Ryan Seacrest, the dexterous Hollywood master of ceremonies, will be named the next host of “Wheel of Fortune,” succeeding the longtime host Pat Sajak in 2024, according to two people familiar with the plan.
The prompt selection of a star like Mr. Seacrest, made just two weeks after Mr. Sajak announced he would step down next year after more than four decades on the job, is a big bet on “Wheel of Fortune.” The show has demonstrated remarkable durability even as traditional television has declined in the wake of streaming entertainment.
The swift decision by executives at Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, also suggests that they are hoping to avoid the succession fiasco that nearly overwhelmed their other hit game show, “Jeopardy!’
Vanna White, Mr. Sajak’s longtime “Wheel of Fortune” co-host, is under contract for another year, and is in negotiations to continue with the show, said one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.
In replacing Mr. Sajak, Mr. Seacrest will face a test: He’ll be replacing a host who is virtually synonymous with the show, like Bob Barker was with “The Price is Right” or Alex Trebek with “Jeopardy!”
Mr. Sajak, a former Los Angeles weatherman, as well as Ms. White, came to “Wheel of Fortune” in the early 1980s, and turned the show into a major hit. Within a few years, “Wheel of Fortune” spawned board games, video games, casino slot machines and, eventually, a prime-time spinoff, “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune.”
Though Wheel of Fortune hardly holds the same spot it once did in American culture — at its height in the 1980s, “Wheel of Fortune” had a nightly audience of more than 40 million viewers — the game show remains one of the most popular entertainment programs on television.
In the most recent television season, “Wheel of Fortune” averaged 8.6 million viewers a night, just a shade behind the 9.1 million that watched “Jeopardy!,” according to Nielsen. Those audiences are nearly as big as anything on prime-time TV, aside from football games.
Hosting a popular game show, which requires little more than a few days of work a month, is one of the most coveted jobs in all of entertainment. Landing the job adds another notch to Mr. Seacrest’s résumé, which has included stints as a daytime talk show host, competition series host, red carpet interviewer, radio host and New Year’s Eve master of ceremonies.
Mr. Seacrest left “Live,” the morning show mainstay that he hosted with Kelly Ripa, this year after a successful six-year run as co-host. Mr. Seacrest continues to host ABC’s “American Idol,” which garnered an audience of more than six million this past television season, according to Nielsen.
When Mr. Sajak announced on June 12 that he would be leaving the show, many in the entertainment industry thought the search for his replacement could take months. Still, succession speculation began immediately, and on social media, many “Wheel of Fortune” fans called for Ms. White to take over as host.
Underscoring just how much celebrity entertainers covet the position, Joy Behar remarked on “The View” two weeks ago that her co-host Whoopi Goldberg had interest in hosting “Wheel of Fortune.”
“I want that job,” Ms. Goldberg replied definitively, to the cheers of the studio audience. “I think it would be lots of fun.”
After Mr. Trebek died in 2020, Sony trotted out a rotating cast of potential “Jeopardy!” successors, who filled in as guest host for a week or two at a time. In 2021, Sony announced that Mike Richards, the show’s executive producer, would take over hosting duties at “Jeopardy!”
But within a matter of days, reports surfaced that Mr. Richards had made a series of sexist and offensive remarks years earlier, and, amid a public uproar, he was pushed out of the job — first as host, and then as executive producer of the show. It took nearly another year for Sony to announce that Ken Jennings and Mayim Bialik would be the permanent hosts of “Jeopardy!”
Over the last year, the drama surrounding “Jeopardy!” has settled down considerably, and the show has sustained its strong ratings.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Jennings was asked on the “The View” who should take replace Mr. Sajak.
“That’s an interesting question,” Mr. Jennings said, adding: “Hopefully, ‘Wheel’ has got an envelope somewhere that says, ‘What to do when Pat packs it in.’”