||THE PRICE IS RIGHT
US gameshow where contestants have to guess the price of products in order to win them.
US - 1956 to present.
These days you can spin the “Wheel of Fortune,” give the question to the answers on “Jeopardy,” respond to the affirmative when someone asks “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and decide whether to “Deal or No Deal.” And of course, you can prove whether you are “Smarter Than A Fifth Grader.” But without question, no other game show in the history of American television has had the long and healthy life of “The Price Is Right.” And it provided a lucrative career for the two best-known hosts of the audience participation show: Bill Cullen and Bob Barker.
Cullen was the original host of “The Price Is Right” when it made its debut November 26th, 1956 on NBC’s daytime schedule. It was created by the prolific game show inventor Bob Stewart, ho also came up with such classics as “Password” and “To Tell The Truth” for the very successful team of Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. After leaving G-T, Stewart found even bigger success with “The $10,000 Pyramid” and its various versions (with the titles adjusted for inflation).
The concept of the original “Price Is Right was simple: Four players had to bid the closest to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of an item without going over. After several rounds, the player winning the most cash and prizes was the winner and returned to take on three contenders the next day.
“Price” quickly became a much-needed hit for NBC against CBS’ formidable line-up of singing personalities and soap operas; by the fall of 1957, “The Price Is Right” aired as a weekly series on NBC’s prime time lineup and quickly joined such series as “Gunsmoke” and “The Danny Thomas Show” in the top ten. Bill Cullen was one of the reasons for the game show’s success. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 18th, 1920, Cullen survived a childhood bout with polio which left him with a limp for the rest of his life. (That fact was hidden to viewers through clever seating and podium placement.) But Cullen’s talent was his ability to be funny and move the action along–a necessity with a fast-paced show such as “The Price Is Right.” That fact enabled Cullen to host nearly two dozen television game shows–more than any other host in American television history. (Cullen’s quick wit was not lost on Goodson-Todman; while hosting “Price,” Cullen was a regular panellist on the G-T-produced “I’ve Got A Secret.” and other panel shows.)
Cullen died of lung cancer in 1990, but his work was so legendary that ten years after his death, producers who brought “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” to America actually considered Cullen as the show’s host! Of course, they soon discovered Cullen was “unavailable” and gave the hosting gig to Regis Philbin instead.
Another reason for the success of “The Price Is Right” was the prizes offered to contestants. Sure, there were cars, fur coats, home freezers and living room sets, but the gifts often had a twist. One prize offered was a barbecue pit–with a mile long supply of hot dogs to grill! Or a new colour TV set–with a live peacock to use as a guide for adjustment! Even newly built homes with all the furnishings were offered as prizes. Real homes–not prefabricated or manufactured housing! Those were the days!
Home viewers were not left out: “The Price Is Right” offered people watching at home a chance to win a “showcase” of prizes for the person who sent in the closest price of the items in the showcase (without going over).
Eventually, however, viewers began to get tired of the format. In September 1963, ABC took the show from NBC and added a few new tweaks–including a celebrity playing for someone in the studio audience. But the ratings continued to fall and ABC ended the night time version on September 11th, 1964. (The daytime version left the airwaves on September 3rd, 1965.) And that, thought television executives, was the end of “The Price Is Right.” Or so they thought.
By the late 1960's, game shows were being replaced on daytime schedules with cheap reruns of situation comedies. But a successful revival of “Password” on ABC in 1971 forced network executives to reconsider the genre.
CBS’ head of daytime television, “Bud” Grant, asked Goodson-Todman to create a new version of “Price” for the morning schedule. The original format was used in the pilot, but proved too slow. The production team then gave it a major overhaul: Four contestants were still used, and had to bid on a prize–without going over–but the winner then went on stage with the host and played one of many pricing games to win even bigger prizes. The two contestants with the most cash and prizes went on to the “Showcase,” of prize packages. The contestant coming closest to the actual retail price of his or her “Showcase” won the prizes in the package. (Sometimes, BOTH contestants overbid, and no “Showcase” was won that day.)
To host the new version, the producers bypassed original host Bill Cullen and signed veteran announcer Dennis James to do both the network version and a syndicated version that would air five days a week on local television stations. But CBS overruled Goodson-Todman and had its own candidate for its host–Bob Barker. (James continued to do the syndicated show.)
Robert William Barker was born December 12th, 1923 in Darrington, Washington. Most of his childhood was spent on South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation. He eventually earned a college degree in economics, and after World War Two began working in radio. It was on Los Angeles’ KNX-AM where Barker was heard by the creator and producer of “Truth Or Consequences,” Ralph Edwards. “Truth” had been a very popular comedy radio quiz where contestants had to answer a question correctly or perform a silly stunt for prizes and cash. But the show failed to take hold on television, despite four different hosts including Edwards himself. Barker was hired as the new master of ceremonies on “Truth Or Consequences” in December 1956, and the show finally became a hit on NBC, running for nine years. After the network cancelled the show, it quickly became a hit in a syndicated version that ran from 1965 until 1975. It was his work on “Truth” that led Goodson-Todman to hire Barker for the CBS revival of what was called “The New Price Is Right.” It was a smash hit from its debut on September 4th, 1972; Barker’s interaction with contestants and skill with the show’s many pricing games (including such fan favourites as “Plinko” and “Lucky Seven”) made the new “Price” a hit all over again, all but erasing the memories of the original version. (The show was originally a half-hour until late 1975, when it expanded to the hour-long show US viewers know today.)
