RICH FIELDS' BLOG
"Wheel Of Fortune"
The year was 2010, I had just exited as the Announcer on The Price is Right and was already working as a Meteorologist for CBS News Los Angeles. I'll never forget the phone call.
Christine and I were living in a condominium in Beverly Hills, right in the heart of the "Wilshire Corridor", just blocks from CBS Television City where we taped Price. It was late in the evening on Tuesday, November 2nd. 2010, and a particularly chilly night in Los Angeles. I was sitting in my voice-over studio recording a spot for the Thai Stock Exchange (I am the English speaking voice of the Thai Stock Exchange. Yeah. Weird, I know.) Anyway, my cell phone rings. You may be a lot like me when it comes to answering your cell phone. If I don't recognize a phone number, or if it's not already stored in my contacts, I won't answer the call. And I didn't answer this particular call either.
Seconds later my phone alerted, letting me know that a voice message had been recorded. This is what I heard when I played back the audio: "Hi Rich, this is Harry Friedman, the Executive Producer of Wheel Of Fortune. I'd like to speak with you at your earliest convenience. Would you please call me back as soon as you are able?"
I was taken aback. I had never met Harry up to this point, so I was perplexed as to why he was calling me.
I dialed Harry's number, and he answered immediately. Harry proceeded to tell me that on the previous night, legendary game show Announcer Charlie O'Donell had passed away. I was crushed. Charlie was a HUGE influence on me as a young broadcaster and wanna-be game show announcer. I stumbled out a condolence to Harry, knowing that he and Charlie had worked together on Wheel for decades. I could hear the sadness in Harry's voice when he spoke.
Harry explained his call to me further saying that Wheel was obligated to continue it's production schedule. And I understood that. Sony probably had hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in production time for studio rental, cameras, sound equipment, union personnel, the list is endless. In Hollywood, it could cost you more to cancel production than to go ahead and finish the schedule out.
Harry then asked if I could report to the Sony Studios in Culver City the following Monday to announce for Wheel, until they decided what they wanted to do about the announcer position. I happily agreed to fill in, and eventually ended up recording over 50 episodes with Pat Sajak and Vanna White.
During the production weeks of the 50 episodes that I worked, was also the funeral of Charlie O'Donnell. Everyone was there. Of course Pat and Vanna were there to share their condolences with Charlie's family... but so was much of Hollywood. Talent from all genres, studio execs, production company executives, agents and more. The funeral was held at my old parish in North Hollywood, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. St. Charles is an old-school, massive church... and it was packed. It was a beautiful service and turn-out for a beloved man.
Harry Friedman had told me from the start that Sony and Wheel wanted to audition a few people to replace Charlie. So, after a few months of my work on the show, viewers started to hear a couple of others announcing. One of the other folks auditioning was Jim Thornton. Jim was a news-anchor from KNX 1070, the giant 24 hours all-news radio station in Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, Jim was also one of the guys who auditioned against me on The Price is Right after Rod Roddy had passed away. In the end, Mr. Barker's decision on who would be the new Announcer on TPIR came down to selecting either me or Jim. So, for Jim to get gig on Wheel this time was only fair. Right?
I couldn't have continued full-time with Sony and Wheel anyway because CBS L.A. (KCBS & KCAL9) was really starting to utilize me on both stations, and made an incredible offer that ultimately made me the prime-time Meteorologist at night, doing the 8, 9 and 10pm newscasts on KCAL9 (and on many nights the 5, 6 & 11pm news on CBS2). I ended up staying at CBS L.A. for six years.
During the time I was working at CBS News, I would do daily (even hourly) weather reports on KNX 1070 during Jim Thornton's news casts, who was still one of the station's main anchors. Jim was doing double-duty by working at both KNX and Wheel... and he and I got along great. We are always happy for each other's successes and I consider Jim a friend to this day.
In the slide-show below is a photo of Charlie O'Donnell, Don Pardo and myself that was taken after a lunch together (what a spectacular afternoon that was for me). Other photos in the slide-show below show me on my first day at Wheel as I cut some pre-recorded material and wrap-around announcements for the day's shows. This pre-taping of voice-over was recorded right from my dressing room (well, Charlie O'Donnell's dressing room) and fed downstairs to the production booth. I LOVED working at Wheel. It was a great working environment and required a whole different skill-set in announcing for me... and I was happy to get the chance to show off that style for a change.