The Price is Right

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The Price is Right is a popular game show based on contestants guessing the retail prices of displayed prizes. The modern United States version, which premiered on September 4, 1972 and is hosted by Bob Barker, still airs today on CBS. The original 1956 version of the show was hosted by Bill Cullen. The show is known in pop culture for phrases such as "Come on down, you're the next contestant on The Price is Right!"

See The Price is Right Pricing Games for a description of each game.



The 1972 daytime incarnation of The Price is Right (hosted by Bob Barker) has the distinction of being the longest-running game show in television history. It has surpassed the previous record of 17 years and 7 months set by What's My Line?. Still airing today, it continues to extend its record, and has aired more than 6,000 episodes. Notably, it is also the only daytime game show which has regularly aired on United States network television since January, 1994. Many believe The Price is Right has lasted so long because of Bob Barker's refusal to make significant changes to the show's look or format (for example, when his microphone broke, CBS didn't have an old style microphone to replace it; so a new microphone was simply put in an old-style casing.) Much of the music, composed by noted composer Edd Kalehoff, has been around since 1972.

Johnny Olson was the Barker version's original announcer. Olson was the first to call contestants to "Come on down!," which became the show's catch phrase. Olson passed away in 1985, and shortly afterwards, an on-air audition of several other announcers (Gene Wood, Rod Roddy, Rich Jeffries & Bob Hilton) was held, and Rod Roddy was chosen to replace Olson. Roddy continued to do the show until two months before his passing on October 27, 2003. After another on-air announcer audition, including Burton Richardson (who announced the 1994 syndicated version) and Randy West, both of whom sat in for Roddy during his cancer treatment in 2001-2003), Rich Fields was named the show's third permanent announcer on April 4, 2004.

The show experienced an unexpected garnering of younger college-age viewers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Barker theorizes that they acquired these fans from his appearance in the Adam Sandler frat house favorite Happy Gilmore. He also suspects that these viewers remember the show from when they were children and their parents watched the show.

TPIR Series

TPIR Series: 1956 Version

The original daytime version of The Price is Right ran from November 23, 1956 to September 6, 1963, on NBC, and from September 9, 1963, to September 3, 1965, on ABC. A weekly nighttime version ran concurrently from September 23, 1957, to September 3, 1963, on NBC, and from September 18, 1963, to September 11, 1964, on ABC. The show originated from New York City in a Broadway theater converted for television. Although no known color kinescopes or videotapes are known to exist from either NBC or ABC, The Price is Right became the first regularly airing game show series to be aired in color in 1957.

Bill Cullen hosted both the daytime and nighttime versions of the show. For two seasons (1959-1960 and 1960-1961), the show was eighth in the Nielsen ratings, making it by far the most watched game show on television at the time. Cullen's easygoing personality was a key part of the show's success. The announcers of the show were Don Pardo and Jack Clark on NBC and Johnny Gilbert on ABC. The first theme song used was called the "Sixth Finger Tune" by Charles Strouse.

On the original version of The Price is Right, four contestants chosen from the studio audience bid on items or ensembles of items in an auction-style format. They could bid higher as long as they wanted or they could freeze their bids. When time ran out, the players who did not freeze had one more bid. Whoever's bid was nearest the actual retail price of the merchandise without going over won the merchandise. Depending on the item, a minimum bid increment restriction was implemented. Some rounds were one-bid rounds which were like today's Contestants' Row. The contestant who accumulated the most value in cash and prizes was the returning champion on the next show.

The multi-prize packages, or "showcases," remain in today's CBS version -- as does the announcer phrase "This ___________ can be YOURS if the price is right."

Sometimes when winning a prize, a bell would ring indicating that the contestant had won a bonus surprise. (On the nighttime show, which had a larger prize budget than the daytime show, some of these prizes were a 1926 Rolls-Royce with chauffeur, a Ferris wheel, shares of corporate stock, and an island in the St. Lawrence Seaway.) In later years, bonus games (not necessarily pricing games) were also added.

The Price is Right was created and produced by Bob Stewart for Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions. Stewart already had created one hit series for Goodson-Todman, To Tell the Truth, and he would later create the enormously successful Password. After the cancellation of the show, Stewart left Goodson-Todman to strike out on his own. His follow-up to The Price is Right was Eye Guess, a delightful sight-and-memory game with Bill Cullen as host (it was loosely based on a Price is Right bonus game). Later, Stewart hit the jackpot with the popular The $10,000 Pyramid and its successors.

TPIR Series: 1972 Version and Related Versions

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The New Price is Right (1972)
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The Price is Right (1975)

The most recognized version of the show premiered September 4, 1972, on CBS and has been hosted by Bob Barker through its entire broadcast run. The show was first called The New Price is Right (and shortly afterward simply renamed The Price is Right), and still airs today as the last network daytime game show that is still running.

From 1972 to 1975, The Price is Right was one half hour long. It featured 3 pricing games rather than 6. There was no Showcase Showdown; the top 2 winners of the day participated in the Showcase. This was changed in 1975 to the hour-long version that continues today. (Nine weeks before the permanent change, CBS tried out an hour-long TPIR for one week, during which a different, sideways-spinning Big Wheel was used in the Showcase Showdowns.)

