Dick Carson to Vanna White, February 1, 1997

Apparently you have another fifteen years on your contract.

February 1, 1997

Dear Vanna,

I hope this letter finds you well. As your director at “Wheel of Fortune,” I want you to know that you’re a valued member of the CBS Community. You and Pat do such an excellent job hosting the show together, and the audience loves your friendly, not-quite-romantic dynamic. Your smiling face lights up every encounter we have, and I hope you will remain at CBS for many years to come. We literally have no one else who can walk in a straight line and spin panels on a board in the entire company.

I wanted to let you know about an exciting new development at “Wheel of Fortune.” CBS is of course a leading network, and as such, we stay up-to-date on the latest trends in game shows. Lately, we’ve begun to notice a change–a dramatic shift–from analog to digital game show sets. Alex Trebec doesn’t even write out the “Jeopardy” answers by hand any more. We’re planning on using automated surveys for our darker, grittier reboot of “Family Feud.” We are also planning on using a robotic Louie Anderson as a host.

We believe in looking to the future. With that in mind, we’ll be implementing a brand new dynamic electronic set on “Wheel of Fortune” at the end of this month. The letters on the board will be replaced by computer screens that will simply change what they are displaying to reveal the appropriate letter.

This may sound sudden, but we want to assure you that your job is not being eliminated. Indeed, your role at “Wheel of Fortune” will hardly change at all. From a certain point of view, your job is more important than ever. As the United States moves to a digital economy, Americans needs a role model who can walk in a straight line while working with complex computer machines. We believe you can be that role model. Our audiences want to keep seeing you walking, smiling, and engaging in occasional (limited) banter. Don’t worry, we can reduce or eliminate the banter as necessary. We don’t want to overtax you.

Of course, you will be thoroughly trained in how to lightly touch the screen before this change goes into effect. But I did want to mention that you shouldn’t worry too much about touching the new screens correctly since the display will actually be controlled by computers from the booth. Training begins March 2nd, and will last 6 weeks.

Please let me know if you have any questions at all, and keep your chin up, because I’ve noticed you’re slouching a bit. It’s slouching a little bit. You might want to visit Dr. Grubman about that slouching chin.

Sincerely,

Dick

P.S. Not kidding about the face lift. I’m making an appointment for you.

Analysis:

Apart from the letter, historians tend to consider the game show one of humanities greatest developments. Egyptian priests were known to host “Jeopardy”-style quiz shows on holy days, while French barons in the middle ages controlled their estates with a very popular “Press Your Luck” precursor. In the New World, Aztecs played a proto-“Newlywed Game,” where the losers would be ritually sacrificed to the God Wohleritep. Some evolutionary psychologists even believe the instinct to create and compete on game shows is an innate characteristic of being human, and that game shows evolved side by side with language.

Vanna White was in danger of becoming obsolete when CBS switched its popular “Wheel of Fortune” board from an actual board to an amalgam of screens and buttons. White quietly resisted the change for years, mostly by making a spinning motion instead of a light tap on the screen. She also smiled slightly less brightly during one episode in 1999, then uncharacteristically declined to meet Pat Sajak for happy hour after work. The letter above did nothing to stop this civil disobedience.

CBS was eventually forced to replace White with a digital copy.

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