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Larry King Live
Pat Sajak Discusses Hosting America's No. 1 Syndicated Game ShowAired July 18, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALES AND FEMALES: "Wheel of Fortune!"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, his syndicated show's been No. 1 for 16 years. "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak for the hour with your phone calls. We may even let you buy a vowel, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A terrific broadcast here. Our guest for the hour, the host of "Wheel of Fortune." Who'd of thunk at 16 years it's been No. 1 in syndication. Pat Sajak is with us. We'll of course be including your phone calls.
A couple of program reminders, Sante and Kenneth Kimes, both convicted for over 100 years for murder in New York, we will be our guest tomorrow night, a program taped at Rikers Island. Governor George W. Bush of Texas on Thursday. Friday night, Tom Selleck. Saturday night, Bob Costas.
Fresh from Dodger loss today, Sajak joins us.
PAT SAJAK, HOST, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE": How do you call the theme for this week. It's "killers, game show, host presidential candidates" week.
KING: And actors, and baseball guys.
SAJAK: It's a potpourri.
KING: And you fit both. It's a potpourri.
SAJAK: No, I have never killed anyone.
KING: You are a big baseball fan, though.
SAJAK: I am, as a matter of fact. And we did go out to the game, came straight here from the game, from a Dodger loss.
KING: Are you Orioles or Dodgers?
SAJAK: A little bit of both, because like you, we spend time in both areas.
KING: Half and half.
SAJAK: Yes. We spend time in Camden Yards and out here at Dodger Stadium in Anaheim.
KING: All right, who'd of thunk it with "Wheel of Fortune"? You replaced someone on that show.
SAJAK: I did. Chuck Woolery did the show seven years in daytime, on NBC.
KING: Was it a hit?
SAJAK: You know, it was. It's had a very strange history, because it went on air about '75, and was big hit out of the box, back in the days when networks did 40 shares during the day, and then it, as all shows, they have a life cycle, and the last couple of years, it was, doing OK, and...
KING: Was it always King World?
SAJAK: It was a network show; it was not a syndicated show. When Chuck left, Merv asked if I wanted to do.
KING: There was always Griffin, right?
SAJAK: Yes. Merv sold out a few years ago to the Sony Corporation. I now work for some man who lives in Tokyo I'll never meet. But so Merv asked me to take over, and I thought...
KING: Daytime on NBC.
SAJAK: Yes, daytime NBC. The show, as I say, has bee on seven years. My thought was -- tell you what I know about broadcasting -- is this is a show that appears to be on its last legs, I'll do it for a year or so, get a little national credibility, because I was doing local television, and then I'll move on to something else, and here we are, a couple of decades later.
KING: What were you doing when Merv...
SAJAK: I was in -- right here in L.A. on the NBC station, doing local weather of all things, which is...
KING: You were a weatherman?
SAJAK: I was a weatherman, and you know...
KING: Were you good?
SAJAK: Well, six months, a year in L.A.. there's no weather, so it's not -- it was not a difficult job.
KING: Were you meteorologically trained?
SAJAK: I couldn't tell you to this day. I don't know what a cold front is, except I colored it blue on the map.
KING: Did you ask Merv then -- there you are, look at that.
SAJAK: Now wait a minute. This is Nashville. This is a long time ago, back before I could afford a haircut, and when we had felt- tipped pens. This is a very exciting style.
KING: You didn't have to touch the map.
SAJAK: Yes. This is when I was wearing my -- this -- they settled the Burt Parks estate on my jacket. So there you go. Man, that was...
KING: So why you? Did you ask Merv, why did you think I could do a quiz show from doing weather?
SAJAK: You know, I had the same thought. In fact, I almost didn't take it, and I had a number of national things offered to me, and I turned them down, and people said, why are you doing this game show, because I'd never thought of myself in that mold, because to me, the prototypical game show host is, hey, you won $10,000! That's not -- I can't do that. But Merv said he saw something. He said just do the show the way you want to do it.
And I'll tell you, I mean talk about broadcasters, Merv Griffin, if anyone had the right to come into me and say, why are you doing this? Why don't you try this? Never once in all the years he ran the show did he ever make a suggestion, did he ever do anything but be supportive.
KING: He's a great guy.
SAJAK: He is a wonderful guy to work with.
KING: What did you think you wanted to do?
SAJAK: I don't know, I knew from day one, that I can remember, in my life, that I wanted to be in broadcasting, and I didn't know if that was television, or radio. I just thought, you mean, they pay you money to sit in front of a microphone? I grew up listening to Arthur Godfrey and Art Linkletter, and you know, the Gary Moore, and all those people, and Parr on "The Tonight Show," and that's just what I wanted to do. I -- when I thought about getting into this, it was the work that attracted me. It wasn't the potential to make a lot of money. It wasn't the potential to be famous -- I mean, those things...
KING: You get to enjoy it.
SAJAK: It was just that they would -- yes, I like it.
KING: All right, when -- what took "Wheel of Fortune" nighttime? And what made "Wheel of Fortune" happen? Because nobody predicted it would happy.
SAJAK: No. We went on the air in nighttime in 1983. KING: Syndicated.
SAJAK: Syndicated, which means they can sell it to any state. Some markets were on, and NBC, some CBS, some ABC.
KING: And the idea around 7:00, 7:30.
SAJAK: Always -- all at the dinnertime, that just before primetime, 6:30 in the Midwest, 7:30 in the East. And you know, we were a hit in primetime -- in that access time, as it's called, from day one, a huge hit, and we became the No. 1 show in syndication in the May sweeps of 1984, and have been the No. 1 show, by a wide margin, in every sweeps period since 1984. I mean...
KING: Pretty much always staying in that timeslot, too?
SAJAK: Yes, we've never moved out of that, and as to why, you know, I don't know. And I mean, I know it's a well-structured game. It's a compelling game. If you walk past the TV set and you see our puzzle on, you have to play along. I know that. I know it works well. I know people seem to like it.
