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Deborah Paul (at right) stands next to cut-outs of Wheel of Fortune's Vanna White and Pat Sajak on her recent visit to the game show's taping. (Photo courtesy Paul)

I’ve lived in California for almost 49 years and just visited the Wheel of Fortune show at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City for the first time. 

I remember when hawkers around Hollywood would try to coax tourists to come see the new show in the mid 1970s, but my friends and I never took the bait. Now you need tickets in advance. 

As of May 2019, Wheel of Fortune has aired more than 7,000 shows and is the longest-running syndicated game show in the United States. 

So, it was time to see what all the spin was all about. 

Recently, my sister-in-law, Pam asked me to join a group of her P.E.O. club members to see the show. We boarded a bus that left the Albertson’s parking lot in Rancho Palos Verdes mid morning and arrived at the studio about an hour later. 

Any time I’ve ever had anything to do with studios—such as doing a bit of extra work on a few TV shows—I’ve found production crews weren’t the friendliest folks. Clearly, TV people didn’t like making eye contact with the public hoard. 

But this experience was different. The minute we arrived at Sony a friendly face got on the bus and asked if any of us needed a comfort break or snack from the vending machines. 

No going astray or peeking in stage doors was allowed, but admonitions to the overly curious were expressed in a nice way, I found out. 

Finally, around 11:45 a.m. our group of 26 was herded to our seats in the last row of the middle section. We would see three consecutive tapings, which took about 45 minutes each with short breaks throughout each show. 

Our shows will air Jan. 27, 28 and 29, but no one will see us. Viewers, however, will be able to hear our clapping because the electric applause signs flashed almost nonstop during the each taping. Additionally, gestapo-like cheerleaders in the aisles waved handheld clap signs at us if it looked like we were going to slough off. 

Still, the set was colorful, sparkly and pretty much as I had imagined it. The puzzle board was huge. No photos were allowed.

To warm the audience up, Jim Thornton, Wheel’s longtime announcer, came out among the audience to tell a few jokes, give away some prizes to kids and answer questions. Of all the folks working on the show, I do believe Thornton, buoyant and amiable, loved his job the most. 

He made a fuss over our big group from San Pedro and Palos Verdes and asked some of us questions. Every time there was a break, Thornton was out among the audience working his congenial magic. 

Half way through one of the three tapings, Pat Sajak, who recently had a health scare resulting in surgery, looked up from talking to one of the contestants and said out of the clear, “I love ya, Jim.” I shot a glance at Thornton, who was in the control booth with the door open just down from our row, and saw he was clearly taken aback. 

“I love you, too, Pat,” Thornton said, his booming voice emanating throughout the studio like some celestial voice. 

During another break, sweet Vanna White approached the audience for questions and told us why she disappeared behind the letter board after each taping. She said it was because she was finding out what the next puzzle was going to be. 

I raised my hand and told her she looked like about a size 2, but she corrected me. She said she was wearing a size four dress, but she fits into a size 2, also. At 62, she’s about as adorable and fit as a woman can be at that age. 

I think I’m going to submit an iPhone video to become a Wheel contestant. Supposedly, only one in 10,000 people make the cut.

Hmmm. I wonder if I can work my way down to a size 2 before my appearance—which will probably leave me about the same chance as getting on the show. 

For tickets to the Wheel of Fortune game show go to wheeloffortune.com.

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