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Pat Sajak ends his run as host of 'Wheel of Fortune' on Friday

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Game show contenders won't be buying a vowel from Pat Sajak anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Wheel of Fortune.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

After more than 40 years, Sajak's final spin on "Wheel Of Fortune" is tomorrow. Here he is on Day 1 way back in December of 1981.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")

JACK CLARK: And now, here's your new host, Pat Sajak.

PAT SAJAK: As Jack mentioned, my name is Pat Sajak, and I've been fortunate enough to wander onto the set of a very successful program.

ROBERT THOMPSON: Well, I suppose doing anything for 40 years is fairly unusual.

MARTIN: That's Robert Thompson. He is a professor at Syracuse University who teaches a class on pop culture and television.

THOMPSON: It is especially unusual in television, where most shows don't last anywhere near that long.

MARTIN: Thompson says Sajak's decadeslong run is partly due to the success of the show itself and Sajak's old-school style of hosting.

THOMPSON: A game show host is someone you're potentially going to be watching a half hour a day for five days a week. There has to be sort of all the edges kind of off. You want them to have a personality, but it can't be the kind of personality you grow tired of.

MARTÍNEZ: In 2014, some fans did grow tired of Sajak, when the self-described conservative Republican tweeted that, quote, "global warming alarmists" were "unpatriotic racists." His spokesman later said it was a joke.

MARTIN: Personal politics aside, jokes were a big part of Sajak's hosting style, especially in moments where contestants would give some pretty off-the-wall answers.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "WHEEL OF FORTUNE")

JOE: A group of pill pushers?

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SAJAK: This is "Wheel Of Fortune," Joe.

MARTÍNEZ: Thompson says credit for the show's long-running success is also due to its co-host Vanna White and her rapport with Sajak.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VANNA WHITE: We all goof around here on the set. We're all like family and all that.

SAJAK: We're very lucky. We have...

WHITE: Yeah.

SAJAK: ...A really nice group of men and women here. We like them all - well, except for, you know, that one you always complained about. But other than that, we like everybody.

THOMPSON: Whatever you want to call it - Abbott and Costello - he was able to do a bit with Vanna day after day that most of the other game show hosts did not have.

MARTIN: Vanna White's new co-host is TV and radio presenter Ryan Seacrest. And Thompson says don't expect to see major changes to the game show. It works well, just as it is.

THOMPSON: If you look at the TV shows that have come and gone, a show like "Wheel Of Fortune" keeps plugging away. That should tell us about some very basic things of the nature of human entertainment that I don't think we give nearly the credit.

MARTIN: But as we know, it is the host who keeps things moving. Right, A?

MARTÍNEZ: Absolutely. That's what we're hosting for. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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