(Photo by Joe Somerville)
Joe Somerville is the man behind it all.
While Pat Sajak and Vanna White may be the faces of Wheel of Fortune, the decorations, the footage, the locations – anything that appears on your screen while you’re watching at home – that’s Joe.
After graduating from William & Mary with his Juris Doctor and taking on a Contract Attorney position in Atlanta, Joe headed across the country to Long Beach, California. He played rugby and worked as a temp for a few years until he got pulled into Wheel of Fortune by a couple of friends.
But, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, production was halted on all television shows, including Wheel of Fortune. Subsequently, thousands of employees were put out of work with no end in sight.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe and hear first hand about his experience working at one of the most beloved shows in America during the pandemic. In our conversation, he discussed what his professional life was like before COVID-19, how it has changed both personally and professionally, how he’s adapted, and his thoughts on the future of the entertainment industry.
Below is his story.
Sorting It Out
What was your professional life like before the COVID-19 pandemic?
“The Sony Pictures Entertainment lot was like a college campus. Intramural sports, the public lounging around, a cafeteria. I would go in at 9ish and check emails. If nothing was pressing I’d go grab breakfast. If emails arrive I’d usually run from office to office determining a response. Those were the dead days. Tape days I’d come in earlier, check out the set because it changes every five shows, and chat with producers and set workers. Once it looked like things were going as planned, I headed back to my office to watch them tape the shows. If I spot or I’m told of anything wrong, I run to the set and sort it out. I was just riding the wave and enjoying life. Other busy days are spent planning the shows, filled with meetings and more meetings. We get lots of free time and I use it to travel the planet, play sports, and socialize. “
Full Steam Ahead
How has the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic changed your professional life?
“It’s awful. Everything is gone. We work from home and there’s no contact with coworkers, just two laptops and Zoom meetings. It’s very boring and not my style. I’m a face-to-face problem solver. A lot of my work involves travel and dealing with third parties like other movie studios. That is very limited now. Most studios are shut down, there’s no urgency to make movies as the current lineup has been pushed back 8-24 months. Television is just starting again; we have been full steam ahead once California allowed us to return to work. My job is months ahead of the pack. I get my full salary and I’m confident my job will be there when this is over. I’m fortunate.
We’ve had a few deaths. It’s a major challenge when we can’t get together and deal with things, we’re a big family. I have no personal life. Quarantine sucks. I keep a positive attitude by nature but this is just the worst year ever. I’m just waiting it out and hoping for the best.”
What do you think lies ahead for the future of the entertainment industry?
“It’s bad news. There will be fewer opportunities for most behind-the-scenes. The rich will get richer in streaming and television, but movies will need years to recover. I hope we stay number one for another decade or two and just keep riding the wave. Maybe some transcendent talents will arise like a Nirvana or a Tarantino, and will take this era and make something magical out of this mess. The worst times present the best opportunities to change your life, if that’s your goal.”