#93: Rolf Benirschke
Clutch kicker, but his hosting was wide right
Host: Wheel of Fortune - Daytime version (January - June 1989)
The 1988-89 season for Wheel of Fortune was very memorable in both good and bad terms. While the show was in one of his highest moments, it had lost a great friend in Jack Clark, their announcer for the past 8 years. So, a replacement had to be made and MG Kelly would fill in at the announcers booth for 6 months before being replaced by veteran announcer Charlie O'Donnell. The show itself would explode in popularity and continue to be exciting in both daytime and nighttime, giving away millions in cash and prizes that season. New categories would make their debut in Same Name, and the famous R,S,T,L,N & E Rule would make its debut this season as well. But the biggest change would happen in Daytime as Pat Sajak would be heading to CBS to host his own Primetime talk show.
So, after making out with Vanna on his last episode of the Daytime Wheel of Fortune on a Monday no less, a new host was needed to fill the void for Tuesday. With Merv at this time thinking he could do no wrong with the mega-success that both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, he found a great sportsman to fill the void. Someone low key, like Pat Sajak. Someone who looks good in a suit, like Pat Sajak. Someone who would end up being one of the worst game show hosts in history, like Pat Bullard. I present to you, Rolf Benirschke.
Rolf was introduced to our airwaves by Vanna White and introduced himself as a former place kicker for the San Diego Chargers and honestly, a damned good one at that. Widely considered to be one of the best place kickers in the NFL at the time, he made the rounds of the talk show circuit and was a genuinely likeable guy, especially having to deal with Ulcerative Colitis during his career, costing him over a year of his career, and could have cost him his life at that time. Now the story of him getting the Wheel job is weird to say the least. He was being interviewed on a talk show, and Merv Griffin was watching and he thought, he'd make a good choice for host of Wheel of Fortune. Now, this was in 1989 and Merv thought he couldn't do any wrong. Wheel was still a huge hit in nighttime, Jeopardy was following suit, and he was prepping Monopoly for syndication.
But unfortunately for Merv, Rolf wasn't like Pat Sajak and NBC didn't have much confidence in him, dropping the total amount of prizes to be won from around $107,000 to a tad under $80,000. However, the prizes were still very good. But the main issue with Rolf was that early on he was completely nervous and way out of his element. He would make several blunders and mistakes that would make people say, "Does he even know the rules of the game?" Well, for being thrown to the wolves on a Tuesday instead of a Monday show, his first week was more or less a trial by fire, but for the rest of his tenure, especially the next couple of months....it would turn out even worse for Merv and NBC.
It doesn't happen much, but ties did happen in the daytime and when they do, all 3 are carried over to tomorrows show with the same scores and they build off of those scores for the next game. Unfortunately, Rolf didn't read his Wheel of Fortune rulebook and didn't know this rule, and told a nationwide audience of millions..."I have no idea what to do next." That statement alone made Rolf Benirschke the butt of many bad hosting jokes until Patrick Wayne came along in 1990. Then during a Teen Week episode later on during his run, during the final spin he thought he hit $2,000. Unfortunately for him, the $2,000 was on the blue pointer and his pointer, the red pointer, had hit bankrupt. What made it even more embarrassing is that he had to be reminded of this by one of the contestants...On Camera no less. Those two blunders, among a bevy of others sent NBC into a widely publicized host search with such luminaries as Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe trying out to replace Rolf.
Now, normally a host who would constantly end up being as maligned as he did would remain horrible...however, during the end of his run as host, especially his last episode, you could tell that he had gotten much better in front of the camera and was more calm and cool during his run. Unfortunately, the viewers didn't stick around to see Rolf become a better emcee and Daytime Wheel was cancelled in May. Rolf never hosted another TV show in his life, but would return to talk about his Wheel experience on E! True Hollywood Story.
So with the show corpsed, CBS decided to throw the switch and send for the man themselves and revived the show, changed it up and brought in the man.
Yup, Bob Goen, host of future GSG inductions in Perfect Match and the Home Shopping Game, took over the reins of the show and did quite well for himself. The show would continue for about 18 months on CBS, before being moved to NBC and lasting 9 more months before the show would be cancelled for good.
Rolf's mistakes in the beginning doomed him. He was a likeable guy, but since he didn't know the rules sometimes and sounded and looked like a complete dunce and dullard, he was known to have killed the show. But don't feel too badly for Rolf, he's made a great career for himself speaking out about Ulcerative Colitis with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America as their spokesman. I really don't have many bad things to say about him, it's just that the blunders that he made and ridicule by others was punishment in itself.
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