Why it has become this phenomenon, I don't know, and I say with great respect to the show. Somewhere along the line, we became more than a popular television show. We became part of the popular culture, and I don't know how that happens or what gets you there, but boy, it's a nice luxury when it does.
KING: Now you were also, Pat, with Oprah Winfrey. the same company, right? Was King World...
SAJAK: King World distributes Oprah's show as well, although King World was just bought by -- one day we'll all work for the same guy, if we know who that is.
KING: Yes, he's down Atlanta calling. Are both of you on many times the same stations?
SAJAK: Frequently we are. "Oprah," "Jeopardy" and us, we are -- for King World, we certainly were very successful shows for them, and they worked very well for us.
KING: You don't give away a million dollars.
SAJAK: No, you know, and people have asked us that, because now, you know, the big money is in vogue, and we've give away a lot of money. I mean, we've given away, you know, millions, and millions and millions over the years. In the early years, some of it in naugahyde couches, but now mostly cash, and...
KING: Black-and-white TVs.
SAJAK: Yes, that's true. But people ask whether we're going to do that, and you know, our feeling is we don't have to. I mean, that's kind of a gimmick, and it works well, but we don't need to do that. KING: Could a "Wheel of Fortune," a million dollar "Wheel of Fortune" work on a network, at 10:00, 9:00, opposite "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Could it -- do you think could it work?
SAJAK: You know, I would -- I'm always concerned about spreading yourself too thin, you know. What we do works. It works very well. It's not as if we have to start flailing around looking for something to hype the ratings. So we just go our own way and do our own thing.
KING: We'll be back with more of Pat Sajak. He's with us for the hour. We'll include phone calls.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")
SAJAK: We'll got to our puzzle. "Around the House," that's the category. And we'll start with RSTLNE.
Vanna, any of those letters up there?
An 's' is. Another 's.' And that's it, huh?
All right, now we have three more consonants and a vowel. And please here in our studio, very, very quiet if you would.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 'P.'
SAJAK: That's one.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 'H.'
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 'V.'
SAJAK: OK, and a vowel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 'I.'
SAJAK: OK, quiet folks, because this is going to be a very difficult puzzle for them, and I want to be sure they have every opportunity. Please, please, they have to do it on their own. I know you want to say it -- don't do it. Let them do it. "Around the House," 10 seconds -- somebody say it,
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Soap dish!"
SAJAK: There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did we win?
SAJAK: Two Volkswagens
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A 'y' please.
SAJAK: There is one 'y,' yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to solve the puzzle please.
SAJAK: Oh, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Larry King crab legs."
SAJAK: That's it. Congratulations. Nice work. Yes, I'll admit Larry doesn't have the greatest legs in the world, but I'm not sure. Oh, it's before and after. Sorry about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You know, the fun is when they win.
SAJAK: You know it is. And as long as I've done the show, you would think I would be jaded now -- oh, I'm giving away some stuff, who cares? It's a lot of fun. When someone is very excited. They win a car, off camera, they'll say, you know, my car broke down, I don't have this. It's -- you change people's lives.
KING: When "Millionaire" became a hit, one would gather you would have gotten offers, because you're the best known quiz show host.
SAJAK: A lot of people did. And most of the shows that either got on the air or were talked about, at some point someone came to me and talked, and I don't like to mention them, because others guys ended up...
KING: So you obviously turned them down.
SAJAK: Turned them down. My feeling was everyone was just trying to recreate "Millionaire," and it's hard to be the second one in.
And the only one I talk about openly is -- and I don't think Jay Thomas, who ended up doing it, will mind that I did, but they came to me with the "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" And I heard the show, and my attorney called and said these guys called from I guess it was Fox, and said -- and mentioned this show, and said, and my mouth dropped, and he said -- I said to him, I said, what did you tell him? He said, well, my attorney's first words to them, well, "What's difference between this and prostitution?" KING: Did you know it would...
SAJAK: Yes, I didn't -- who knew that this would happen, and you know that, we would all...
KING: But were surprised that so many people watched?
SAJAK: No. I thought it would -- I mean, it was an event kind of thing. I thought it might work once, and -- but it just struck me as so bizarre. And it's funny, because I remember saying to people that the chances of -- if I were if I were in the legal profession, I would love to have a show like this on the air. It seemed to me they were chances of a lot of liability problems, and it did kind of run off in all directions, but it's not as if I went home weighing it, should I do it? Shouldn't I do it?
KING: Why does "Millionaire" work?
SAJAK: You know, if I could tell why anything worked, I would be programing one of these places. You know, it -- anyone who tells you that they knew that it was going to be anywhere near a phenomenon is lying to you. If ABC knew that, they wouldn't have stuck it on the middle of summer just to kill a week of shows. You know, that's what they did. They buried it in August. They would have put it on in sweeps period. You know, Regis didn't know. He was happy to do it. He's a great guy and deserves all the success. You know, I don't know anyone who begrudges his success, which is wonderful.
KING: You -- something wrong with you.
SAJAK: Yes, absolutely. But you know, he didn't suspect it
It just -- you know, television is a really freaky media.
KING: In retrospect.
SAJAK: You know, they strike a nerve. You know it has the drama, and they've been very clever in producing it, with some of these gimmicks -- with the lifelines, and the phone calls, and the audience thing, and all that stuff.
KING: Playing it too much maybe? No?
SAJAK: You know, it's funny, it's not that different from shows of the '50s, from a lot of things that went before. It's got a little better production value than...
KING: Most of those shows.
SAJAK: Yes, so it's -- and the questions are such that, you know, you feel everyone has a shot at them, and you don't have to be superintelligent. Sometimes it's just deducing. Sometimes it's just guessing. You know, it works, and it will be interesting to see how long it...
