Alumnus to receive Emmy Award

February 23, 2017

Answer: This person will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Daytime Emmys on April 28th.

Question: Who is Harry Friedman, Executive Producer of the hit game shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!?

That would be correct, but even more noteworthy is that Friedman is an Omaha Central alumnus. He graduated from Central in 1964, and it is hard for him to believe that he has been in the television business for so long. “It feels amazing,” Friedman said on winning the award. “I guess it’s true that time flies when you’re having fun.”

Even though Friedman has attended multiple awards ceremonies, won thirteen Daytime Emmys and been inducted into the  receiving an award is still something he is not quite used to. “I still get that knot in my stomach, “ Friedman said. “And knowing how special this award is could make it a challenge to keep my emotions in check.”

How has Friedman been so successful and reached incredible heights in his career? Love, mostly. He loves not only television but the act of learning. Friedman is constantly reminded by a quote from Albert Einstein: “Once you stop learning you start dying.”

Friedman arrived in Los Angeles in 1971 without a job or contacts, something vital in the television industry. He was able to earn himself a job as a writer for The Hollywood Squares and worked his way up the industry. In 1994, Sony Pictures was looking for a new producer to freshen up their programming. Friedman got the job as producer of Wheel of Fortune in 1995, and added on Jeopardy! to his duties in 1997. Finally, in 1999, Friedman was named Executive Producer of both shows.

Did he believe he would become a producer of two of the most successful game shows on television? Well, somewhat. “I always believed I would have some connection to the entertainment industry,” Friedman said. “And as much as I was always encouraged to dream big, I never imagined there could possibly be a job as rewarding as the one I have now.”

A day on set for Friedman is miles away from typical. Every season, 195 Wheel of Fortune and 230 Jeopardy! episodes are taped, both of which require six weeks of tape days. Even when Friedman and his crew are not in the studio, something is taking up their time. They could be in pre-production or post-production, conducting contestant auditions, developing mobile games and apps, working with their social media team to extend audience outreach, and the list goes on endlessly. “That’s just a sampling,” Friedman said. “It’s never dull around here!”

While Friedman has championed a collection of innovations to his shows over the years, the challenge to keep programming interesting persists. He cited the struggle as one of the hardest parts of his position. However, being an executive producer of a game show has its highlights. “I love it when people tell me how important our shows are in their lives,” Friedman said. “Especially if watching Wheel Of Fortune or Jeopardy! is a valued family tradition.”

As for his memories of Omaha Central, there exists too many in his mind to reminisce on just one. However, as the fourth member of his family to attend, he knew what to expect and what his teachers and peers would expect of him. “I can’t imagine that there could possibly have been a better time or place to grow up.”

One person he would like to thank for helping him to get where he is, Friedman said, is Rod Walker, who headed the vocal music department that last three years he attended. “He inspired, cajoled, pushed and encouraged us into being a far better group of singers and performers than we thought we could be,” Friedman said. The two are still in contact through Facebook.

For those who might be interested in getting into television, Friedman believes the area of work has expanded tenfold since he began. Back then, careers in the field were limited to local stations and networks. Now, the opportunities and outlets for content are endless. “Today, the ‘television industry’ is broader and more diverse and dynamic than ever,” Friedman said. “[It] encompasses production companies, syndicators, cable systems and networks, streaming services, digital distribution, advertising, marketing, social media platforms and much, much more.”

Friedman also stated that a keen eye for business trends are key to being an asset in the job field. Attention to detail counts when applying for a job, so he recommends checking one’s resume and cover letter for grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. One last piece of advice: “Be willing to take an entry level position, even if it may not be exactly what you’re looking for.”

Reflecting upon his journey, Friedman believes that everything about his journey from someone who wanted to be in the industry to a Lifetime Achievement Award winner was all meant to happen, good or bad. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” Friedman said. “I’ve learned as much from the bumps, bruises and disappointments as from the successes.”

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