EmptyProducer Harry Friedman made like an open-mouthed audience member in "The Producers" when he first saw the Turkish version of his pride and joy, "Wheel of Fortune." It was probably the gyrating belly dancer that popped his jaw the widest.
"That particular international version (of 'Wheel') was an hourlong variety show with a belly dancer and some animal acts and every once in a while a puzzle. The audience was screaming like a section out of the film 'Gladiator,'" the veteran producer recalls.
As executive producer of both "Wheel" and "Jeopardy!" one might have expected him to be furious at how his show had been so bent out of shape. Not so. "We loved it because it shows how resilient the game is. So we didn't put a stop to it, even though nobody seemed to have a clue what anybody was saying, because everyone was having a ball."
The Turkish take on "Wheel" — which is no longer on the air — was probably the most bizarre re-creation of the format during a quarter of a century in the international marketplace.
And even though "Wheel" is one of the oldest game show formats, it is again making news in Spain and France, where new versions of the show have been relaunched, Friedman says. It's top of its slot as "La Roue de la Fortune" on TF1 in France, where it has averaged a 36% audience share and 4.8 million viewers since its January bow. And as "La Ruleta de la Suerte," it has returned to Antenna 3 in Spain, where it is winning its early-afternoon slot with an impressive 1.3 million viewers.
Local versions also air in Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia and Vietnam. Friedman reckons that the venerable gamer has played in virtually every country that has a TV set.
How does it feel to sit back and watch these localized international versions of his show? "It's like seeing your furniture in someone else's living room," Friedman says.
He credits Armando Nunez (president of CBS Paramount International Television) and Steve Friedman (vp programming and production at the division) for the new bumper crop of "Wheel" formats.
Nunez returns the compliment. "Thanks to Harry Friedman's creative vision, 'Wheel of Fortune' continues to be a format with ratings success and staying power all around the world."
Steve Brennan can be reached at email@example.com.