Wheel Of Fortune (partially lost test pilots of Merv Griffin game show; 1970s)

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The show's logo from 1975

Status: Partially Lost

Wheel of Fortune is a game show based on the game hangman and first premiered on NBC on January 6th, 1975. The show was created by talk show host Merv Griffin and hosted by singer Chuck Woolery and co-hosted by model Susan Stafford. Weatherman Pat Sajak and actress Vanna White would take over hosting duties and still host the show as of the writing of this article with a syndication version of the show airing new episodes since 1983. The show would become a huge success for many decades to come with various merchandise and international versions of the show being created. However, prior to the show's 1975 debut, it had a rocky development with the show almost getting scrapped due to various bad decisions being made during development.



At some point in the early 1970s, Merv Griffin recorded a run-through of the show's format which was similar to the format of the show's run on NBC. Three players must solve a puzzle that relates to a person, place or thing. They must try to solve the puzzle while spinning a wheel with various dollar amounts ranging from $5 to $500 (with some spaces labelled Lose a Turn, Buy a Vowel and Free Spin) which gets added to their score depending on how many of the chosen letter appears in the puzzle. The first player to solve the puzzle gets to bank their winnings.

Shopper's Bazaar

On October 8th, 1973, a pilot for the show was recorded entitled "Shopper's Bazaar" and was hosted by Woolery. It was somewhat similar to the format of the NBC version, only this time the wheel is spun on its own and the players have to stop the wheel to determine what dollar amount their letter choice will earn them. Prior to the game, the three contestants choose which prizes they want to buy at the "Shopper's Bazaar" and the money they earn throughout the game will go to the bank of that prize the contestant is playing for. On the wheel is a space labelled "Your Own Clue" in which if the space is landed on the contestant who landed on it would get a private clue by phone, the first of which was the category. The player with the most prizes won goes onto the "Shopper's Special" in which the player is given their own puzzle and shown the available vowels in the puzzle and then are given 30 seconds to guess a consonant that was in the puzzle and solve it. The pilot was screened for a test audience and head of NBC daytime Lin Bolen and the results were very negative with the main consensus being that the gameplay was slow and the execution was bad. Merv Griffin would later call the pilot "garbage" and "wrong".

Edd Byrnes

On August 28th, 1974, two more pilots for the show were recorded and the format was now more in line with what aired on NBC. Woolery was replaced by Grease actor Edd Byrnes and the format was reworked with the three contestants now having control of the wheel and a Stafford was brought in as a co-host and letter-turner. The format remained the same but with the Bankrupt space being added to the wheel and a shopping round was added to replace the pre-show prizes where the contestant who solved the puzzle in a round would go shopping for prizes on display. The "Shopper's Special" round was also removed, but would later be briefly revised several times during the show's first three years on NBC (with one time known as "Star Bonus") before becoming completely revised into the bonus round we know today in 1981. The pilots were screened again for a test audience and Bolen and the results were also negative, with the consensus being that the new set (designed by Ed Flesh) was "too busy" and the sound effects were too noisy. Despite the negative feedback, Bolen decided to push for the show to be greenlit regardless of the consensus being if the show failed, she would be fired, but if the show succeed, she would get a raise. NBC picked up the show three months later and Byrnes was fired as the host due to being drunk during the recording of the pilots and Woolery was brought back and the rest is history.


Because of the rough development, the show had before its debut, the pilots become a rarity to fans of the show. Footage of the show's run-through with Griffin was unknown to exist until the 2017 documentary "Game Changers," when some snippets of the run-through footage were shown. Exactly when the run-through was made is unknown. A July 1974 article by Variety reported on the show's development before the last two pilots were recorded (which calls the show under its original title "Shopper's Bazaar")[1] and was the only published documentation of the show's development before the E! True Hollywood Story episode on the show in January 2005[2]. Prior to its resurfacing, only production photos and accounts of those who saw the "Shopper's Bazaar" pilot were the only things of that pilot to be found. The first three minutes of the pilot were uploaded to YouTube by user Kookah on May 31st, 2012[3]. Three years later on December 17th, 2015, user D_Andy uploaded the full pilot, which can still be viewed today. Photos of the last two pilots were used for the show's promotion[4] and clips of the first pilot were shown in the syndicated version's 3000th episode in 1998[5]. The first ten minutes of the second pilot was uploaded to YouTube by user GarryMooreFan. The first pilot would also be uploaded not long after[6] and while it has since been taken down, mirrors of the first pilot can be found online. The second pilot would later be uploaded in its entirety on Dailymotion on November 25th, 2022, by user "Chuck D's Game Show Cavalcade".


Shopper's Bazaar pilot.

Pilot #1.

Pilot #2.

Undated run-through.

See Also