The Price Is Right

Last Update: July 18, 2002 – a few updates, with more to come. Bob Barker has been discharged from a Washington, D.C. hospital following prostate surgery and will begin taping episodes in August. Nikki Schieler Ziering and Heather Kozar will not return as Barker's Beauties for the new season, however.

Airing:3-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday through August 15, 10:30-11 a.m. Monday-Friday from August 18 through October 31, 10-11 a.m. from November 3 on, CBS. Syndicated: weekly in first-run syndication throughout the year.

Personnel: Bob Barker, host (CBS edition); Dennis James, host (syndicated edition); Janice Pennington, Anitra Ford, Ann Pennington, Dian Parkinson, hostesses; Johnny Olson, announcer. A Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Production. Taped in Los Angeles.

Description: Winning lots of merchandise by knowing how much it costs.

Game Play: Four studio audience members are invited to "come on down" to Contestants’ Row by the announcer at the show’s opening. They give one bid apiece on a prize, and the one closest to the actual retail price without going over wins it (and a $100 cash bonus if they hit it on the nose), and comes up on stage to play an additional pricing game for bigger, better prizes. Three pricing games were played in every half-hour show, with new audience members coming down to take the place of the previous winner. Among the pricing games played in 1975:

  • Ten Chances: Introduced in 1975, contestants have up to 10 opportunities to pick two digits (out of three displayed) for the price of a small prize, three digits (out of four displayed) for the price of a medium prize, and four digits (out of five displayed) for a big prize (usually a car). The latter stayed at five digits even when the price of cars jumped to five digits.
  • Five Price Tags: A 1972 original, this game asked contestants to identify whether the price on a given small-price item was true or false. For each of four prizes won by guessing correctly, contestants got to choose one price tag out of five representing a car, up to four price tags. (So even getting all four prices accurately doesn't guarantee winning the car.)
  • Any Number: A 1972 original, with contestants picking out digits from 0 through 9 to represent the four digits in the price of a car (or other big prize) or the three digits in a medium-sized prize, with the other three representing dollars and cents in the piggy bank. The first price completely filled out was the prize the contestant won. (Contestants are now spotted the first digit in the price of the car.)
  • Bonus Game: Another 1972 original, with players guessing higher or lower on four small-price items, with each prize representing one shot at a larger prize (sometimes, although not usually, a car). Somewhat similar to Five Price Tags, but the contestant is guaranteed a win for getting all four prices correct.
Other 1975 games: Clock Game, Double Prices, Grocery Game, Hi-Lo, Lucky Seven, Money Game, Most Expensive, Range Game, and Temptation, with Golden Road and Shell Game introduced during the year. There may have been other games as well. More details to come.

End Game: The top two winners of the day both bid on Showcases, which were worth thousands of dollars, with the day’s leading winner to that point given the option of bidding on the first Showcase described or passing it to their opponent to bid on the second Showcase. The one closest to the actual retail price without going over wins their Showcase. (There were no such things as Double Showcase Winners in 1975; the rule that allowed bidders less than $100 from the retail value of their Showcase to win both Showcases had not yet been invented.)

Background: TPIR was originally developed by Bob Stewart, who also brought G-T To Tell the Truth and Password before striking out on his own. The 1950s version thrived without the pricing games – contestants simply bid on one time, making multiple bids, and were allowed to freeze (stop bidding) at any time. With Bill Cullen hosting, the show ran for six years in daytime on NBC (and most of that time in a weekly evening edition as well), and then another two years on ABC. CBS daytime programming chief Budd Grant urged Mark Goodson to revive the program in 1972, but Goodson realized the original version wouldn’t work with their daytime budget (four rounds of bids on a dishwasher?), so with Grant’s acquiescence, he revamped the entire show. The New Price Is Right debuted in September of 1972 with The Joker’s Wild and Gambit at 10:30 weekdays, and switched to 3:00 p.m. six months later, dropping New at around the same time. The syndicated weekly version also premiered in September 1972. James (who was thought to originally have the inside track to hosting both shows) ran the nighttime edition because Barker was still hosting the syndicated Truth or Consequences.

