mouth nature.
Q – With the Internet you really can reach
people all over the world.
A – Well, I know. There’s some great benefits to it. But, I
really am struck by not having to allow who you are or being someone you’re
not emboldens you in strange ways. I mean God forbid…..I love going
around to these message boards having to do with various television shows.
If you were to post something that goes contrary to the prevailing wisdom-----people
just savage you!! The level of nastiness on the internet actually amazes
and distresses me sometimes. It’s a bit of a spooky place for me which
is not to diminish the good sides of it. To try to get information is a
wonderful thing. There’s a lot of information out there. We’re
still not to the point where it’s terribly well organized. It’s
a lot like a library without a Dewey Decimal System. No matter what you
enter, if, you follow links long enough you’ll end up on Bodacious
Breasts.com (Laughs). That’s the final stop for everything. The Information
Superhighway has a lot of unforeseen off-ramps it seems to me.
Q – You own a radio station in Annapolis, Maryland.
What kind of music are you playing?
A – To tell you the truth it’s a small station. It’s not
Clear Channel or one of those guys. It’s a 5,000 watt AM station.
Annapolis is a small town that’s kind of jammed between two larger
markets-----Washington and Baltimore. So, we sort of position ourselves
as the hometown station. We do the local news, the local traffic and the
local issues. There’s a lot of talk. It’s the capital of Maryland,
so there’s a lot of political talk. The music is kind of incidental
to the station. It’s an amalgam of pop and some oldies. But again,
it’s not a tightly formatted music station. It really is more of talk
Q – You own a t.v. production co. What have
A – It’s an excellent question. You won’t believe the
answer to this. I may be the only producer in America who has a bowling
show on in Romania. We’ve done a couple of games which SONY sells
internationally. We just sold one of our games to Malaysia. We’re
negotiating with Japan on the bowling show actually. We’ve done a
series of adaptations of children’s books for Scholastic Video. We
have a kid’s animated pilot that we’re attempting to position
right now. SONY is our partner in it and they’re hitting the streets
and trying to sell. We’re kind of all over the map, but, we don’t
have a particular genre. We’ve done games. We’ve done children’s
stuff. We’re open to anything, but, it’s a fun sideline.
Q – You also have a music publishing co.
A – I have a music publishing co? My Lord!!
Q – Now see, I was going to ask what you did away from the set of “Wheel”,
but, I did my research.
A – Well, you did. Most people don’t know about these other
entities. I play that up, when people say you tape 3 days a year, what do
you do? I kind of joke about it and say I sit on the front porch and whittle.
But, I can’t lie to you because you know. The music publishing co.
and the record co. were really the outgrowth of one artist-----Jude Johnstone.
Bob Burton (Pat Sajak’s publicist) used to manage her. She’s
a singer/songwriter. She’s had huge success as a songwriter for people
like Trisha Yearwood and (the late) Johnny Cash. She has a great reputation
within the songwriting community. She’s also a talented performer.
We struck a deal with her awhile ago, a publishing deal where we became
the publisher of her songs. Our timing was good because Trisha Yearwood
had just put out a “Best of” album and a couple of Jude’s
songs were on it and the album sold in the multi-platinum. So, we have a
lot of Gold and Platinum records on our, with our publishing co. which is
nice. Jude is so great. We talked about her compiling her songs that she’s
written for others and doing her own versions of them. And, she’s
done this album which we’re real proud of. We’ve had pretty
good success with it. It’s our first and only release on the label.
For a small label, it’s a tough road as you know with radio stations
who expect, many of them anyway, you to spend $2,000 or $5,000 in their
t-shirt give-away contest if you like them to play the records. That’s
not payola by the way. That’s helping out. It’s a tough thing,
but, we’re grinding it out. We’re having some success here and
there. We’re beginning to measure sales in the thousands rather than
the hundreds which is good. We’ll see-----but, it’s a terrific
album. It’s called “Coming of Age”. It’s on our
label which oddly enough is called Bojack which is half Bob and half Sajak.
Q – I think you probably have the Best job going on t.v. …..
A – Oh, there’s no doubt about it. I didn’t know it would
turn out that way. If your definition of the best job is to make the most
money for the least work. (Laughs).
Q – I wasn’t necessarily talking about
the money. You get to dress up every night. You get to work with Vanna
A – Well, that’s good. The job itself is a good job. First of
all, we’re very spoiled because it’s been on for 23 years. It’s
been the Number One show in syndication every ratings period for 23 years.