KING: What do you make of "Survivor," "Big Brother"? SAJAK: You know, all of these shows are -- we're in a funny period, and I don't know what to -- what do you learn, is that one show does not make a trend necessarily, as CBS is learning with this "Big Brother" show, I think, that got off to a fast start, and now they're committed to it for a good while. You know, there is this notion that we're all voyeurs now. It will be interesting to see how that all really plays out, because everyone is going to come up with one and three or four show are going to come in, and we're going to get pretty bored watching people sit around and talk about whether they're going to have Spam for dinner tomorrow.
KING: I'm going to ask Pat in a minute, when a show changes, when it changes its prizes or its look, and what changes have occurred for "Wheel of Fortune"? Traveling. What's the importance of Vanna White on this program? Why does that mean anything, if at all?
Don't go away. We'll be right back. I kid you not.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")
SAJAK: It's time now to take a look at our preview puzzle, thanks to Regis and Kathie Lee and the gang. Let's see. Oh, good. I've Got that.
Regis is everywhere, isn't he? I opened my refrigerator last night, and he was in there. It's an amazing thing. It's breast...
SAJAK: I thought I'd give Kathie Lee a plug, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You're contracted through 2004?
SAJAK: I'm a little less than that. I -- my contract doesn't necessarily coincide with...
KING: You don't have any plans that you would leave that show? It's a franchise.
SAJAK: You know, every time it comes up, you evaluate it, and you see what makes sense, and there will come -- and this show, and I don't to mean to be hyperbolic about it. This show may be the show that is never canceled. I mean, we could lose half our audience tomorrow and still be a very successful show. So there will come a time maybe, you know, I think maybe it's time for my son to do this, you know.
KING: The gambling brothers.
SAJAK: Exactly. But the show is renewed, if you can believe this, on most major markets stations through the 2005 season. I mean, in a business where people live week to week sometimes, 13 weeks to 13 weeks, it's, you know...
KING: And when do you make changes? Like you travel the show.
SAJAK: We -- three or four times year.
KING: You change prize concepts.
SAJAK: I mean, this year we've got a couple of new wrinkles...
SAJAK: ... in the show. We have a -- we start our show -- as people will see in the fall, we start our show something we call a "Toss Up" round, which is we put a puzzle up and we start revealing the letters one at time, the computer does it randomly, and people buzz in to solve it, and that gives them control of the wheel. They get to start the next round. It kind of gets us into the show and moves its along a little bit.
But we're very careful about changes. You know, one of the tricks of -- if you looked at a tape of an early "Wheel" and one from now, you'd see a lot of changes. But we try to be gradualists about it, because people like, obviously, what' we do.
I mean, if you think about it, it's really a contradiction. In this technological age, we have this clunky wheel that goes around and makes noises.
SAJAK: Yes. I mean, it's very old-fashioned, and the things we could do with computers and -- but people like what we do.
KING: And also, as Merv once said, when you think about it, a lot of time is spent spinning, when nothing is happening, two, take another spin, "bankrupt."
SAJAK: If I went to a producer -- to a network to try to sell, and they said, well, I've got a -- you'll love this game. We have this giant wheel with big letters, a woman will hit the letters and they'll light up, guy will spin the wheel -- 'r.' Any r's? No, there's no 'r.' He'll spin again. And you know, the guy is going to leaving the room ordering blitzes and ...
KING: That's right, when you think about it, it shouldn't work.
SAJAK: It is. And you know, all the big successes in television blindsided people, whether it's game show -- we talked about "Millionaire" -- you know, all of the family tested -- it's a bad show, the network thought, this will be on for three weeks. It's -- people are always surprised, and I guess that's what the fun of it.
KING: Have you ever changed the wheel?
SAJAK: No. I mean, we have changed dollar amounts. We've upped the values, you should the pardon the expression.
KING: What can you win now?
SAJAK: We have a -- there is a $10,000 space out there, but we play one round with $5, 000. We, you know, people often win $30,000 $40,000, $50,000 dollars a crack when you add in the bonus prize. That's a pretty good haul.
KING: You only work -- I mean, you do a lot of things, because you're in business.
SAJAK: Many, many things.
KING: But you only work 39 days a year on the show?
SAJAK: We tape -- this is such a well oiled...
KING: How do you do it?
SAJAK: We do -- for example, today -- we are going studio tomorrow, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. That's three days. We'll tape 15 shows in those three days. That's three weeks of shows in three days, and then we don't tape for a few weeks. So it's a wonderful -- I mean, I have a young family, as you know, and it's -- what great luxury; I have a full-time job and people don't know it.
KING: How do you keep up on the fifth show on the third day?
SAJAK: You know, it's not that hard, and the -- if I had to go in -- if this were old-time television without tape, and I had to go in every day, and I've been doing this for 17 years, going every day, I could be taking hostages by now. But the fact that you have those, you know, you do -- as I said, I'm going to do 15 shows in three days, and when we knock off so quickly.
KING: You do your live to tape?
SAJAK: Yes, pretty much. I mean, we rarely stop, unless the puzzle board explodes or something. But I mean, we have it down to such a science.
KING: Who could have figured Vanna would become what she became, and how do you explain that?
SAJAK: The same way Vanna does, with a shrug of the shoulders, and I say that with love and respect. You know, what's so funny is the great thing about Vanna is she understands that, too. It's a lightning-in-a=bottle kind of thing, and she doesn't make more of it...
KING: And there she is.
SAJAK: Yes there she is.
The way she glides across the set, but she doesn't make more of if than -- it you ask Vanna what she does for a living, she doesn't say, well, I hope to direct it one day. She says, you know, I turn letters. She doesn't even turn them anymore; she touches them.
KING: Oh yes?
SAJAK: I think she has tunnel carpal syndrome problem and now she just...
KING: She doesn't turn them.
SAJAK: She doesn't. Watch this. I don't know if we'll get to her touch one. See, this is real technology at work. Watch this. She's going to touch the letter. Come on, Vanna, touch it. Come on, Vanna. There you go, look. That's it, she touched it. Yes, that's right. That's it, this is what she does for a loving.
KING: Why do we like her so much -- we the collective "we"?
