NOLA Goodwill Worth a 'Fortune'

Checking in with station people in ravaged Alabama this week, I heard a few references to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina 5 1/2 years ago. So it’s fitting to mention a neat story out of New Orleans, where WVUE President/General Manager Joe Cook will watch three weeks worth of Wheel of Fortune, starting May 2, that recently taped in his market.

Cook’s connection to Wheel goes back a few decades, when he was able to swing a deal to get Wheel and Jeopardy to the station he was running at the time, WALA Mobile. More recently, he worked a deal to get the access heavyweights from leader WWL to WVUE, which is owned by Saints owner Tom Benson.

Cook had pushed the Wheel folks to tape some episodes in NOLA, and the Wheel crew turned up in late August, 2005, to tape a batch. They’d had about five installments in the can when the storm of the century approached Louisiana, and scrambled to tape a half dozen more before hopping some buses to Houston just before the city was under water.

While everyone made a strong effort to give to the battered region, Cook says the Wheel crew’s time in New Orleans leading up to Katrina compelled them to go the extra mile for stricken residents–not only giving large sums to the Red Cross, but continuing to send clothing and supplies to the bus drivers who helped them get out.

“You don’t think of Hollywood people adopting a place in their hearts like these people did,” says Cook.

Wheel’s truncated time in New Orleans led the show to return to the market in mid-April to shoot 15 more installments, the first of which airs Monday.

WVUE, a Fox affiliate, aired a mini-documentary, Unfinished Business, about Wheel of Fortune’s visits in 2005–and 2011.

“You won’t find very many big-time L.A. people like [exec producer] Harry Friedman,” says Cook. “It’s been a burning mission for them to get back here and finish the job.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.