Most t.v. shows, you run to the overnight ratings the next night and see
how things are going. We don’t do that. We’re spoiled. We just
assume we’re Number One and will be Number One. The show is painless
to do. There’s no rehearsal time. I come in. We do five shows a day.
After one show, I go to my dressing room, drop my clothes on the floor and
put on a new suit. Someone else hangs my clothes up. It’s like living
with your mom all over again. So, it is a great job. It’s been a very
successful show beyond anyone’s imagination.
Q – Before you hit that stage, how much prep
work goes into what you have to do?
A – Well, I’d like to moan an groan about it. But, the total
amount, if you add it all in, everything I have to do, any kind of rehearsal,
any kind of prep work, the total amount would be zero. (Laughs). Because,
first of all, I’ve done 5 or 6,000 shows. So, if I don’t know
how to do the show by now, I should be in another business. And, there’s
really nothing to rehearse. I don’t meet the players ahead of time
because I don’t like to take away from the spontaneity of our little
conversation. You know the alphabet hasn’t changed a whole lot over
the years. And, the “Wheel” still goes clockwise. So, there’s
really nothing for me to prep. Literally, before every round they hand me
a card with the puzzle on it. I stand there with my toothy grin, (laughs),
and get through the round. Not to minimize what I do, but, in terms of prep
work-----there’s virtually none.
Q – Do they change the audience after each
A – Well, not after each show. If we can do five shows, we’ll
have one audience there for three, and then one audience for the remaining
two. You couldn’t ask anyone to sit through five of those things.
But, we have it down. The crew’s been there for a long time. So, it
really is kind id a machine the way that we can crank them out. The only
time we ever stop tape is if there is a technical problem involving the
puzzle. If I just screw up which I do frequently, I just make a joke and
move on. Even the days are not very long. Typically we go on camera about
2 o’clock in the afternoon and by 6:30 we’ve done five shows.
Q – That is fast!
A – Yeah. It really is. We do a show really quick. We maybe have 10
minutes, if that between shows to put on a new suit and run down and do
Q – Is that segment at the end of the show
between you and Vanna rehearsed?
A – No, we don’t do that. Even if we wanted to do that. First
of all, neither one of us is an actor. I think it would look rehearsed and
sound rehearsed. But, logistically you really can’t do that. What
happened is, the show ends. You’ve done the last segment. Now they
go to black for the last set of commercials. They’re doing timing
in the booth to see how much time is going to be left. Often you don’t
know until 20 seconds before you come back out whether you’re gonna
have 10 seconds to fill or 30 seconds or a minute. So, you really can’t
rehearse anything. I will typically say when we go to the last commercial, “Do
you have anything you want to talk about today”? Usually we both kind
of look at each other and shrug. Unless we have any particular agenda. We
try to keep it fresh. Sometimes if I know I have something we can have fun
with, she’ll say “What do you want to talk about”? And,
I’ll say, “I’ve got something”, but, I won’t
tell her what it is because I like to get her genuine reaction to it.
Q – Has “Millionaire” cut into
A – No. “Millionaire” is doing o.k. I guess. I don’t
know what their national numbers are. Their ratings are in the 3’s,
I think. Ours are around 10. Not to minimize anything, but, we’ve
had all kinds of shows against us over the years from game shows to entertainment
shows to off network sitcoms-----and we’ve managed to hold our own.
Sometimes I actually feel more secure when there’s another game against
us because people have obviously decided they like our game. I don’t
think they’re going to desert us for another game. On the other hand,
they might say “I’m tired of games and I’ll watch a sitcom”.
I was a little more nervous the year when the original Cosby Show went into
re-runs, because that was opposite us in most markets and people thought
that was gonna be a huge success in re-runs and it turned out not to be
necessarily so. There’s room for other shows to have a certain amount
of success. One of the problems that all shows have when they go against
us, or go on the air in general is, it’s much harder to be the kind
of success we were than it used to be. Part of the reason for our success
is just the luck of timing. When we went on the air, television was just
getting to change. Cable was just starting to come around. Independent stations
were getting stronger and the pieces of the pie were getting smaller. When
we went on the air, there weren’t that many choices. So now, we’re
the 1,000 pound gorilla and it’s very hard for a new show to get the
kind of launch we got, to get the number of stations, the quality of stations.