SAJAK: When you're on -- I don't care what kind of show you're doing. When you're on night after night after night after night, people do get a feel for what you are. It's pretty hard to lie to them. And while she doesn't speak during the body of the show, at the end of the show, we'll spend, depending on the time, 15, 20, sometimes a minute. You add up 30 seconds a night, for 17 years, you know, they found out a lot about her. People like her. She is...
SAJAK: She is what she claims to be, which is a nice person.
KING: Back with more of Pat Sajak, another nice person, right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")
SAJAK: I love doing game shows.
VANNA WHITE, CO-HOST, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE": They're fun, aren't they?
SAJAK: You get to try out the prizes. You know, we always hop inside cars, and we figured, why not?
WHITE: That's right.
KING: And we should point out that we are practically fully clothed in here.
SAJAK: Anything we need to add to this?
WHITE: Just some water.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LIVE WITH REGIS AND KATHIE LEE")
KATHIE LEE GIFFORD, CO-HOST: If you could pick somebody -- everybody has do a million interviews these days, and they're all asking, who's going to take your place? And I said, well, I have no idea, I'm not involved in the process, thankfully. But if it -- I mean, obviously Joy was everybody's first choice, because everybody has gotten to know Joy, and we know that Regis actually loves her. That helps. So if it couldn't be Joy, who would you like?
SAJAK: Janet Reno I think would be fun.
GIFFORD: But she's going to have to be willing to talk about her juicy personal life, and she's going to have to change her hair once in a while.
SAJAK: That's right. And if the door is locked, she'll bust in. It'll be fun.
GIFFORD: That's right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Was that fun?
SAJAK: It was fun. Every now and then, I pop in and do the show for a few days. Talk shows -- and I did one for a while.
KING: What happened?
SAJAK: I still do it in my basement. I've been doing it --- I do it every night.
KING: Why didn't it work?
SAJAK: You know, it's hard to say, and I'm not real analytical about these things. You know, I did it, I had a wonderful time. We did it about a year and a half. I mean, it's hard to say, I mean, putting aside whether it was good enough or not, and that's -- it was fun to do.
KING: I was one of your first guests.
SAJAK: You were, and you were terrific and very nice to do it. I enjoy doing it, and I'm proud of what I did, and I think we put together a pretty good show.
But you know, it's funny, a couple of miscalculations. First of all, we went on the air in '89, I think. And the conventional wisdom was that Johnny, who was still doing "The Tonight Show," was going to hand it up that year. So we thought -- we very consciously were criticized a little for it. We did kind of a "Tonight Show" clone. I mean, it was a similar set, and a similar look, and Dan Miller, whom you know, was my sidekick, and we had a good time. But the thinking was, Johnny will hang it up, people are comfortable with that format, there is good old Pat. Johnny screwed us up and hung around for a few years. And then Arsenio Hall came along and brought in these kind of younger viewers to late night, and there was that whole "barking audience" thing. And so it was kind of a strange time.
I remember being called in -- we were on the air, a month or so, and doing well. We were beating what we told advertisers we would do. We were called in for a meeting. I assumed this will be a "how long do you want to extend?" meeting, and the meeting was you guys are -- we're in trouble, and there was a demographic problem. And the head of CBS at the time said a very chilling thing to me, and I haven't forgot, because I was 42 at the time. And he said, "The problem is" -- he actually said. I didn't know they were so open about these things. He said, the problem is your audience doesn't matter, and I thought, wow. Do you call these people at home and tell them that when they are...
KING: Doesn't matter.
SAJAK: Doesn't matter, because they were, you know, it tended, as we say in broadcasting, to skew a little older, and that was not a good thing.
KING: And that's bad because what? Old people don't spend money?
SAJAK: I don't know what the advertising agencies will tell you, because this country is getting older that wealth is -- the wealthiest people are the older people, but the feeling among advertisers and agencies is that the people are set in their ways in terms of products -- I always use Crest, I'll always use the crest, you know. They think that young people, you can win them over with a commercial. That's the wisdom, whether that's true are not.
KING: Did they ask you to change?
SAJAK: Yes. I mean, we had some talk -- they would point to the "Hall" show, for example, and say, there is young, they have rap groups and -- you know, that wasn't. And I kept explaining to them, I'm a 42-year-old white guy, no matter -- I can't change either one of those facts, guys. And, I mean, look, it was not a difficult relationship. They were very supportive. They gave me a lot of money, and I wish I could have done better for them as a network. They were...
KING: Did you never appear to take it badly?
SAJAK: You know, we're all grownups here. This is a -- you know, who knows, it's a crap shoot. You go out there, and you do your best and you hope it works. Sometimes, I think that they thought that I didn't take it badly enough. I think they expected to come to my office to find me in the fetal position under my desk, but you know, we were doing 90 minutes a night when we first started, and that's a lot of show to do, and so you don't -- you almost don't have time to worry about it, because the problem with a talk show, as you know, you can do greatest show in the world the next day, it doesn't matter.
KING: Every day counts for...
SAJAK: The flip side is you can do a real stinker and you can redeem yourself the next day. But so, it's such a treadmill that I didn't worry too much about it.
KING: Have you turned down anything regretted in this business?
SAJAK: No. I've turned down a few, nothing that I -- you know, I have one regret. Can I tell you quick "Tonight Show" story?
KING: Let me get a break, and then tell it, and we'll go to calls.
We'll be right back, we'll go to your phone calls, and we'll hear the "Tonight Show" story from Pat Sajak. Don't go away.
SAJAK: That'll hold them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LIVE WITH REGIS AND KATHIE LEE")
SAJAK: I've never had a feud with anyone.
GIFFORD: You have a feud right now going with Rosie.
SAJAK: Rosemary Clooney?
GIFFORD: Rosie O'Donnell is upset with you.
SAJAK: Oh. It's a generational thing. I...
GIFFORD: Look into that camera and tell Rosie you love her. She'll be fine if you just tell her.
SAJAK: Well, I don't love her; I hardly know her. I mean, she seems very nice.
