Merv Griffin

Company

The Griffin Group (film and TV production, real estate development, hotels)

Quote

"Merv says hotels should be like talk shows with beds. A customer should be entertained from the minute they walk in," says Griffin's CEO.

Remember in the '80s when Wheel of Fortune contestants didn't play for cash but for "glamorous prizes"? Well, if you liked watching people struggle to choose between a brass coffee grinder and ceramic dogs, you can blame Merv Griffin, the show's creator.

"His favorite phrase is, 'If it ain't broke, fix it anyway," says Griffin Group CEO Larry Cohen. "Everybody liked to see how people were going to spend their money. But one day, Merv thought that the show could give away cash instead. That way, there would be time to play more games." The results speak for themselves: Revenue and ratings went up and Wheel of Fortune is still on the air. As is Jeopardy, another of Griffin's creations. (He sold both shows to Coca-Cola in 1986 for $250 million.)

Griffin has parlayed his show-biz career as a talk show host into a business empire that includes buying and selling hotels (he sold the Beverly Hilton for $130 million last year) and developing real estate. Estimated to have a net worth of $500 million, he has also given back, donating a property worth $10 million to Childhelp USA, which converted it to a treatment center for abused children.

So, at 79, is Griffin slowing down? Says Cohen, "He works 24-7."