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Here's What The Very First Episode Of Wheel Of Fortune Was Like

In 2019, the game show Wheel of Fortune celebrated its 7,000 episodes on the air (via USA Today) and its host Pat Sajak earned a Guinness World Record for the longest career of a game-show host for the same show. First airing in January 1975, Wheel of Fortune has become a staple of television, with the opening audience cheer of "WHEEL ... OF ... FORTUNE!" and phrases like "I'd like to buy a vowel" becoming instantly recognizable parts of the American lexicon. 

Wheel of Fortune is the brainchild of media mogul Merv Griffin. In Griffin's 2003 autobiography Merv: Making the Good Life Last, via Ultimate Classic Rock, Griffin wrote he wanted to create a gameshow based on the word-guessing game Hangman, but needed some kind of hook to sell it. It was Griffin's time at the Las Vegas casino Caesars Palace that gave him the idea of using a wheel. Griffin wrote that "it was always the big spinning wheel" of the roulette table that he was drawn to, even though he never did very well with the game. He pitched the idea to NBC and soon, network history was made.

But you might be surprised at how differently this iconic game show first looked and played compared to what we see today. There were prizes to be won, there was a wheel, there were contestants, and there were hosts. Beyond that, the very first episode of the show was very different. So different, in fact, it didn't even have the same name.

The very first episode of Wheel of Fortune wasn't Wheel of Fortune

The most obvious difference you'll notice upon watching any clips you can find of the original Wheel of Fortune pilot is that, well — you might actually find yourself thinking you made a mistake, because it's not even called Wheel of Fortune. In his autobiography, Merv Griffin said when NBC greenlit his pitch, they suggested he add a shopping element to the game. So, rather than Wheel of Fortune, the 1975 pilot was called Shopper's Bazaar.

Rather than contestants winning money and then choosing prizes to purchase, all the players chose in the beginning which items they would be playing for. Also, unlike the roulette wheels that inspired Griffin's hook, the wheel was mounted vertically. Players didn't spin the wheel themselves — instead, it would spin on its own. Since the contestants couldn't stand in front of the wheel like they do now, they simply stood near one of the valuable prizes they've claimed as their goal, whether that meant hanging out with the model wearing the expensive necklace they hoped to take home or chilling out near what they hoped to be their future Pontiac Firebird. The display featuring the mystery words was much smaller and a lot less flashier, and the words were uncovered by someone off-camera, rather than by a letter-turning host.  

Furthermore, while it may seem impossible to separate Wheel of Fortune from Pat Sajak and Vanna White, the pair were nowhere to be found in that pilot episode. Instead, Shopper's Bazaar was hosted by Chuck Woolery. 

It's worth noting that there was also a game show called Wheel of Fortune which first aired in 1952, named after Kay Starr's pop hit. But while the 1952 program's title would eventually be lifted to replace Shopper's Bazaar, the concept for the earlier game show was not at all similar to the one we know today — aside from the fact that it also involved a wheel, of course.