SAJAK: Why are we feuding?
GIFFORD: I don't know, I think she Misunderstood something you were talking about on our show the other day.
SAJAK: Well, I'm flattered that she would care what I was saying.
You know, between hosting a talk show and saving the world, life gets very busy for people. I'm glad we're doing that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We are back with Pat Sajak. We are going to go to your phone calls. But first, the never-told-before "Tonight Show" story.
SAJAK: Oh, it's not that big a deal. But you asked about regrets. And I tend not to look back. I think -- my feeling is decisions tend to work out if you play -- I don't believe necessarily in fate -- but you make a decision, you stick with it, and there is no point in looking back. You have made your decision. The only regret I have -- it's an odd thing -- and it really was out of my control. But years ago, before the CBS show, I was a guest with Johnny on the "Tonight Show." And it was one of those nights where Johnny was on -- as he was most nights -- but some nights, he was really funny, and it worked.
And I was never better, thanks primarily to him. And it was just one of those real click things. And in middle of interview, he shocked me, because he said, you know, you are awfully good at this. You ought to come do this some time. I said, you know, ask me, I'll be here. And a couple weeks later, the producers called and said: Can you can in and host the show for a couple nights? And I said, "Sure." We booked the shows. We booked the days. They said now: There is a writers' strike going on, but it won't affect anything. You just come out. You don't do a monologue, talk about what you have been doing recently.
We have guests booked. And it will be fine. They said: one problem. There is a pending directors' strike. And, if the strike is not resolved by the end of this week, this Friday, we have to cancel next week's tapings. And you won't get to do the show. Well, by Friday, and there were no -- well, they settled the strike on Saturday, but they had already had the -- you know, television is a big machine. And you can't just cancel tapings, then put it back.
Johnny came back from vacation. I never had opportunity to do the show. And I don't believe -- I just -- when you do a big show like CBS. And there is this buildup, and expectation, and he's coming -- and, you know, they want to promote -- I'm not a flashy guy. I mean, I think that you watch me for a while, and you think: Hey, he's pretty pleasant. You kind of grow on people. It is hard to watch for a week and say: This is compelling. If you have done -- if you had come on and done a couple of nights of "Tonight Show," nobody expects much. And they go, instead of going: That is all there is, they go: Wow, he is more clever than we thought.
And I always thought -- not that television history would have changed -- but it would have been -- I would have -- that would have been a better way for me to be introduced to late night, if that makes any sense. That's my "Tonight Show" story. Aren't you glad you stayed tuned.
KING: Who knew, one day difference.
KING: Who -- what do you think of Letterman-Leno.
SAJAK: You know, look, when you have done a show like that, you have great respect for anyone who can do it. It is a very -- it's a tough grind. And I have always been a fan of both of theirs. I haven't done either show in a long time. You know, I don't do much of this anymore. I don't have anything to plug. There's not much upside for me anymore. I don't want to -- I'm not looking to be more famous than I am. I'm not 30 years old trying to make a career.
So I don't do a lot of these. But Dave -- I did Dave's show fairly frequently. In fact, I did Dave's show. He was very gracious. I was booked on his show. And then CBS announced my show. And went through with the thing anyway. And we kidded about the fact that we would be competing in some markets and all that stuff. Whatever happened to him?
KING: Have you taken on other enterprises?
SAJAK: Yes, you know -- you try to -- you mentioned we taped 39 days a year. So, despite the fact that we spend tons of time together as a family, it's nice to have a few other things to do. Yes, I do.
KING: So, what do you do?
SAJAK: We have a little production company, in association with Sony and Columbia television. We have a feature movie in pre- production. We -- I have -- I produce -- no one who has been ever been on your show could say this -- I have produced a bowling show for Romania.
KING: You are kidding.
SAJAK: I want to just pause, let that sink in.
KING: How did you get this idea? You're saying: Boy, Romania's a free country now. Let's see. They get rid of Ceausescu -- let's give them a bowling show.
SAJAK: Exactly. What they need to really make freedom ring over there. No, we taped a couple of game show pilots. And we sell them internationally. Actually, we just sold it to Russia too, oddly enough. So, it's funny...
KING: It's a bowling game show?
SAJAK: It's called...
KING: Bowling for dollars?
SAJAK: Blackjack bowling, if you must, yes. It's a combination of guess what, blackjack and bowling. And it's a very clever...
KING: You knock down and you get a number...
SAJAK: Something like that. Well, we will bring a tape.
KING: Watch this. It will go through the roof. And CBS will (CROSSTALK)
SAJAK: I have a little music publishing company. We have a few...
KING: CBS will bring it in from Romania.
SAJAK: I don't think -- I don't think CBS still wants to talk to me.
KING: Auburn, Washington. We got some calls for Pat Sajak, hello.
CALLER: The question I have was, out of all the contestants that you have had, which ones you think was the most wildest and craziest one?
SAJAK: Well, you know we get a lot -- the people get very excited. You give someone a car, it's amazing how they react.
KING: Anyone pop into mind.
SAJAK: Yes, there was one strange fellow -- strange -- and I -- you know, people -- you have a little interview at the beginning. This guy was -- and we have hyphenated professions -- so I'm waiter and a actor. This guy -- I swear to you -- was a clown/mortician. I found that interesting, He put clown first, so I assume that was his desire.
KING: Meridian, Mississippi, hello.
CALLER: Yes, hello. After 17 years on air, I was wondering, do you see "Wheel" just going on forever, or do you think it has to end sometime?
KING: Nothing is forever, they say.
SAJAK: Well, they say that. I don't know. We were saying earlier that the show is so enormously popular, it would take -- I think it would take a long time for the show to go away, if it were -- I suspect -- especially these days, with all the cable outlets and everything -- I think in some form or another, "Wheel of Fortune" may be around as long as the medium is around.
KING: Do you know the answer to the puzzle?
SAJAK: Only moments before they give me a card, and I...
KING: That's it. You don't know it from the start.