So, we’re in real good shape. Just as the arena got bigger and the
choices got more numerous we were already well established. That helped
us a lot too.
Q – When you were starting out, was it at KNBC in Los Angeles…..
A – Yeah. That was not my first job, but, it was the last local television
I did before “Wheel”.
Q – You were a meteorologist?
A – I was doing the weather, but, I certainly wasn’t a meteorologist.
I knew very little about the weather except when I drew an H on the map,
I drew it blue, and L’s for lows, red. That was the extent of my weather
knowledge. In Los Angeles, six months of the year there’s no weather
anyway. So, it really wasn’t a vital job.
Q – You also had a weekend talk show at the
time. What is it, that you thought would eventually come your way?
A – You know, I don’t know. I’ve never had a master plan.
I just always thought as long as I can remember, broadcasting was something
I wanted to do. I didn’t even know if it was radio or television.
I just thought I can’t believe you can sit around and chat and people
would give you money. So, I just kind of moved from place to place without
any huge plan. In fact, when I was at KNBC, I turned down a couple of prime
time network shows. People said-----are you nuts? I wasn’t interested
in doing them. Then Merv Griffin called one day and said Chuck Woolery was
leaving “Wheel of Fortune” which at the time was a daytime show
on NBC which had been on for 7 years and was finishing third in it’s
time period behind “Price Is Right” and Loveboat re-runs on
A.B.C. It looked as if it was on its last legs and I agreed to do it. My
friends said, “Why are you doing this, if you wouldn’t do the
other stuff”? (Laughs). I had no answer for that. You just kind of
go instinctively. I never thought of myself as a game show host. It may
have been the power of Merv that convinced me to do it. I’m not sure.
But, in any event, when I started “Wheel”, December of 1981,
my thinking was, the shows kind of on its last legs, I’ll do the show
for a year or two. It’ll get cancelled and it’ll give me a little
national credibility and I’ll move onto something else. Shows you
what I know. That was 24 years ago, (laughs), and here we are.
Q – I realize you have all these other businesses
going, but have you ever wanted to move on, to do something else?
A – “Wheel” will probably outlast me. Every time my deal
comes up, I think about it and I decide do I want to do it again? And so
far, my decision has been yes. There will come a time when either they’ll
say lets try somebody new or I’ll say that’s enough. I’m
at the stage of my life and career where I’m not a real driven guy.
I’ve had a nice run. I may do nothing next. I may be on the front
porch whittling. So, I don’t know what will come after this. I did
a late night talk show for C.B.S. for a year and a half, back in ’89, ’90,
and that was fun. But, I don’t have a strong desire to go back to
that again. Every now and then, somebody will come to me about a daytime
syndicated talk show, and it’s nice to be wanted by anyone and I always
sit down and talk with them and listen. But, the amount of energy and passion
it takes to launch a show today is more than I have in me. I didn’t
think I have that fire in the belly anymore to launch something like that.
I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I don’t do much outside of “Wheel”.
Every now and then I’ll go to a guest shot somewhere, but, I’m
not looking to become more famous or branch out. I’m at the stage
where I do things if they seem interesting to me, not because they’re
Q – Have you ever used your celebrity status
to endorse either a cause or a political candidate?
A – No. I’m politically active, that is to say I’ve hosted
a few dinners. I don’t endorse candidates per se. I’ll support
them privately. This is America and we should be able to speak out all we
want. I don’t care much for celebrities who kind of bait and switch
their fans. You go to hear someone do a concert, not to give you a speech
on what trees to cut down or ought to cut down. If you go to a political
event or some kind of event where you know what you’re getting and
someone famous is gonna be there, that’s fine. I don’t like
watching a talk show where the host is going to bring on one pet cause after
another. I just think that’s sort of a miss-use of whatever entrée
celebrity hood gives you.
Q – If people knew what political party you affiliated with, would
that turn people on or off of “Wheel of Fortune”?
A – I don’t think that matters a whole lot. I’m generally
conservative in my views. People who pay much attention get to know that,
not through “Wheel”, which is my point, but, because they read
something in the newspaper or they read a speech I gave. I think that’s
all fine. I wouldn’t knock anyone who did that. I don’t think
it has much effect on your career one way or another. But, if I went on “Wheel” everyday
and made it known there my beliefs by either making fun of people who are
on the other side or making mini-speeches everyday, I think that would be
a turn-off, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, and I think
it should be a turn-off.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved