Everything Right With The Price Is Right

On November 26, 1956, a television revolution took place. A price-bidding game allowed coupon-clipping housewives to finally feel as smart as the PHD-holding contestants seen on the many quiz shows popular at the time. And when the quiz show scandal of 1959 broke, The Price Is Right managed to maintain its integrity and take its place as a legendary show destined to become the longest running American game show in the world. But how did The Price Is Right get started and how has it ensured such eternal success? Read on  to get a full taste of the brilliance and luck that has allowed The Price Is Right to reach such incredible levels of game show domination.

Image via beITRON [Flickr]

The First Run

Did you know Drew Carey is actually the third host of the show, not the second? That’s because before Bob Barker was hired to host The New Price Is Right (the “New” was dropped from the title within the same year it premiered), the original show started Bill Cullen and was created by producer Bob Stewart, who also invented such classics as Password and The $10,000 Pyramid. Steward was inspired to create The Price is Right after watching an auctioneer in New York City.

Unlike the current show we all know and love, this was a much more basic format. There were no Showcase Showdowns or pricing games. The entire show consisted of contestants bidding on expensive products, attempting to get as close to the actual retail price without going over (similar to the first round of the current show except this would keep going for a long time and the item would be expensive rather than the dish soap and soup cans they start off with now). If a contestant worried they were getting too close to the final price, they could seal their price and stop bidding. The contestant who was closest without going over won the prize, which was usually rather big and sometimes pretty crazy.

“How big and crazy?” you might ask. Well, remember the Simpson’s episode where Bart wins an elephant? It turns out that was based on an incident that occurred during this first version of the Price Is Right. The elephant, and its “extra ivory,” was a bonus prize for a grand piano. In actuality, the show meant to give the contestant the cash equivalent of $4000, but the winner wanted a real elephant, so he was eventually given a live pet flown in all the way from Kenya.

A few other grandiose prizes included fully furnished homes in brand new subdivisions, small business franchises, business stock, a Ferris wheel, a private island, a 1926 Rolls Royce with a chauffeur, a mile of hot dogs, a live peacock to serve as a color guide to a brand new TV and a full barbecue pit with a live Angus steer.

This first version lasted until 1965, and viewers had to wait seven years before it was reworked into the modern format and added to the programming schedule again.

Image via Adam Foster [Flickr]

New And Improved

The New Price Is Right premiered on September 4, 1972. It contained some of the old elements of the show, but added a number of new elements that we still enjoy to this day. Even though the early incarnation of the show doesn’t count towards its record of aired shows, there have been over 7,300 episodes aired and the program has still managed to become second only to the Mexican television show Sabado Gigante when it comes to the longest-running game show in the world, and it is the longest-running game show in America.

The modern version starts out with a bidding game and then moves on to more games until the guests get to compete for a chance to bid on the grand prize showcase at the end of the game. During the Showcase portion of the game, the guest that comes closest to the price of their showcase without going over wins and gets to keep their showcase. If they come close enough to the price of their showcase, they not only win their grand prize, but the one offered to the other player as well.

Image via Douglas Coulter [Flickr]

Barker’s Prohibitions

You probably know that Bob Barker’s charisma played a big role in keeping the show alive so long (he has 17 Emmy awards to prove it) , but you might not know that he had such a major role in the show behind the scenes. Barker invented many of the pricing games on the show, including three baring his name that were retired after he left the show. He also put a lot of restrictions in place that stayed in effect until Drew Carrey became the host.

In 1979, Bob Barker went vegetarian and demanded the show stop giving away anything on the show made from leather or fur. He also ensured that showcases could no longer show fake meat props on the barbecues. From that point on, he also started signing off every episode by saying, "Help control the pet population—have your pets spayed or neutered." This is one tradition that Drew Carey has upheld with the utmost respect although furs and leather are now back on the prize list.

Interestingly, Barker’s first episode started out with a prize of a fur coat, but you won’t see that on any reruns or DVDs because he has kept the stations from releasing any shows showing episodes with fur coats.

Barker did more than just preach about the importance of spaying and neutering though. He even started his own foundation, the DJ&T Foundation (named for his mother and his wife), that is dedicated to controlling the dog and cat population. The organization helps support low-cost and free spay and neuter clinics around the country. Barker still funds the foundation to this day.