SAJAK: You know, the problem -- the reason you don't is, it gets in your head. And it is amazing how you want to say it suddenly. You'll -- you know: a football hero. And you will want to say the category is football. No, no, that is answer. So, it is that better that I don't know ahead of time. So, I only know it as the round begins. Someone hands me a little card and I do it from there.
KING: Are there -- you say there are not many goofs -- generally, five shows run right through.
SAJAK: We are pretty -- you know -- most people...
KING: Because Regis tells me it takes two hours -- two and a half -- to do one hour of "Millionaire."
SAJAK: Yes, but Regis is new at this. He will get better.
KING: What makes good talk show -- a good show host.
SAJAK: Well, actually, some of the elements, I think, that make a good talk show. I think there are some things that...
KING: You have got to like people.
SAJAK: You have got to like people. It's a matter of listening, paying attention to what's going on. It's sitting here as you do and pretending -- not pretending -- but being in this conversation without letting on that people are talking in your ear, that you got clips to worry about, and commercials to worry about; that you can put that aside, put that onto your left side of your brain -- or wherever it goes -- while you deal with...
KING: And you've got to like the game, right?
SAJAK: Yes. Any game -- you know, not that to make too much of this, but -- any game is more complex than it seems. I mean, "Wheel" is -- you know, where it's spinning wheel and calling letters -- it doesn't seem like much. But at any juncture in the show, there are five or six or eight different ways you can go, and things that can happen. And, it is a matter of trying to keep track of them, and without looking as if you are doing it.
KING: How are contestants picked?
SAJAK: We have a staff that does -- you know, one of the things, I think, that works for our show -- we were talking earlier about why the show is as successful as it does -- our staff goes everywhere. And we have contestant searches everywhere around the country. Not all of our contestants look as if they just stepped off the beaches of Southern California. And I think that works for us. I think people sit at home and go, you know: That could be me. I could do that.
And we have different accents, and different looks, and different colors and sizes and ages. And it is not all about demographics. You know, let's get those young, pretty people up there. So, I think that is helpful.
KING: Who is -- what kind of player is a good player?
SAJAK: Someone -- obviously, you have to know the nuts and bolts of the game -- and not be --
KING: How to -- when to buy a vowel.
SAJAK: ... not be terrified about being in public. But the best players are the ones who keep it in perspective. And I try to tell people during commercials, this is a game. If you hit bankrupt, we don't come and take your house and car from you. This is house money you are playing with. When you do -- it's our money -- it is not your money until you get the check, anyway. If you can relax and play it as a game, you will do pretty well.
It is people who come in and say: I can't mess up. It is going to be a videotape. It's going to be played back at every birthday party for the rest of my life. And if you come in with that enormous pressure you've self-imposed, then you mess up.
KING: We'll be right back with more Pat Sajak and more of your phone calls. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE") SAJAK: 10 seconds, John, good luck.
JOHN: You didn't say -- you don't say.
SAJAK: Well, thank you for playing along, John. Congratulations. [
JOHN: This is (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
SAJAK: Your students must be very proud of you, John.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")
SAJAK: So you moaned on the air. You cried like a little baby. Then on Manila wafer boxes -- and we're not plugging them -- we're just mentioning that they didn't have the banana pudding recipe any more. They stopped doing it. And you couldn't find it; 700 people sent us the recipe from the box. What does that say?
WHITE: It says original banana pudding. But on every box I looked at, from here to South Carolina, I couldn't find it. So thank you, all 700 of you who sent the recipe. I appreciate it.
SAJAK: And stop sending them.
WHITE: You don't have to send anymore. I have enough! Thank you.
SAJAK: There you go. You feel better now.
WHITE: I do.
SAJAK: I'm so happy for you. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Pat Sajak's the guest, and on the phone is Vanna White.
SAJAK: How did you get through? You must really have a special way to dial.
KING: You have clout, Vanna.
SAJAK: You know, we kid, about -- now there, we were talking about Manila wafers. And we kid that this valuable time -- if you bought a 30 seconds of time on "Wheel of Fortune," it would costs you, you know, tens of thousands -- if not hundreds thousands of dollars -- how many minutes have we killed on the air over the year talking about nondescript -- you brining your vegetables in from your garden.
KING: Vanna, you still enjoy it.
WHITE: I do.
WHITE: It is fun. And we don't have to do it every day; which -- you know, we go in, we get paid to make people happy. And it is not our money we are giving away.
SAJAK: That's actually the best part, now that I think of it. I never heard it put quite that way.
KING: You two have always gotten along?
WHITE: We have.
SAJAK: What's the -- I must have some fault. What's -- if you could change one thing.
KING: What don't you like -- yes, OK, what would you change about Pat?
KING: Oh, come on, Vanna, what?
WHITE: No, I can't think of anything in all these years.
KING: All right, what would you change about Vanna?
SAJAK: I would give you black hair. I don't know. I'm just trying to make trouble. Should we talk about black wig?
KING: Does she have a black wig?
SAJAK: She has a black wig that she wears when she wants to be incognito. I have given it away now.
WHITE: Oh, great.
SAJAK: No, but it looks good.
KING: You are in the tabloids more than Pat. Does that bug you, Vanna?
WHITE: You know, it does drive me crazy. I don't know why they just -- I don't know. I guess an unusual name maybe; they like...
SAJAK: Well, lead a better life, Vanna.
WHITE: What can I say? I'm innocent.
SAJAK: We are going to feud.
KING: That Republican always comes out at one point or another.
SAJAK: You know, somebody once said to me. This is good advice -- going back to 10 years ago and the talk show thing was going on -- I was in there a lot more. And it used to annoy me. And as you know, Vanna, you say: How can they make stuff up. How can they just do that. How can they get away with it? And you want to fight it. And people say leave it alone. Because if you start fighting, it gets out in the open more. Leave it alone.
Somebody wants -- here is a good exercise. Go to grocery store and sort of put your black wig on. And kill time, like you're buying the cream cheese. And watch the people who pick those things up and read them, and buy them. And ask yourself, do you really care what they think about you? It works.