As of May 26, 2005, contestants won all 6 pricing games on a single episode only 70 times.

Other short-lived versions of the show have aired as well. A weekly syndicated version of the show aired from 1972 through 1980. This show was hosted by Dennis James from 1972 to 1976, then Bob Barker from 1976 to 1980.

Two daily syndicated versions were attempted: in 1985 with host Tom Kennedy (The Nighttime Price is Right), and in 1994 with host Doug Davidson (The New Price is Right). Both were quickly cancelled—Kennedy's after a year, Davidson's after five months.

TPIR Series: Prime Time Specials

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Backstage photo of audience during Air Force Special

A series of six nighttime specials aired during the summer of 1986. Six nighttime specials saluting various branches of the United States armed forces aired during the summer of 2002. Since 2003, 14 nighttme "Million-Dollar Spectaculars" have been aired, with a fifteenth ready to be aired sometime later this year.

During the Military Specials, a $1 on the bonus spin in the Showcase Showdown gave the contestant $100,000 instead of the usual $10,000. On the Million Dollar Spectaculars, the bonus was again increased to $1,000,000, with the winner of the Showcase earning a chance if there was no bonus spin during the Showcase Showdowns. Thus far, only one primetime bonus spin, on one of the '86 Specials, has stopped on the dollar.

While no one has won the Million Dollar Spectaculars' $1,000,000 grand prize, seven contestants (as of this writing) have had the wheel stop on .05 (which is right below the 1.00 and is worth a $5,000 bonus as long as the spin doesn't follow the Showcase). Two of these have had the wheel stop on the peg that separates .05 from the 1.00 necessary to win the million. These events are usually met with loud groans from the audience, and Bob doing an "Oh! Oh! Oh!"

There have also been primetime specials for the show's 25th and 30th anniversaries, with the 30th anniversary special being held at Harrah's Rio in Las Vegas. The situation with potential audience members before the show started with confusion, then quickly degraded almost to chaos; as such, another road trip is unlikely.

TPIR Series: International Versions

The Price is Right has even spread internationally; British versions have been hosted by Leslie Crowther (of Crackerjack fame), Bob Warman (British Sky Broadcasting Version) and Bruce Forsyth. It has also had several runs in Australia (currently hosted by Larry Emdur), as well as versions in Germany (Der Preis ist Heiß), Argentina (Diga lo que Vale), Mexico (Atinale al Precio), Spain (El Precio Justo), Italy (OK, il Prezzo e Giusto), Holland (Prijzenslag Hosted by Hans Kazan 1989-1995 and based of Germany's Der Preis ist Heiß and Cash en Carlo Hosted by Carlo Boszhard 2003 - ?), France (Le Juste Prix),French-Canadian version (Misez Juste), Portugal (O Preço Certo em Euros), and a version in Finland (Mita Maksaa).

Many European versions of the show that debuted after Bruce Forsyth's version based their games and sound cues on that show.

Game Description

The current one-hour show follows the following outline:

  • Opening, four contestants selected for Contestants' Row
  • "First Half," three contestants win bids and play pricing games, while openings in Contestants' Row are filled from the audience
  • First Showcase Showdown at the Big Wheel (at approx :22 past the hour)
  • "Second Half," three more contestants win bids and play pricing games, while openings in Contestants' Row are filled from the audience
  • Second Showcase Showdown at the Big Wheel (at approx :45 past the hour)
  • Showcase presentations, bids, and then finale

Audience and Contestant Selection

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Backstage photo of pre-show audience line

To quote a well-known line from the show, "If you'd like to see The Price is Right in person, send your request, including the number of tickets and the date you wish to attend, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, to TICKETS: The Price is Right, CBS Television City, 7800 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90036."

Many audience members arrive early on the day of a taping. Most have already received tickets for that day's show, although some hope to get same-day tickets. Audience members are then given the famous name tags with a temporary identification number. The ID number is also written on the person's ticket. Audience members are eventually brought through in groups of ten for brief interviews with Stan Blits, the show's music director/contestant coordinator. (Until partway through Season 32, these interviews were conducted by one of the producers.) Social Security Numbers are also checked for tax reporting of potential prize winners. The interviews determine possible selections for the nine contestants per taping from among the pool of approximately 320 audience members.

Anyone over the age of 18 who attends the show has the potential to become a contestant on The Price is Right. This fact is one of the show's attractions, and several tour companies, especially those that cater to the elderly, have special "Price is Right" tours that include tickets to a taping. Many claim that wearing a military uniform or a flashy t-shirt will get you selected, but what the staff really looks for is people who are genuinely excited and can be entertaining just by being themselves.

The basic permanent set includes the audience seating and the stage. Contestants' Row is built into the center of the front of that stage, with steps on each end, although it is preferred, due to camera positioning, that the contestants use the steps closest to the right as viewed when looking at the audience.

