After I wrote about Wheel of Fortune on Sunday and the impending retirement of host Pat Sajak, a Sony TV source reached out to note one thing I missed: Vanna White, Sajak’s co-host for four decades, is negotiating to continue on Wheel beyond when her deal ends at the conclusion of the 2023-24 season. I’ve since confirmed that fact (a Sony rep declined to comment on that and other new details reported here), and it led me down a wild path about “America’s Game” and what’s going on behind the scenes.
White currently makes about $3 million a year for her duties on the syndicated Wheel, per multiple sources. Sajak makes almost five times as much. Sure, OK, he’s the host, she’s the co-host, and—cue the voice of the Bobs from Office Space—What would you say that Vanna… actually… does… here? An OK point. White doesn’t even turn letters anymore, instead tapping the lighted rectangles and silently cheering on contestants from her perch. Ed McMahon and Andy Richter made way less than Johnny Carson and Conan O’Brien, respectively. Analogous? There’s no real comp for what Vanna does, which means she’s not exactly Jennifer Lawrence or Michelle Williams when it comes to shining examples of pay disparity in Hollywood.
But… that’s a pretty shortsighted way of assessing value, in my opinion. White spends the same time on set as Sajak—more, actually, due to hair, makeup, and wardrobe obligations, my Sony TV source noted. She does way more publicity for the show than Sajak. She’s a personality, part of the show’s look, feel, and, let’s be frank, appeal. Her enthusiasm and silly button segments with Sajak at the end of each episode are fan favorites. And at this point, she’s arguably become more associated with Wheel of Fortune than Sajak is. The duo are in all the Wheel marketing together (unlike the late-night shows), and Sony’s own research shows Vanna’s appeal to women helps drive the show’s older, female viewership. In short, she arguably adds just as much value.