Keeping the wheel turning

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Wheel of Fortune will be rolling with activity come May sweeps, dedicating each week's worth of episodes to a different theme. As syndication's typically top-ranked player, the show arguably doesn't need to pull out such stops as traveling to Dallas for "Best Friends Week," running May 14-18.

"But that's exactly why we have to do it. So we can stay on top," explains Wheel of Fortune Executive Producer Harry Friedman, who's currently in Philadelphia for a May "Teen Week" for Jeopardy, which he also steers.

"It's a ridiculous amount of work" to pack up the shows and tape off-site, "but the audience response is something that you just can't get any other way. It's fantastic in the way that it cements the relationship between the show and the viewers."

Friedman estimates that it costs Wheel and Jeopardy distributor King World an extra $1.5 million to $2 million to tape the series in other cities, but "it's worth it" because the shows would not be hits if they churned out the same format day after day. In fact, he points out, both series unspool special episodes year-round, not just for the key ratings periods.

"The longevity of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy is certainly a boon in terms of audience familiarity and awareness," he explains, "but that also means we have to continually demonstrate to our viewers and our station affiliates that we have the ability to be fresh and innovative."

In helping to keep Jeopardy fresh, Friedman is currently narrowing down selections for the "Clue Crew," on which, for the first time next fall, fans will become part of the show's staff, presenting clues from around the world to contestants. And there are also the Wheel of Fortune Wheelmobile and Jeopardy Brain Bus that go all over the U.S.