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Tweaking Two Vets

King World's two top syndicated shows, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, are entering their 21st and 20th seasons, respectively, and each is changing things up a bit.

Wheel of Fortune has a new half-million-dollar set, with computer-generated lighting and graphics, and a new challenge called the Prize Puzzle, in which the answer is a clue to the prize one contestant will win. And the producers are adding new categories to the game.

Changing the set "is just another way of keeping the show fresh and making it look as contemporary as we can without changing the game," explains Harry Friedman, executive producer of both Wheel and Jeopardy.

The new set, by Color Kinetics in Los Angeles, allows Wheel of Fortune's producers to change the lighting by flipping a switch instead of having to physically change lighting elements. A new board hung behind the contestants displays computer-generated graphics throughout the program.

"Any elements we can incorporate that make the show more interesting without tinkering with the basic game is something we will try," Friedman says. One element of Wheel of Fortune that has remained the same: buying a vowel still costs $250.

Changes also are on the way at Jeopardy, which, like Wheel, is shot at Sony studios in Culver City, Calif. The biggest difference has been a long time coming: For the first time, there is no limit to how long Jeopardy champions can stay on the show. Previously, they had only five days to win as much as they could. Now, as long as they are winning, they can keep appearing.

The biggest concern was that a long-term winner would be a contestant that viewers didn't like, causing them to tune out. "But we did a lot of research into this," Friedman says, "and we found that viewers sometimes want someone they can root against as much as they want people they can root for."