KING: That's a good point. Speaking of Vanna, we have a little clip here of -- with Joan Rivers. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE LATE SHOW WITH JOAN RIVERS")
JOAN RIVERS, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH JOAN RIVERS": Somebody came down from space, and you have to explain what you do. What would you say to them?
WHITE: I would say, I walk through a curtain. I turn around and model my little outfit. Then, I go to puzzle board. And I turn letters. That is what I do.
RIVERS: Any of the letters harder to turn?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Why were you dressed that way?
SAJAK: That was the production of "Snow White" you were in at the time, wasn't it?
KING: What was that?
WHITE: I have -- I do not remember why I was dressed that way. But I'm sure I had a reason.
SAJAK: I hope so.
WHITE: I think it was. It was one of those theme shows that she had. I'm sure it was. I would never walk out in a dress like that.
KING: Vanna, how long are you committed to "Wheel of Fortune"?
WHITE: Through 2002; the same as Pat.
SAJAK: Yes, we're on the same timeline. And then...
KING: But the show is committed for longer than that, so what...
SAJAK: What does that tell you?
KING: That both of you have good contracts ahead.
SAJAK: You know, one of the nice things -- to be mercenary about this -- one of the nice things about going in at contract time is it's very difficult -- when there's a successful show -- it's very difficult to isolate the elements, and say: Well, it's successful because of Pat or Vanna or the -- this or that -- because there is a whole package. It could be that my uncle Mo could do the show and it would do just as well; that it...
KING: You like to kid yourself.
SAJAK: What was the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) entertaining.
KING: There's somebody apparently watching; there's a guy at Sony. We're seen in Tokyo. How much would Mo cost?
SAJAK: He never invites me over, by the way. I could hop on the Sony jet and be there in a moment, Mr. whatever.
KING: Vanna, you don't turn them anymore, do you?
WHITE: No, I don't. Can you believe they made my job easier?
SAJAK: Soon, you will just stay in bed and think the letters.
KING: Vanna, thanks for calling. Be well, dear.
WHITE: Thank you.
SAJAK: I'll see you tomorrow.
KING: Oh, tomorrow, big day, Vanna. You have got to work tomorrow.
KING: Vanna White on the phone. Pat Sajak...
SAJAK: She's going to go home and study the alphabet now.
KING: We'll be back with more calls for Pat. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, WSMV, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE)
SAJAK: It has been very pleasant back here, with dry, and rather cool air. On the other hand, in the Southern Plains, again a very hot day. They're up into the 100s. While just a couple of hundred miles to the north, behind this front, they have been in 70s for most of the day. So quite a contrast there. Not much to report out West, mostly sunny skies throughout that area. And that is pretty much it on the national map -- not much change so far as we are concerned. The high pressure will hold. And we can expect sunny and pleasant days. And we will keep an eye on Bill, and let you know what's going on with her.
By golly, this is Hermitage Landing. Hello. How are you? Nice to see you. You realize, under laws of Tennessee, we are now legally married, young lady. I just want you to know. OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAJAK: Stuff like that that built a career.
KING: I like the way you took "h" for the high and added "hot."
SAJAK: You see, anyone else, a lesser broadcaster would have left that "h" up there. I said "h", hot.
KING: Go with it, right? Take risks.
SAJAK: That was Nashville.
KING: Ottawa, Ontario, hello..
CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, Pat. I was wondering if you have ever had a romantic relationship with Vanna?
SAJAK: With Vanna White?
KING: No, Vanna Slocum (ph).
SAJAK: No. No. And I'm happy that I...
KING: Because you knew her before your marriage.
SAJAK: Yes, we were both single for a time. And I suppose we could have. And it was wise decision not to. KING: You ever think about saying: Let's go to dinner? SAJAK: Well, we've had -- I mean, we've had dinner together, but...
KING: Never had a...
SAJAK: No, no, no, no. You know, we through the drive-through.
KING: Because Mary Tyler Moore admitted on this show that, even though she was married -- so was he -- she had a crush on Dick Van Dyke.
SAJAK: But they never...
KING: No, never did anything with it.
SAJAK: Well, I had a crush on Mary Tyler Moore.
KING: Oh, I see.
SAJAK: So everything kind of comes full circle. But no, I haven't. Thank you for asking.
KING: By the way, you have a beautiful family.
SAJAK: I do. Thank you very much. Patrick -- we came from the baseball game directly here. Patrick...
KING: There they are.
SAJAK: Oh, there is a good-looking group. Patrick is nine. Maggie is five, and Leslie is beautiful.
KING: It looks like it could have been taken today.
SAJAK: Do you know, that's funny. They asked for a picture. And this was actually taken Saturday up in Santa Barbara. We went to a polo match all things.
KING: Oh, come on, Pat.
KING: I know you are a Republican, but this is going over the hill.
SAJAK: Well, it was -- it was -- it was "Arena Polo."
KING: You're wearing the same shirt.
SAJAK: No, no, no. Am I?
KING: I think you are.
SAJAK: Boy, I should change more often. KING: Houston, Texas, hello.
CALLER: I have a funny little question for Pat.
CALLER: I want to know what are the fantastic parting gifts...
SAJAK: Lovely parting gifts.
CALLER: ... you give away at the end of the show. And when we're not home, we tape you.
SAJAK: Well, I appreciate that. Do you watch them? That's the key.
CALLER: Yes, we do.
CALLER: I'm taping you right now.
SAJAK: Are you? Well, good.
KING: What are the parting gifts you?
SAJAK: Well, you always say -- we say we have lovely parting to make the people feel better, and you know, it's usually...
KING: And what are they?
SAJAK: Jiffy Lube gift certificates, things like that.
No, it's -- they're nice. It'll be a little -- it'll be a little ashtray or...
KING: Lazy Susan?
SAJAK: ... or a year's supply of, you know, cat food or something. They're not -- they're not real great. But they are -- they are lovely. If you set them up and look in the right light, they're really quite lovely.
