Sunday, July 28, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Vanna White at The Venetian/Christopher Rauschnot @24kMedia on Twitter
“Wheel of Fortune” gets a dose of Las Vegas luck this week as the iconic game show comes to town to film its upcoming Season 31 this weekend through Saturday, Aug. 3.
We spoke with hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White from their set at The Venetian to find out what keeps “Wheel” spinning after three decades.
What’s the biggest challenge of your job now versus when you started?
Pat Sajak: I’m not sure that it’s a challenge, but the most important part of my job is making it continue to feel fresh. Logistically, I know the show well enough that I could probably do it in deep REM sleep if I had to, but that wouldn’t be fair to anyone. It’s an attitude more than anything else. I guess just like any other long-running project — a marriage, for example — you can sleepwalk through it because you know how to do it, or you can pay attention and listen and have fun and treat the show as if it’s the first show and not the 6,500th. It’s not giving the sense that “Oh my gosh, it’s been 30 years,” but, “This is our one show tonight, and let’s make it a good one.”
Vanna White: I don’t even think there is a challenge here. It’s just continuing doing what we’re doing. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We’re staring our 31st season, and I think just keeping it fresh and staying on top of it is all we can do. More pretty gowns and puzzles and that kind of thing.
Is that part of what’s kept you engaged with the show, the fact that each show can feel like the first?
P.S.: It’s funny, there’s this whole genre now that’s sort of misnamed “reality (TV)” because most of us in this business know they aren’t real. But we actually are a reality show. We never know what’s going to happen, we never know how the games are going to turn out. And I like that aspect of it. The format obviously is the same every day, but you never know what the outcome is going to be. You never know how three people who have never been on television before are going to react to the cameras, what challenges you’re going to face or what things might go wrong if you’re not paying attention. Even though we tape our shows, they have a live-quality feeling to me, and I like the fact that it’s actually reality TV.
What might people not realize about you or the show? Any misconceptions?
V.W.: Away from the show, I am as unglamorous as you can get. I never wear makeup. I’m usually in tennis shoes and jeans and ponytails. I’m very, very casual. When I get dressed up, it makes me feel like I’m at work, so I tend to stay away from that as much as possible.
I think people have a misconception about Pat’s height. For some reason, they think he’s very short, and he’s not. He’s 5’10” and a half. I think it’s because the contestants are on this raised platform so they can reach the wheel to spin. Oftentimes, you have these nice older ladies look 5 inches taller than him because they’re standing on a platform, and he’s not. But he’s really not short. I’m 5’6,” and I wear very high heels on the show, and I’m not taller than him.
Game shows come and go, so why has this one lasted? To what do you attribute its longevity?
P.S.: It’s hard to say. It’s not a complicated game. After all, we’re just playing Hangman. Somewhere along the line, “Wheel” became more than just a popular show. It became part of the popular culture. Everyone knows it, even if they don’t watch it every night. If there’s a comic in a comedy club who makes a joke about it, everyone understands the reference. We’re comfort food. We’ve been around a long time, people have fond memories of watching it with their parents or their grandma when they were kids and now watching it with their own kids. So it’s a throwback in that way.
V.W.: I think it’s just something that everyone of all ages enjoys. With all the crime and negative stuff on TV, it’s refreshing. Even a baby can watch it. Hundred-year-olds watch it. It’s 30 minutes of escape. After all these years of being on, it’s like an old shoe. It’s comfortable, it works, and you don’t want to throw those old shoes away.
Where do you see “Wheel” heading in the future? Can it keeping going on that same model?
P.S.: Yeah, I think so. If you look at tape of our show from 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, it has a little bit of a different feel. It’s paced a little more quickly than it used to be. But the basic game has remained the same. And that’s the challenge with a long-running show — to make enough changes every year. Every year we add an element or take out something or redesign something to make it feel fresh. And yet people do like basic games, so you have to be careful how much you do and how many changes you make. I think we’ve struck a pretty good balance between keeping it familiar to people and yet keeping up with the times and the pacing and making it feel a little more modern.
Has the show ever considered making a drastic change or update to its look or format?
P.S.: I think it’s always what can we do a little different this year to keep people’s interest. For example, we have this big, clunky wheel that goes around, and with all the technological advances that have been made, it’s really old fashioned. But we could never get rid of the wheel like that because it’s the show. There are certain things you wouldn’t touch. To me, it always smacks of desperation, too, when shows get totally revamped. It means it’s not working. Happily, we haven’t been in that position.
Besides the obvious money-win factor, what makes Las Vegas a good fit for filming this season?
P.S.: If you’re watching at home, Las Vegas is one of those destinations that everybody loves, so they get a kick out of seeing it. The other thing is that for our audiences and the players here in Las Vegas, we get people from all around the country. We get several thousand people in our audience, and it’s real a cross-section of America. If you go to Cleveland to tape, you get Clevelanders in the audience. If you go to Buffalo, you get Buffalonians. But here in Las Vegas, you get people from everywhere, and that’s fun.
V.W.: I think Las Vegas is centrally located to so many people around the world and around the country, so it’s a great place to have people come to see our show who don’t normally have the opportunity. Perhaps they’re from a small town in Kansas, and they’re vacationing and can come see the show. That makes it exciting.
In the spirit of Venice, The Venetian is a little piece of romantic Italy right here in Las Vegas. The Venetian is an "all-suite" hotel, with rooms accented with plush linens and Italian marble. The 4,027 suites are divided into two towers: The 36-story Venetian Tower that offers guests a taste of luxurious Las Vegas and the Venezia suites, which guarantee 12 floors of high-end elegance. The top five floors are the hotel's highest level of luxury with its private access, concierge lounge, upgraded features and even a dedicated staff.
The flagship of Venetian nightlife is TAO, an ultra-hip nightclub located inside of TAO Asian Bistro. V Bar is The Venetian's super smooth ultra lounge, made by the owners of New York City's club Lotus and Los Angeles' super swank Sunset Room.
The Venetian features 19 restaurants including Thomas Keller's award-winning French restaurant Bouchon, Mario Batali's B&B Ristorante, Aquaknox for fresh seafood and the 42,000 square foot TAO Asian Bistro. There's also the food court inside the Canal Shoppes for those looking for a quick bite.
Guests can float along The Grand Canal Shops in an authentic Italian gondola ride and pass stores like Burberry and Kenneth Cole along the way. And if you haven't caught a real celeb, on the street in Vegas, you can head over to Madame Tussauds to check out a wax version.