During a break in a March taping of Wheel of Fortune, a child in the audience asked the show’s announcer, Jim Thornton, what happens in between rounds of play. Thornton was ready with an answer: “When we go to commercial, we make money!” That’s more true than ever this year, thanks to a dramatic increase in advertising by presidential campaigns and their allied super-PACs. Wheel attracted $17.8 million in political ads through March 1. “We’re reliable,” says longtime executive producer Harry Friedman. “Our viewers are very loyal. We’re family friendly.”
This cycle’s campaign spending on airtime during Wheel will easily exceed the $57 million it earned in 2012, more than any other TV show that election. So far, it’s brought in seven times more than at this point in 2012, according to estimates by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), which tracks political advertising. The next top earner was NBC’s Today, with $54 million, followed by $50 million for Jeopardy!, which, like Wheel, is produced by Sony Pictures. Most of the 2012 spending came in the last weeks before the general election.