The Price Gets Better: After restructuring their early-morning lineup in June 1975, CBS’s ratings went south, so TPIR was moved back to the a.m. in August and Tattletales went back to afternoons. In the first week of September, TPIR was expanded to one hour for five shows. This was done by adding the Showcase Showdown after three pricing games were played, where the three winners spun a wheel with dollar amounts on it in increments of five cents between $ .05 and $1.00. The contestant who got closest to one dollar in one spin or a combination of two spins without going over went to the Showcase. (Previously I said the wheel was the size of an eighteen-inch pizza tray; that was wrong. For a good look at what the wheel really looks like, go to Brad Francini’s Game Show Central.) The entire process then repeated itself for the second half-hour, and then on to the Showcases. This version proved successful, and so was made permanent at the beginning of December (with the addition of cash bonuses for hitting $1.00 on the nose in the Showcase Showdown).

Right On and On: And the CBS version continues to run today, with a total of over 26 years on the air. Barker has hosted throughout and weathered all storms (including a lawsuit stemming from an affair he had with Dian Parkinson). It was the most popular network daytime game in the ‘80s, and has been the only network daytime game since January, 1994. Johnny Olson passed away in 1985 and was replaced by Rod Roddy. Holly Hallstrom joined Janice Pennington and Parkinson in 1977, and the trio worked together until 1993. Parkinson left around the time of her lawsuit, and her main appearances since have been in the pages of Playboy. Hallstrom was let go in 1995, possibly due to a perceived weight gain. Pennington and Bradley were dropped in the middle of the 2000-2001 season; no specific reason was given but the betting is to cut salary and make the show more appealing to younger viewers (Pennington is somewhere in her 50s and Bradley in her 40s). The latest trio, as of this fall, will be Claudia Jordan, Heather Kozar, and Nikki Ziering; Kozar and Ziering were both Playboy Playmates (of course, so was Pennington).

Bark(er)ing Up the Wrong Tree: The daily network edition of TPIR is the one everyone remembers, and attempts to establish a similar dynasty in the evenings have failed. The most successful of the evening Price runs was the first syndicated edition, hosted by James through 1976. Barker replaced James after the syndicated version of Truth or Consequences was dropped, and the syndicated edition continued through 1979.

In 1985, with the syndicated evening versions of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! pulling tremendous ratings, Goodson introduced a nighttime syndicated half-hour version of Price, with veteran Tom Kennedy at the helm. Kennedy has since remarked he wasn’t happy with the job he did on it, and appreciated Barker’s work all the more as a result. Tom’s overstating the case – it wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but with a crowded field, low clearances (it ran in New York City at 2 a.m.), and being shut out of the daytime markets by CBS’s Price, it wasn’t renewed.

CBS ran a nighttime hour-long Price for six weeks in the summer of 1996, with Barker as host. Up against The Cosby Show and Family Ties, which had finished that year #1 and #2 in the Nielsens, it was a stopgap measure that could be done cheaper than mounting a new series. Sadly, it was never repeated – TPIR might have done nicely as a Saturday evening program, or as a perpetual summer replacement.

1994 saw yet another syndicated half-hour Price, this one helmed by The Young and The Restless star Doug Davidson. This version dropped Contestants’ Row entirely, simply inviting audience members up on stage to play pricing games. The top two winners competed in one of two different ways: the Showcase Showdown Big Wheel or The Price Was Right (where contestants tried to guess how much a vintage item cost at the time). The winner of that competition played a game similar to the Range Game, where they guessed in what range a group of prizes cost. A new set (black marble?), different game rules, and a new host made it too much for longtime fans to adjust to, and it was dropped after six months.