But Barker wasn’t the only reason viewers tuned in. There were the models–eventually known as “Barker’s Beauties”–who presented the prizes up for bids. Janice Pennington was the longest running of the models; she was with the show from 1972 until 2000, when she was replaced as the producers (who now included Barker) wanted younger women on the show. Others included Dian Parkinson, whose stay on “Price” ran from 1975 until 1993. She later sued Barker for sexual harassment; the suit was eventually dropped. And there was Holly Hallstrom, whose stint ran from 1977 until 1995. She claimed Barker dismissed her after she gained weight due to a prescription drug she was taking. Hallstrom sued Barker; he sued her for slander and libel but was ordered to pay her legal fees. Hallstrom later received an out-of-court settlement.
While there were about two-dozen models in the history of “The Price Is Right” between 1972 and 2007, there were just three announcers. Johnny Olson, the house announcer for dozens of Goodson-Todman shows, served a similar capacity on “Price Is Right” right from the start. His plea for a studio audience member to “Come on down!” quickly became a popular catchphrase and continues to this day. Olson also performed in some of the Showcase “skits” as a character with the models as they showed the prizes that could be won. Considered the best announcer in game show history, Olson died in October 1985. His successor, Rod Roddy, worked on a number of game shows, but he was probably best-known as the off-screen announcer on the parody comedy “Soap,” who gave a wrap-up of the previous week’s goings-on and told viewers, “Confused? You won’t be after this week’s episode of ‘Soap’!” Roddy was more flamboyant than Olson, wearing brightly-coloured silk or sequined sport jackets, and became a fan favourite. In 2001, Roddy was diagnosed with both colon and breast cancer; he continued to work on the show until his death in 2003. Former television meteorologist and commercial voice over announcer Rich Fields became the third “Price Is Right” announcer in 2004 and continues in the role to this day.
Since 1972, there have been over 100 different pricing games played on the show, much too many to list here. The very first show featured a brand-new car (a Chevrolet Vega) that retailed for just over $2700. (It ran on regular gas, which cost about 36 cents a gallon.) A new home in ‘72 cost about $30,000; a loaf of bread from the supermarket was 25 cents, a gallon of milk set you back $1.20; a new colour TV could be purchased for $250; and the average American salary that year was just under $10,000.
Bob Barker changed over the years as well. He stopped dying his hair during the show’s run, allowing it to become a dignified shade of grey. His passion for animal rights (which he continued after the death of his beloved wife Dorothy Jo) led him to force “TPIR” to stop giving away fur coats. (His sign-off at the end of every show–“Help control the pet population. Have your pet spayed or neutered”–probably did more for dog and cat birth control in the U.S. than any other campaign.) During the late 1990's and the early years of the new century, Barker became an icon with college- age students–some likely watched the show as kids; others loved Barker when he appeared as himself in the 1996 Adam Sandler film comedy “Happy Gilmore.” A key scene was a fight between Sandler’s Gilmore character and Barker; the game show host knocked out Gilmore and told him “Now you’ve had enough, b—h!” (Sandler had no hard feelings; he appeared on Barker’s farewell prime-time special to read a poem he wrote about the MC.)
But eventually all good things had to end–and it did on June 15th, 2007, when Bob Barker hosted his last “Price Is Right” show. During May, CBS aired tributes to Barker along with a prime-time “Million Dollar Spectacular” version of the game; it was also the centre of a plot on the network’s situation comedy “How I Met Your Mother,” where regular character Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) believed Bob Barker was his father and got on the show.
Since 1972 “PIR” has aired 6,731 original episodes, making it the longest continuously running game show in American history. (The record for the USA was originally set by another Goodson-Todman production, “What’s My Line?” which ran every Sunday night from 1950 until 1967. All shows have been taped in Studio 33 of CBS’ Television City complex in Hollywood, California. (It is now known as the “Bob Barker Studio,” although CBS uses the area for other TV productions.)
“The Price Is Right” has also spawned a number of board games, its own slot machine, and a series of live shows that are performed at Harrahs-owned casinos in Las Vegas and several other cities. The reason for its enduring popularity is simple: America is a country of conspicuous consumers. After all, we spend hours searching for the right price on a new home, a car, appliances and furniture. (And we TV fans will shop from store to store for the best deal on a plasma or LCD set.) So what’s wrong with embracing spending and luxury, even if only vicariously? The fact “The Price Is Right” has lasted for more than 50 non-consecutive years in the USA proves that consumers do know best.
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