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How many vowels are there to buy in the phrase "Hardest Working Man in Showbiz"? One person who will soon know the answer (because it will be written on his card) is Ryan Secrest, who announced Tuesday that he'll be replacing the departing Pat Sajak as host of Wheel of Fortune. The venerable TV game show has existed in one form or another since 1975 and has been hosted by Sajak, in one form or another, since 1981. This changing of the guard comes only two years after Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik took over as Jeopardy! hosts following the 2020 death of Alex Trebek.
Seacrest has been a household name since he debuted alongside Brian Dunkleman as the hosts of American Idol in 2002. Since then, he's hosted everything from red-carpet coverage at awards shows to New Year's Rockin' Eve to E! News and Live With Kelly and Ryan, the latter of which wrapped up this past April. He's earned his reputation as one of the entertainment industry's most oft-employed personalities.
And with this Wheel of Fortune gig, Seacrest and the Wheel producers have the opportunity to produce an unmissable episode of television. It's time to reunite the original judges’ panel of American Idol on Celebrity Wheel of Fortune.
When American Idol premiered in the summer of 2002, it took the reality TV world by storm. The show launched Seacrest’s career, in addition to Kelly Clarkson’s. But from season to season, the stars were the judging panel: impossible-to-please Simon Cowell, hot-and-cold Randy Jackson, and literal and figurative cheerleader Paula Abdul. The trio's chemistry with each other, Seacrest, and the contestants was one of the show's signature elements. In the first season, Jackson and Cowell nearly came to blows over the latter's cruel and dismissive treatment of some of the contestants. As the years went on, Cowell picked on Abdul like an older brother would, while he and Seacrest would trade snickering gay jokes about each other, because it was the mid-aughts and that's just what people did back then.
The original incarnation of the Idol judging panel hasn't been back together since Abdul left the show in 2010. The show has soldiered on, going through judge changes, format tweaks, and a reboot to its current, Katy Perry-fronted existence. Nothing has been able to recapture that old magic quite as well.
An American Idol-themed Wheel of Fortune face-off would tick a lot of boxes. It would help welcome Seacrest to the show. It would be good TV, both for the nostalgia factor and for the fact that it would be guaranteed to be competitive. Cowell couldn't bear to lose to his lowly American counterparts. You know Randy Jackson would love to stick it to Simon one more time. And Paula Abdul trying to solve a puzzle would be an adventure every time. Hell, bring Dunkleman back to turn the letters in Vanna's place for the episode. We could all be 20 years younger for a night.
Celebrity Wheel of Fortune was renewed for a fourth season in May, and Seacrest is ideally suited to hobnob with celebs while they try to spell. Also, not to give the networks programming ideas during a labor strike, but a buzzy episode of Wheel of Fortune in primetime is probably going to come in handy the longer the WGA work stoppage goes on.
The time is right. The circumstances could not be more perfect. Put "AARON KELLY CLARKSON" in a Before and After round and let's do this!
Wheel of Fortune airs daily in syndication. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.