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Why The Pat Sajak Show Was Cancelled

A long-standing institution of American entertainment, "Wheel of Fortune" has had many controversial moments over the years, and the show's sway is such that a single "Wheel of Fortune" contestant can baffle the entire internet with their playing style. As such, it's easy to imagine that dedicated viewers are well aware of pretty much everything there is to know about the long-running show. However, even longtime "Wheel of Fortune" fans probably don't know all its secrets ... such as the fact that the show's veteran host, Pat Sajak, used to have a talk show that was canceled after just one season when it couldn't match the success of its competition. 

"The Pat Sajak Show" was CBS' attempt to regain foothold in the late night talk show game at a time when "The Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson was thought to be nearing retirement. Sajak signed a lucrative deal to host, leaving the network version of "Wheel of Fortune" to do so. He got his real-life friend Dan Miller to act as his sidekick and announcer on the show. There were also all the trimmings you'd expect from a serious "The Late Show" competitor — from an expensive set to a studio band. 

Unfortunately for Sajak's talk show career (but perhaps luckily for "Wheel of Fortune" fans), "The Pat Sajak Show" wasn't built to last. Despite receiving an Emmy nomination for outstanding art direction and featuring cool guests from Leslie Nielsen to Dolly Parton, the show only ran for a single 165-episode season from January 1989 to April 1990.

The downward spiral of The Pat Sajak Show

While "The Pat Sajak Show" was relatively inexpensive to make, the grim realities of disappointing ratings soon started affecting it. The show began as a deliberately close relative of "The Tonight Show," but went through a series of last-ditch rebrandings in 1990 — first by becoming more informal and compact, and as a last resort, by experimenting with occasional guest hosts like Rush Limbaugh. This means that out of the show's 165 episodes, Sajak actually appeared in just 158. 

Sajak saw the writing on the wall, and suspected that the guest host concept was a thinly-veiled screening for potential new hosts. In May 2001, he interviewed Limbaugh for "Larry King Live" (via CNN) and poked fun at the talk show's final moments. "I was doing a late night for CBS television, a show that was going so well that they actually auditioned replacements for me on the air, and you were one of those who did an evening once — essentially a pilot ... for a show," he said. Limbaugh confirmed Sajak's suspicion, though he wasn't certain whether the auditions were specifically for Sajak's host gig. 

In all fairness, the 90-minute "Pat Sajak Show" had to compete against some true heavyweights of the genre. Apart from NBC's "The Tonight Show" and "Late Night with David Letterman," "The Arsenio Hall Show" — which also started its run in January 1989 — rapidly established itself as the more attractive CBS newcomer. While Sajak's show had a strong start, it eventually was dead last in the late show ratings. Johnny Carson, who hosted "The Tonight Show" until 1992, regularly pulled double the ratings of "The Pat Sajak Show."

Pat Sajak has done many things outside Wheel of Fortune

Considering how long he helmed "Wheel of Fortune" before retiring from the show in 2024, casual fans might assume that Pat Sajak is the kind of guy who likes to keep his eggs in one basket. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. While the vast majority of his on-screen career has involved the game show, he's appeared in over 100 other shows and movies, often cameoing as himself but occasionally playing one character or another. 

Sajak has also been a consulting producer on "Wheel of Fortune" since 2020, along with executive producer credits on a handful of other projects — including, as it happens, "The Pat Sajak Show." It's also possible that some things you didn't know about Sajak are that he's been a radio DJ and a weatherman. He also has a long history of stage acting with news presenter Joe Moore. While none of these other projects have been nearly as high-profile as Sajak's tenure on "Wheel of Fortune," they're still proof that he has never restricted himself to just that one game show.