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Big wheel at NATPE

Before there was Survivor , before there was Millionaire, heck, before there was Oprah
, there was Merv: singer, game-show host, talk-show host and executive behind
two of the most successful shows-game or otherwise-in syndication
history. Merv Griffin, the 75-year-old creator of the one-two syndicated punch
Jeopardy (started in 1964, syndicated in
1984) and
Wheel of Fortune (1975, 1983), who
hosted his own talk show for almost a quarter century (1962-86), was on the
cutting edge of game and talk shows. For his pioneering efforts, NATPE last
week presented Griffin with its Creative Achievement Award.
Cable'sSusanne Ault talked with him:

How does it feel to get NATPE's top honor?

Isn't that wonderful? ... I was in at the very beginning of syndication,
and I've only functioned well in my life under syndication. ... I liked much
more the creative control that syndication gave us. [In addition to runs on NBC
and CBS, Griffin had his longest talk runs in syndication for Westhinghouse and
Metromedia.] I had people on that couldn't be on the network-Muhammad
Ali, Jane Fonda-a lot of voices in America that the networks would

Do you you still feel the same way about syndication? Most of the new
shows aren't catching many breaks.

Yeah, it's all changed now. In the beginning, we [the show creators]
were left to produce, and the [syndicators] went out and sold. You can't get a
deal like that now. In some cases, you don't have creative control, and you'll
give them ideas and they'll say, 'No, we'll do it our way. 'Syndication used to
be alternative programming-the shows that the networks wouldn't do.

What do you think has made Jeopardy
and Wheel of Fortune the Energizer Bunnies
of syndication?

Being able to capture those prime access time periods, we were able to
do wonderful things with them. But maybe I did sell too early. [In 1986,
Griffin sold Merv Griffin Enterprises, which produced
and Wheel , to Coca
Cola's Columbia Pictures Television unit-now under the Sony
banner-for $250 million].

Do you think Millionaire has the
muscle to stay as popular as Wheel
and Jeopardy ?

Oh yeah. That's a fabulous show. Regis is sensational. I love what they
do with the music and lights. Whoever thought of doing that much technical
stuff with a game show? That's just pure genius, and that's why everyone is
stunned by it.