KING: Have you ever had sore losers?
SAJAK: We occasionally hear from attorneys.
SAJAK: Because people will just imagine reasons they lost: that we had it out for them, we got cheated because that person got three seconds and I only got -- they'll sit at home with stop watches.
SAJAK: Yes. It's amazing. You know, we come and we smile and we have a good time. And we, believe me, the last -- first of all, fixing a game show is a federal crime. So I'm not going to go to jail so someone can win a refrigerator.
But -- but people still ask, you know, there's a -- there's a brake in the wheel, isn't there, like we care.
SAJAK: Occasion -- I mean, most people are very, very gracious about it. And most people also realize that 10 years from now no one is going to care what you won on the show. What's interesting is that you were on the show.
KING: Our remaining moments with Pat Sajak right after this.
KING: It could be old home week. Let's go to Nashville for Pat Sajak. Hello.
CALLER: Thanks for taking my call, and I know I've got to hurry because I watch you all the time.
KING: Go ahead.
CALLER: OK. Pat spent a lot of years -- Norm Frazier (ph) -- worked with you on channel 4 in Nashville when you were doing the weather. I've got two questions.
SAJAK: It's a -- yes, sir, go ahead.
KING: Wait a minute. Norm worked with you? You...
SAJAK: Yes, Norm worked -- yes.
CALLER: Have you ever met -- have you ever met your idol, Bob Newhart? KING: He's your idol?
SAJAK: Well, I'm -- was he my idol? I'm a big fan of his. You know, it's funny: We met a couple of years ago at a Ronald Reagan birthday celebration. And I said to him -- you know, the dumb things you say when you're a fan; we're all fans -- and I said, "You know, this is one of the highlights of my life, meeting you." And he said -- and you'll get -- he said, "I'm sorry."
KING: That's Bob.
KING: Hey, Fred. Oh, he's gone.
KING: They miss you in Nashville, huh?
SAJAK: Well, I hope so. I spent five wonderful years there, and I was, of course, sort of the fill-in guy to fill in weather and fill in talk and all that kind of stuff. But the years have made my role seem bigger. Now, people go, oh, you were a big star in -- it was my first television job and...
KING: Is there anything else you'd like to do?
SAJAK: I don't know. The, you know, the...
KING: Do you have a dream wish?
SAJAK: Yes. Within this business, I'm happy with what's happened. I don't -- look, I'm not a singer, I'm not a dancer, I'm not an actor. Within the broadcasting realm, there are a certain things you can do; I've done a lot of them. I don't think I have the fire and the belly for talk anymore, it's such a -- it's such a demanding thing. I don't know that I could go back to having a full- time job. I mean, you saw the family: We like hanging out together.
KING: You can't beat that.
SAJAK: Yes. It's a good thing, where we are right now.
KING: One more call. Holden, West Virginia, hello.
CALLER: Yes. I'd like to ask whatever happened to announcer Jack Clark.
SAJAK: Jack passed away, so sorry to say. Jack, when I first started the show, was our announcer. He was a wonderful guy, and gee, I miss him. Charlie O'Donnell's terrific, too, but I -- I just loved the guy. KING: Did he die young?
SAJAK: And we worked together a few -- well, he -- younger than he should have certainly. But Jack was around a long time. He was an announcer on a thousand different shows. He did a few shows on-camera as well. You would know him if you saw a picture of him.
And just the sweetest guy -- what I loved about Jack is he understood me and whatever humor I could bring. And my -- the trick was to always get him to laugh as he was trying to plug something out.
But thanks for remembering him.
KING: You have not gone back from espousing your politics. I mean, people know you're a Republican. You appear at Republican...
KING: Do you ever have a second thought about, you know, that people might not like that?
SAJAK: No. And I try to...
KING: No matter what party.
SAJAK: You know, I try to divide -- I don't think it's fair to use whatever position I have in the entertainment world to hit people over the head. I'm not about to come on "Wheel" and start spouting politics. I appear at political events, but there, people know what they're getting.
I resent people who come on the -- you know, Barbra Streisand, as much as I don't care for her politics, I respect this: She doesn't stop in the middle of her movie or in the middle of her album and give you a diatribe. People host talk shows and they think it's their personal forum to espouse these events, these causes they have.
KING: So you've never brought it to the entertainment venue?
SAJAK: No. I mean, I understand I go to some of these events because people know me from the entertainment world, but they know what they're getting.
KING: But I mean, did you say ever say, maybe Democrats won't watch if they know I'm...
KING: Did you ever think, you know, there are some who will never...
SAJAK: Sure. I mean, there -- exactly. I'm sure there's some of that. But I try not to -- I try not to -- I try to separate the two.
And look, if someone's going to be -- I don't even get -- I don't get involved politically, Pat Sajak the game-show host or the TV personality, I don't even do get-out-the-vote campaigns, because I figure, if a game show host has to convince you to vote, your vote probably isn't worth a whole lot anyway.
So I try to keep it separated as well as I can. I'm proud of my politics, and people disagree, and that's the fun of it.
KING: What game-show host do you like a lot?
SAJAK: Oh, boy.
KING: I mean, Regis aside -- everyone loves him.
SAJAK: Yes. Yes, I used to love some of the -- some of the early guys were just terrific. And then even -- Gene Rayburn I thought was very, very funny.
KING: Oh, great talent.
SAJAK: Bill Cullen was an enormously talented guy, and there was a tendency to think -- you know, game-show hosts sometimes get put into a box. And he was a wonderful broadcaster.
KING: Cullen was a talent.
SAJAK: Most of the game-show hosts are good broadcasters first, and that's why it's hard to get new ones, because they try to make a comic a game-show host, an actor. It doesn't work.
KING: As always...
SAJAK: Great to see you.
KING: ... thank you, Pat.
SAJAK: Maybe next year.
KING: OK. We're out of time. Thanks for joining us. See you tomorrow night, and good night from Los Angeles.
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