Rolf Benirschke Loses His Job as Host on TV’s ‘Wheel of Fortune’
The “Wheel of Fortune” has stopped on “lose turn” for host Rolf Benirschke. As part of a switch in networks televising the daytime version of the popular game show, the former San Diego Chargers kicker is losing his job.
CBS Television, the new owner of the daytime edition, is completely redesigning the show. It expects to name a new host on Friday, a spokeswoman said.
Contacted on Tuesday, Benirschke said he had not been officially told he was off the show, although his contract with Merv Griffin Enterprises, the show’s producers, has been terminated. His last appearance on “Wheel” has already been taped. It is scheduled to air at 10 a.m., June 30, on KNSD-TV (Channel 39).
One of the National Football League’s all-time leading kickers, Benirschke joined the daytime version of the show in January, replacing Pat Sajak, who continues to team with Vanna White for the syndicated nightly version. He had no previous game show experience, and his television experience was limited to spot announcing jobs on sporting events and appearances as a guest on talk shows.
In fact, the 33-year-old Benirschke admitted to never watching the show before being hired, and he didn’t know all the game rules.
He was chosen to host the show from a field of 400 aspiring game show hosts after Merv Griffin was impressed by his guest appearance on the “A.M. L.A.” talk show.
“I felt comfortable on the show as time went by,” Benirschke said. “I’m sad because I was developing new relationships. It was like joining a new team. I enjoyed the dynamics, but it never became part of my identity. To me it was always something fun to learn about.”
In May, NBC opted not to renew its contract to air the daytime edition of “Wheel of Fortune.” Merv Griffin Enterprises, the show’s producers, sold the rights to CBS, which has opted to revamp the program. The nightly version, still syndicated by Griffin Enterprises, is expected to remain unchanged, at least for now.
Many “Wheel” staffers were surprised by the turn of events, Benirschke said, although he has since heard the deal was in the works as far back as last year.
“As I learn all these things, it’s not particularly surprising,” Benirschke said. “It has a lot to do with the industry.”
Benirschke said he has no interest in trying to arrange another host job, although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of another television job.
“I didn’t pursue this to begin with,” Benirschke said. “I enjoyed it, and I would consider other things, but I’m not going to pursue. My life style here (in San Diego) is too precious to me.”
Perhaps best known for his successful fight against a life-threatening intestinal ailment which forced him to miss the 1979 football season, Benirschke is still active in several charities, in addition to working with his own travel agency and financial planning company.
“I’m really conscious of living life in the present and enjoying what I’m doing at the moment,” Benirschke said. “I learned in football the need to enjoy journey.”
The new CBS “Wheel of Fortune” is scheduled to debut 9:30 a.m., July 17, on KFMB-TV (Channel 8).
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