Priceless Moments From the Early Years: Bob Stewart notes in Jeff Kisselhoff’s book The Box there was some nail-biting when the show launched in 1956. "The Price Is Right pilot was the ultimate disaster. Bill Cullen, who was on the turntable and had a bad leg, had the microphone [cord] around his neck, and when the turntable started to move the mike began strangling him. He wasn’t nimble enough to jump up. I remember screaming to the stagehands, "Hold it!" They stopped and jerked the turntable, and he fell against the desk. Then the totaller, which was supposed to punch up the numbers, broke down. It was such a disaster that NBC wanted to buy us out. Bill Todman, who loved a buck when he could smell it, suggested we take their money and then put it on CBS. I said, "No way. They bought the show. Force them to give us the thirteen weeks." NBC reluctantly let us go on the air, but they put us opposite the most successful daytime show in a generation, Arthur Godfrey, figuring "Okay, thirteen weeks and good-bye." Within thirteen weeks we were beating Godfrey. It was unbelieveable. We had no idea what we were getting into. My staff was two people. Ultimately we had a warehouse filled with merchandise."

This story is probably apocryphal (it comes from Allan Sherman), but it’s a riot if it’s true: in the first few weeks ‘z€ he show (which aired live), it was decided to bring an elephant on and let the contestants guess its value. The elephant was concealed until airtime. Cullen delivered the introduction, the curtain opend, and there was the elephant – moving its bowels. The director didn’t know what to shoot – the contestants and studio audience were in hysterics, and Cullen couldn’t regain his composure enough to continue the show. The solution? A tight shot on the elephant’s face. (And, I hope, a bonus in the stagehands’ weekly paycheck.)

Key Phrases:

  • "Come on down!" Johnny Olson’s boisterous encouragement to whoever’s name was just announced. Olson remains the paragon of game show announcers. Speaking from my one encounter with him as an eight-year-old at a What’s My Line? taping, I can also say he was a delightful man.
  • "The actual retail price is…" Bob Barker’s phrase before announcing who had won the dishwasher, the recliner, or the showcase.
  • "Bob Barker saying good-bye, everybody!" He didn’t get into the "spay & neuter your pets" spiel until later.

The Home Game: Milton Bradley release three versions of TPIR within three or four years of one another in the mid-'70s. Lowell Games had previously issued a home version in 1958, as had MB in 1964. Finally, MB reissued the game in 1986. More recently, there's been a computer version, and a hand-held version is currently available for retail.

Although The Price Is Right is loads of fun to play along with while watching, it's not much fun to play as a box game. First, it's been between 12 and 40 years since the original box games were issued, and it's hard for younger players to understand that cars really did cost about $3,000 in 1973. Second, from my memories of playing the first ’70s version, bidding everything through correctly and getting a 2" x 3" card for it holds no great thrill. Still, they're fun collectibles.

Reruns: Only on CBS, although the show did run for a couple of years on GSN. It hasn’t aired there since May 2000, as the contract (separate from the rest of G-T’s shows) ran out and GSN chose not to renew.

Survival: The big question for TPIR has been the same for years: When will Bob Barker retire? He’s now in his seventies, and although he’s signed up to do the show for several more years, eventually he’ll call it a career. (How many other game show hosts have hung ‘em up voluntarily? Garry Moore is the only one that comes to mind.) Since Barker has a financial interest in the show, I’m sure he’ll do his best to make the transition a smooth one. Davidson got better at his edition as time went along, and Goodson/All-American has been talking with him about other games, so he’s a strong possibility. The other question is whether CBS will continue with the show when Barker hangs ‘em up, and that’s not easily answered. If they ask me, Price did its best when it was surrounded by other games…

Curt Alliaume, Executive Producer: You know, this show is so complicated, and I am no expert at it. I would have to do a lot of research upon taking the job (not that anyone is offering).

My 1975 Grade: B+. This would increase in later years; TPIR was still finding itself in 1975.

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The Price Is Right is a copyrighted title of Mark Goodson Productions/Pearson Television. This page is in no way affiliated with or endorsed by Mark Goodson Productions, Pearson Television, their subsidiaries, affiliates, or successor organizations. No challenge to their ownership is implied. The Price Is Right box game copyright Milton Bradley Company. Photos originally appeared on eBay. Dennis James photo courtesy of Matt Ottinger.

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