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Why The Original ‘Wheel of Fortune’ Host Was Fired After Just One Season

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After Merv Griffin created Wheel of Fortune in 1975, he influenced the decision to bring Chuck Woolery on as the host of the popular game show. Woolery’s tenure on the show lasted six years until 1981 when he had a dispute with the producer.

After just one season of the show, Pat Sajak succeeded Woolery. Sajak is set to retire later this year after having more than a four-decade run on the show, and he has since then become the known face of Wheel of Fortune. 

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The first host of ‘Wheel of Fortune’

WHEEL OF FORTUNE, (from left): co-host Susan Stafford, host Chuck Woolery, (1975), 1975-.

Woolery’s path to securing the hosting role on Wheel of Fortune was not handed to him effortlessly despite being a popular face on the children’s television show, which aired from 1972 to 1977. The 82-year-old faced tough competition from Grease actor Edd Byrnes, who even underwent two test episodes for the position.

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RELATED: Vanna White Reminisces As Pat Sajak Prepares To Leave ‘Wheel Of Fortune’

However, when the decisive moment arrived to choose a permanent host, producer Merv Griffin reportedly selected Woolery for the role.

WHEEL OF FORTUNE, host Chuck Woolery, (ca. 1975), 1975-.

He was fired from the show due to his demands for increased salary

Woolery recorded success hosting the show’s initial season; upon the expiration of his contract in 1981, he sought a substantial raise from $65,000 to $500,000 annually. He believed the adjustment was warranted, aligning with the salaries of other hosts achieving comparable ratings; however, the show producer was not ready to raise his pay.

WHEEL OF FORTUNE, Chuck Woolery (host ca. 1975), 1975-, ©CBS/courtesy Everett Collection

In a 2007 episode on The Strip podcast, Woolery disclosed that his demands created a tense work environment, and the show creator offered him an annual income of $400,000 instead of his requested amount. Woolery added that when NBC proposed an additional $100,000 to meet his original demand, the producer expressed displeasure, even threatening to take the show to CBS. The standoff resulted in the network retracting the offer to augment his salary, and upon the contract’s expiration, he was not renewed.

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