Animal population control isn’t the only cause Barker was dedicated to though. In 1991, he instilled another prohibition on the show banning any foreign automobiles from being given away as prizes. He did this as a patriotic measure during the first Iraq War, but once again, this rule has been lifted since his retirement and cars from all over the world have now been offered as prizes.

Image via laksge [Wikipedia]

Seeking A Successor

In June of 2006, Barker announced his intention to retire from hosting the show. His decision coincided with the show’s 35th anniversary and his 50th anniversary of hosting shows on TV (He previously hosted Truth Or Consequences). During that time he was named in the Guinness Book of World Records, once for being TV’s Most Durable Performer for doing 3524 consecutive performances on Truth Or Consequences and once of being the Most Generous Host in Television History for giving away over $55 million in cash and prizes, although by the time he retired that number had risen to $200 million. Obviously, his successor had some mighty big shoes to fill.

Producers looked all over the place for new hosts and Rosie O’Donnell seemed to be the top contender until she insisted that the show be moved to New York so she wouldn’t have to move. Drew Carey was hesitant to host the show at first, so CBS producers actually had to convince him that he would be good at it. Reading comments on forums about the subject, you might see a lot of people upset that Carey was replacing Bob, but they all seem to be glad that at least he’s not Rosie. And that seems alright with Drew, who never thought he could contend with the original host anyway, “You can't replace Bob Barker. I don't compare myself to anybody... It's only about what you're doing and supposed to do, and I feel like I'm supposed to be doing this.”

Barker’s last episode premiered on June 15, 2007, but reruns continued to air until Drew Carey’s first episode premiered on October 15.

Image via sexiestgeeksalive [Flickr]

Show  Records

If you read the part about crazy prizes on the earlier version and thought there is no way the current game could compete, you might be right about wackiness, but not about monetary value. While CBS used to impose a prize cap on their game shows, it was revoked in the late 1990’s. Since then, there have been some incredibly lucky winners. Vickyann Sadowski won both showcases, including two cars and ended up scoring $147,517, making her the single-day winnings record holder for daytime network game shows. But the records don’t stop there. The show once held a prime time Million Dollar Spectacular series for a few weeks in 2008. Adam Rose managed to win both showcases, a $20,000 prize during one of the challenges and a bonus $1,000,000 for getting so close to the right value on his showcase. His final winnings? $1,153,908.

While Terry Kniess may not have won as much as either of those contestants, his accomplishment is even more impressive: Terry is the only person to have ever guessed the exact price of their showcase down to the dollar. Thanks to his incredible ability to notice patterns and a little bit of luck, he guessed the approximate value of the showcase and then used his and his wife’s pin numbers to round out his bid. The guess was so perfect that behind the scenes everyone was frantically trying to find out how he cheated and when Carey announced that he was right on the money, he seems angry –something which seriously irritated home viewers.

Image via dayseraph [Flickr]

Despite his flub when announcing Terry’s incredible accuracy, Drew still seems to be doing an alright job with the show and ratings certainly aren’t suffering –the show is still one of the top daytime game shows. So what do you think, should Carey stay on or is the price wrong these days?

Sources: Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, #4, Variety, JS Online, Esquire and CBS

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Newest 5 Comments

@Alfonzo: Interesting and I could see how that makes sense.

I'm for Carey, it seems to have chilled him out. Thats the role though, you're playing second to the prizes and the real star is people's excitement. He's not as suave and charming as bob. I think he gets kisses out of tradition.
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Tom Kennedy and, regretably, Doug Davidson have also hosted syndicated versions of The Price is Right. Dick Van Dyke turned down the role of host of the original version.

BTW, the reason why Drew Carey looked so angry on the perfect bid show is because he thought the episode would never air.
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“Come On Down!” is a film about game show culture, the American dream, and the once-in-a-lifetime experience of hearing the words, “Come on down!” Please join us on facebook for updates!
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Look at the old Bill Cullen episodes on YouTube. The show was very different. For one thing, Cullen had a polio-related limp, so he never moved around on camera.
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