‘Wheel of For­tune,’ Dis­ney a ‘great fit’

Orlando Sentinel - - PEOPLE & ARTS - By Hal Boedeker Staff Writer

Tap­ing “Wheel of For­tune” at Ep­cot is truly com­ing home for host Pat Sa­jak, who bought a place in Cen­tral Florida a year ago.

“We’re look­ing ahead to grand­kids. Who doesn’t want to come to Dis­ney World?” Sa­jak, 70, said Tues­day. “It’s nice to be here for the an­nual hu­mid­ity festival,” the for­mer TV weather­man added.

In per­son, Sa­jak is more a cut-up than he can ever be on the game show.

“He is so funny,” said co­host Vanna White. “You see a lit­tle bit of that on the air. But mul­ti­ply that by 10 times off the air. He is just so quick and fun, and we’ve been to­gether 35 years — never had one ar­gu­ment.”

As host, Sa­jak said he has to re­strain his nat­u­ral per­for­mance in­stinct. “As clever as I think I am, peo­ple are watch­ing to see the game, they’re watch­ing to see what Vanna is wear­ing,” he said. “If I do any­thing re­motely amus­ing, I have to do it sort of hit and run and get out of the way. It’s not the Pat Sa­jak show.”

“Wheel,” which airs 7:30 p.m. week­days on WFTVChan­nel 9, is cel­e­brat­ing its 35th sea­son. The game show is tap­ing 15 episodes over three days at Ep­cot, which is mark­ing its 35th year.

The episodes, which pro­mote Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort, will air through the year: holiday shows the week of Nov. 13, Valen­tine’s Day pro­grams the week of Feb. 12 and episodes with Dis­ney fans the week of April 30. They are timed to ma­jor rat­ings pe­ri­ods.

“Our view­ers love any­thing Dis­ney,” ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Harry Fried­man said. “It’s a brand they know and love and re­spect, and it’s a great fit for us.”

Like Dis­ney, “Wheel” has en­dur­ing ap­peal across the gen­er­a­tions. “We’re proud to say we’re com­fort food. We’re very, very pop­u­lar among fam­i­lies,” Fried­man said.

What does the 35-year run mean? “I’m old,” White, 60, joked. “I am so thrilled that our show has been on for this long. I still love my job; I love what I do; I love see­ing peo­ple win.”

Sa­jak said “Wheel” had of­fered a din­ner­time oa­sis for decades. “Vanna and I ben­e­fit from that warm feel­ing. It’s a fam­ily af­fair watch­ing our lit­tle pro­gram,” he said. (A show spokes­woman said 250 from the “Wheel” staff and Dis­ney were work­ing on the episodes.)

“I don’t want to make too much of it, ’cause it is a game show, and as I’ve said of­ten, we’re play­ing Hang­man,” Sa­jak added. “But it has be­come a part of peo­ple’s life cy­cle and rhythm. Even if you don’t watch it ev­ery day, it’s kind of like the sun­set. You may not go out on the pa­tio and look at it, but it’s nice to know it’s out there.”

Old-fash­ioned, steady “Wheel” is a break from cur­rent trends, too. “The re­al­ity shows are about em­bar­rass­ing peo­ple,” Sa­jak said. “We go out of our way to try to make our peo­ple com­fort­able. No one gets voted off. Even if you don’t win, you get some­thing. If you hit bank­rupt, we don’t ac­tu­ally come and take your house and car, though I think that would make for an in­ter­est­ing show.”

JOE BURBANK/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Min­nie and Mickey welcome “Wheel of For­tune” stars Pat Sa­jak and Vanna White dur­ing tap­ing of the show Tues­day at Ep­cot. The game show is tap­ing 15 episodes at the park.

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