When Harry Friedman first joined “Wheel of Fortune” as a producer within the mid-1990s, the tempo of the sport present was lumbering. Between puzzles, the crew must cease taping, draw enormous duvetyn curtains in entrance of the puzzle board and manually exchange every letter in every gentle field. The method stretched out a half-hour present to 45 or 50 minutes of taping, which might “simply suck the life out of the viewers, out of the contestants and out of Pat [Sajak] and Vanna [White],” mentioned Friedman.
So in 1997, the tv producer — who that very same 12 months would tackle producing tasks for “Jeopardy!” — switched out the handbook puzzle board for an digital one. Vanna would solely have to the touch every gentle field to summon a brand new letter. The present may primarily be recorded in actual time, permitting for extra rounds throughout every taping and reinvigorating America’s Sport.
“Harry fairly actually saved the present when it desperately wanted a robust dose of creativity,” Sajak informed Variety.
Immediately, Friedman is closing out a 25-year run at Sony Photos Tv, the studio behind each sport reveals, as he opts to maneuver on after the top of his contract. The well-respected tv veteran holds a Guinness World Document for having produced 12,540 sport present episodes, greater than another particular person, and is the one producer to have gained two Emmys in the identical class in a tie with himself.
“There’s nobody on this enterprise I respect extra,” mentioned Sajak. “I’ll miss his large expertise, his unerring instincts and his real kindness. He’s merely the most effective.”
Amid a public well being disaster that has everybody anxious concerning the future, Friedman’s final day comes as thousands and thousands of viewers, confined to their houses, flip to the reveals he helmed for consolation.
For the week of April 6, “Jeopardy!” averaged 11.6 million viewers every weeknight, whereas “Wheel” averaged 11.three million, in line with nationwide syndication knowledge — outperforming practically all of the nightly information reveals throughout networks and all primetime applications on each community and cable, together with Fox’s well-liked Wednesday evening competitors collection “The Masked Singer” (7.9 million viewers) and CBS’ Sunday evening newsmagazine “60 Minutes” (9.7 million).
And for the primary 4 weeks since stay-at-home directives have been starting to roll out, beginning in mid-March, “Jeopardy!” scores grew 18% in whole viewers, whereas “Wheel” scores rose 15% in comparison with the 4 weeks earlier than that. Complete viewer scores for weekday showings of “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel” between mid-March and mid-April elevated 27% and 23%, respectively, from those self same weeks a 12 months in the past; on the weekends, these figures surged 67% and 59%.
Even previous to instances of nationwide disaster, TV viewers have discovered nice reduction in watching Sajak and Alex Trebek do their factor.
Two years in the past, Friedman remembers, a “Wheel” viewers member who there along with her 11-year-old daughter requested a web page if she may converse to the manager producer. She was escorted over to the stage.
“She mentioned, ‘I simply wish to let you understand that we’ve been by so much this final 12 months’ — she didn’t say what — ‘We’ve been by so much this final 12 months, and your reveals make us really feel secure and heat.’”
Sony Photos Tv usually movies 230 unique episodes of “Jeopardy!” and 195 episodes of “Wheel” a 12 months. For over twenty years, Friedman would usually depart his home at 5:15 a.m., work out on the fitness center on the lot in Culver Metropolis — “one of the nice perks of all time” — and stay on the workplace till 7 p.m. each evening.
“If I assumed there was a strategy to do all of it once more for one more 25 years, I might do it in a heartbeat,” he mentioned.
Friedman has additionally up to date “Jeopardy!” through the years, including visible components to clues, such because the video prompts from the present’s Clue Crew. That group, comprised of roving present correspondents, have recorded clues in additional than 300 cities throughout seven continents since its inception in 2001.
“It’s actually, actually significantly better to see St. Mark’s Sq. in Venice, with folks being there slightly than simply speaking about it, and even [showing] an image of it,” mentioned Friedman.
Maybe probably the most vital change for “Jeopardy!”, he mentioned, was lifting the five-show restrict for contestants on a win streak. The brand new guidelines opened the door for Ken Jennings to make his historic 74-game run within the mid-aughts; the transfer made minor celebrities out of trivia fanatics, and had viewers rooting for winners on a roll.
The latest “Jeopardy! The Best of All Time” match in January noticed Jennings — by then a family title — competing in opposition to Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer, delivering a scores smash. The primary episode of the match scored 14.four million whole viewers, and peaked with 15.5 million viewers by the third of 4 installments.
“Harry is probably the most inventive producer I’ve ever labored with,” mentioned Trebek, in an emailed assertion.
Friedman won’t be closing out his storied tenure with a giant bash. His final day, within the midst of authorities orders to remain at house, will as a substitute be feted with two Zoom events — one together with his “Wheel” work household and one together with his “Jeopardy!” comrades.
Is there a correct sense of closure, then, given the character of his farewell?
“In truth, no,” he mentioned. “I needed to have the ability to rejoice these final 25 years with the individuals who have made it doable. And you’ll solely go to this point with Zoom.”
However he’s little doubt leaving on a swell of excessive regard.
“Harry Friedman is the most effective producer I’ve ever labored with,” mentioned White, the longtime hostess of “Wheel of Fortune.” “Not solely his optimistic power, however actually caring for his complete employees and crew, makes him one of a sort. I’ve cherished each minute of working with him.”
Sony Photos Leisure chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra calls Friedman a Hollywood “legend.”
“For 25 years, Harry has been on the helm of two of probably the most iconic sport reveals in historical past, which proceed to earn some of the best scores on tv,” he mentioned. “He’s a legend on this enterprise, and we’re grateful to have labored with him. I wish to want Harry the easiest as he begins the subsequent chapter of his extraordinary life, and passes the baton to Mike Richards.”
Incoming government producer Richards has been on the studios since September, only a month after Friedman first introduced his resolution to step down. Friedman calls it a “very well-organized transition course of.”
As for why he determined to decide on 2020 because the 12 months to step down, he mentioned that “25 was a pleasant quantity.”
“I actually felt prefer it was time to maneuver on to no matter is subsequent, and do so much of the issues that [my wife] Judy and I’ve talked about doing,” he mentioned.
However Friedman wouldn’t essentially characterize his personal departure as a retirement.
“I don’t know that I may ever actually depart this enterprise altogether,” he mentioned. “That is such a good time to be in tv, or no matter we outline as tv lately. There may be a lot creativity. And the expertise is incredible and it’s altering by the minute. It’s simply all too interesting to say, ‘Nah, I don’t wish to do this anymore.’”
For now, his subsequent journey will likely be delayed till the coronavirus outbreak slows its unfold.
“Initially, my spouse and I have been going to be completely cliché and spend our time touring and with the grandkids,” he mentioned. “And now, we are able to’t do both of these. However I’m going to take a breather after which see what’s subsequent.”
On the subject of the fondest reminiscences that Friedman will preserve with him from his 25-year tenure at “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” the veteran government mentioned there are two elements of the game-show expertise that “by no means fail to fulfill.”
“It’s when [announcer] Jim Thornton on ‘Wheel’ says, ‘And listed below are the celebs of America’s sport, Pat Sajak and Vanna White,’ and I have a look at the faces of the folks within the viewers,” mentioned Friedman. “Or when Johnny Gilbert says, ‘And now right here’s the host of ‘Jeopardy!’, Alex Trebek,’ and I have a look at the faces of the folks within the viewers.”
“It’s as in the event that they’re assembly an outdated pal for the primary time,” he mentioned. “And it’s great. It’s a heartwarming feeling to see that sort of response.”