Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Vanna White Keeps It Spinning on 'Wheel of Fortune' After All These Years

I'm not one who would consider himself a fan of Wheel of Fortune, but I have seen the show on and off since I was a child; these days I tend to see because it comes on after Jeopardy (when I see that) and it's perfectly acceptable to leave the TV on that channel as background while washing dishes or some such activity where I'm not actively paying that much attention. Its longevity undoubtedly stems from that passive involvement capacity (and the fact it doesn't involve the same level of actual knowledge as the show preceding it in syndication); you can watch it without the sound and still be able to play along.

Over my decades of experience with the show I've seen it transform from when the dollar amounts on the wheel were much lower, where the contestants had to "spend" their winnings from the round on a bunch of cheesy prizes, and where the tiles on the board were triangular and needed to be spun by Vanna. But while much has advanced—the dollar amounts have increased significantly, the contestants win the cash or trips or cars, and the tiles have gone to digital screens mimicking the old look—there is one part of the show that has not progressed as one might expect: Vanna is still by the board.

So let's acknowledge one thing:

If Wheel of Fortune were created as a new game show today, with the same technological capabilities that the existing show demonstrates (where the "tiles" can light up and display any letter, rather than need to be turned as was the case in earlier decades), it seems there would be no need for Vanna White. That's not a knock on her; it's merely the truth.

Of course, even back in the show's earliest days of the mid-'70s (before she or Pat Sajak were even on the show) it was such that the producers could have had some mechanical means of turning the tiles in an automated manner, so having anyone in that capacity was unnecessary from its inception. Still, with how the show now has "tossup" rounds where random tiles display their letter on their own without even the pretense of Vanna going and touching something to make them display (she stands off to the side of the board, doing not much), it makes her role in the rest of the show seem even more superfluous than it would have in the past.

So arguably her job is to stand near the board and look pretty in great dresses, and that should seem hideously sexist in 2015; again, were this being created today it seems like producers would try to change up her duties to something more integral if for no other reason than to avoid the possibility of seeming sexist. But with now over 30 years just as a syndicated show (after it moved away from its initial network runs on NBC and CBS) with Vanna being next to the board all those decades it gets a pass; it's probably institutional sexism at play but it doesn't come across as such because it's so grandfathered in that we don't even think about it.

Frankly, the fact that she still has her job and hasn't just been replaced with a string of younger models (that is, women who work in modeling; not suggesting Vanna is some sort of automaton where they'd have newer versions… of course, given how remarkable she looks for a woman of her age I suppose one could make a case that she is an automaton—which would make her the most impressive technological feat the show has achieved, certainly—but as amusing as that could be to ponder that's in keeping with the tone of this entry) is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the situation to cite. A woman keeping her on-air job in television for over 30 years is laudable by any standard.

At this point in the show Vanna is as integral as the board next to which she stands because she literally has been around longer than the current version of the board (where the tiles don't spin but digitally display). It doesn't matter whether she is needed to manipulate the board or not; she simply is needed to be there. The reasons are utterly immaterial at this point.

But her role's integrity is merely the case because she got in while arguably it was easier to justify why they'd need someone to manipulate the board; it's difficult to imagine that happening with a game show created today (unless it was specifically mimicking the Wheel formula).

If she ever retires (or, if the amazingly lifelike automaton theory is true, when they power her down) I'd say the show should be shuttered.

The only unarguable point: There will never be another Vanna (even though every version of Wheel around the world has tried).


And now, because we need a bit of silliness…

The show that could replace it and hold the same letters in its name: Wheel Off or Tune. Contestants would need to change a tire or sing.

I'll leave the details to Merv Griffin; clearly he knew how to craft a winner back then with those letters.

Clearly I'm just an ideas guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

So, what do you think?