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Wheel Evacuates From New Orleans

The crew of Wheel of Fortune had the misfortune of being in New Orleans Sunday in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

That led to the first-ever cancellation of a remote taping--what would have been the final day--according to Wheel Executive Producer Harry Friedman, who had to try evacuate more than 100 employees.

The final day had been scheduled for taping at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, but by that time the entire staff and set were on the way out of town, many of the staffers taking a 350-mile bus ride to Houston that took over 20 hours due to the evacuation.

The syndicated game show, produced by Sony Pictures Television and distributed by King World Productions, was in New Orleans to tape three weeks of shows (each week takes one day of taping) to be aired in November. 

As of last Thursday, Friedman began to realize the weather might become a serious factor, and began keeping track of the storm’s development through local affiliate WVUE (which coincidentally uses the tagline "Your Weather Authority"). 

“The Friday tapings went off without a hitch,” says Friedman. “But by Friday night we knew we were going to need some contingency plans for Saturday and Sunday’s shows.”

So Friedman sent 25 people home Saturday before the day’s taping, including a couple of pregnant female staffers.

He also sent word out through the local media (including WVUE) to dissuade people from attending Saturday’s taping. While 3,000 people had attended on Friday, Friedman estimates only 1,000 came on Saturday.

Saturday was when city officials called for a voluntary evacuation of New Orleans, but by 7 p.m. that night, all flights out had been canceled.  Friedman still had 105 people in town.

“There were no flights, no rental cars, no Amtrak. We contacted every form of transportation,” he says.  “Someone finally found two 55-person buses.”

So, first thing Sunday morning, the staff loaded up onto the two buses and began the slow crawl through traffic to Houston, where flights were booked for everyone to get home.  While hotels were reserved for everyone to get some rest when they arrived at 5 a.m. Monday morning, many of the staffers didn’t bother.

“A lot of people went right to the airport. Spots on flights were pretty valuable,” says Friedman.  The last of the staff was to land Monday afternoon in Los Angeles.

Earlier on the same trip, co-star Vanna White also had been forced to call off a cooking segment appearance at local restaurant K-Paul’s.

White had arrived in New Orleans with a bad virus and had to receive treatment at Tulane University’s medical center. Both she and Pat Sajak were able to get a private flight out Saturday night.