The sudden loss of longtime announcer Charlie O'Donnell was difficult for fans and staff at Wheel of Fortune, but as they say, the show must go on. After a season of guest announcers, Wheel of Fortune has finally found their man: Jim Thornton.
Thornton comes to Wheel with a wide range of voice work experience, including the Oscar-nominated short film Let's Pollute, the 2001 hit movie Monsters Inc., the hilarious MTV animated show Celebrity Deathmatch, a long career in radio, and dozens of television and radio commercials. He's also popped up as the announcer on The Price is Right.
Jim Thornton was kind enough to spend some time answering our questions about his new job and all that it entails.
About.com: Congratulations! What's it like to be an integral part of Wheel of Fortune these days? You sound great!
Jim Thornton: Thank you! It's really a dream come true. I've been watching the show since I was a kid! Everyone's been wonderful and I feel like it's a good fit.
About.com: Tell us about the process of going through the guest announcer spots - was it tough waiting to see if you got the job?
Jim Thornton: It was exciting! I didn't send in a demo or anything. I mean, I knew about it, I knew about Charlie O'Donnell and maybe it was in deference to him that I didn't send in that demo. But my name came up with Sony since I've been working at KNX1070 radio in Los Angeles for years, and someone suggested that they should give me a try.
At first my spots were pre-recorded, and then I'd be in the studio, and everything just kept on clicking. It was intimidating at times and I did freak out a little bit - this is the big time! But my wife kept telling me, "You gotta do it!" And everyone there, they really made it easier.
About.com: That's one thing we hear all the time, that everyone at Wheel of Fortune is super nice.
Jim Thornton: It's true. They're all great. Pat Sajak is just as quick with a quip in real life as he is on television. And Vanna White is from the South - I'm from West Virginia, so we speak the same language.
About.com: Was there any trepidation in taking over the microphone from someone as well-respected as Charlie O'Donnell?
Jim Thornton: Sure. We have a similar voice range, so it was important to me not to be perceived as trying to imitate him. I just went in there and made it my own. I mean, I've watched Charlie since I was a kid, so it was humbling to step in there and do that job. I remember when he used to open the show with, "Just look at this room filled with fabulous prizes!" He made it exciting and important.
About.com: Professionally speaking, who do you consider to be your role models?
Jim Thornton: There are several. Gary Owens for sure, and I actually ran into him recently at an audition. He and his wife are doing well. I've been a fan of his since I was little - I was born in 1965, and I watched him a lot. I was the kid who would watch a documentary and say, "I want to be a narrator when I grow up!" People like Charlie O'Donnell, Johnny Olson, Don Pardo - they leant such credence and sophistication to their work. They created the mood for the whole show.
About.com: What's the most difficult part of being a game show announcer?
Jim Thornton: This job, I have to admit, is fun. The only part that can be hard - and it's not even difficult really, but it can be exhausting - is working with the audience. The audience is fun and upbeat, and I've got to keep that going. Once you're there mentally everything else is easy though. It's a big birthday party in there, everyone's enjoying themselves and I get to talk to them, tell cheesy jokes, run around. I enjoy all of it.
About.com: I read that you left your job on the radio to do Wheel of Fortune. Is your new schedule taking some time to get used to?
Jim Thornton: It's amazing - Wheel tapes 39 days a year, isn't that obscene? They get all of those shows done in 39 days. So now I'm back doing some fill-in work at KNX and doing some other voice over work, like commercials. There's always plenty to do. And I get to spend more time with my family, my wife and 14-year-old son, which is great.
About.com: One last question - how do you think you'd do as a contestant on 'Wheel of Fortune'?
Jim Thornton: Oh, so-so. Like most people I watch the show and think, "I could do that!" Then you get in the studio and start playing and you're worrying what you look like, what you sound like - there's a lot of pressure once the game starts and the cameras are rolling. I'd do okay, but I don't think I could clean up.
I'd like to thank Jim Thornton for his time, and we all wish him the best of luck on Wheel of Fortune! You can learn more about him at his website, JimThornton.tv, or catch up with him on Facebook. And don't forget to check out the Wheel of Fortune website for updates on the show.