On stage are three sets of large, paneled, sliding doors (the Big Doors), as well as a platform with rotating walls (the Turntable). Pricing games and prizes are typically placed in these areas. There is also a Giant Price Tag and the Race Game Curtain at center stage that can be used to conceal prizes and games; the latter is also lowered from the ceiling during commercial breaks to conceal the staging of the next act from the audience.

The announcer sits at a station to the left side of the stage, while the production crew is in an area on the right side of the stage.

Contestants' Row

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Backstage photo of Contestants' Row

The show opens with the announcer calling down the first four contestants for the show, with the immortal catchphrase, "Come on down! You're the next contestant on The Price is Right!" They line up in "Contestants' Row", where the 4 contestants will bid on the price of a small prize, like a television, bicycle, or sofa. Right after the fourth contestant arrives, the announcer continues, "And now, here is the star of The Price Is Right, Bob Barker!" Bob then enters the studio -- through Door #2 or the back of the audience, depending upon what the day's first pricing game is -- and a model hands him his microphone as he reaches "home base."

The prizes brought out to Contestants' Row may arrive in a number of ways or be seen at a distance behind one of the big doors or on the rotating panel. During the early 1980s, a robot brought out some of these prizes, "when the models' legs get tired", Bob joked on January 10, 1984. A descending platform has also brought the prize down from the ceiling; a train or boat imitation has also brought out a platform. Sometimes, a small object is brought down to the audience floor right behind the four contestants. Occasionally, the model is wearing the prize.

Two well-known bidding strategies include bidding $1 over the highest bid so far (eg, $901 if the highest bid is $900) or bidding only $1 if all the bids seem too high. These strategies typically work best for the fourth (final) or third bidder, so the order of Contestants' Row is important. After the first pricing game, new contestants must fill with vacant spot without shuffling. Bidding proceeds left-to-right from the new contestant. One interesting aspect of the show's opening is that no one from TPIR regulates the order in which the first four contestants situate themselves in Contestants' Row. The opening bid always starts with the far left bidder. The contestants are usually too excited to notice their spot, but the contestant who ends up in the far right spot does have a slight advantage in bidding (eg, capable of bidding $1).

After all the contestants bid, Bob Barker reveals the price. If all contestants go over, then he informs them to bid again below the lowest bid. If a contestant bids exactly right, he gets a cash bonus of $500. (The bonus was $100 from its inception in the late '70s through late 1998. Up through the early '90s, contestants would take the $100 directly out of Bob's right-hand suit pocket! The 1985 syndicated version carried a $500 bonus.) Whoever bids closest to the actual retail price of the prize without going over wins and comes on stage to play a pricing game.

Pricing games

See The Price is Right Pricing Games for a description of each game.

The winner of the one-bid game gets to play a "pricing game," where he or she can win a bigger prize like a car, a trip, or cash. As only one contestant is involved in a pricing game at a time, they tend to get the unanimous support of the audience. After the pricing game ends, a new contestant is selected for Contestants' Row, and the process begins again.

A total of 99 different games have been played throughout the history of the show: 73 are still in the current rotation, 24 have been retired, and 2 are in limbo (out of the rotation, but not actually retired).

The Showcase Showdown

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Bob and the Big Wheel

Six pricing games are played per show. After the 3rd and 6th pricing games, there is a "Showcase Showdown," so that one of three finalist per Showdown can be determined for the Showcase from among those who won their way out of Contestants' Row.

(Until the program expanded to one hour, the two leading contestants of the three, in value of winnings, automatically advanced to the Showcase; even after the hour expansion, this format continued to be used on the occasional half-hour episodes.)

The contestants, in order from the one who won the least to the top winner, spin a wheel with 20 sections marked in random increments from 5¢ to $1.00. After the first spin, the contestant has a chance to stay or spin again. The contestant's score is the sum of the two spins (or one spin if he decides to stay). The goal is to have the highest score without going over $1. Any contestant who goes over $1 is immediately eliminated.

Questions of strategy naturally arise from this situation: When should a contestant choose to spin again? Probability dictates that spinning again with a score below 50¢ gives odds in the contestant's favor of emerging with a dollar or less; spinning with 50¢, the odds are even; above 50¢, the odds are against the contestant. Historically, the show's consensus seems to be that 60¢-65¢ is a score that a contestant should give serious thought to staying on with a single spin. Spinning on 70¢ or above when it is not necessary is likely to get a bad reaction from the audience.

Showcase Showdown: Bonus Spin

If a contestant gets a dollar on the wheel in one spin or a combination of two spins, he wins a bonus of $1,000 and is granted a bonus spin at the end of the Showdown. In a bonus spin, the wheel is reset to 5 cents, and the contestant is given one spin. If the wheel lands on a green section--5 or 15, the spaces before and after the dollar, respectively--in that spin, he wins $5,000 more; if it stops on the dollar, he wins $10,000 more. If the wheel doesn't go all the way around, the contestant does not get another try.

Showcase Showdown: Special Cases

There is a rule that the wheel must go all the way around at least once while spinning, to make it hard to aim for a specific square of the wheel. The audience usually "lightly admonishes" the contestant if he or she fails at this, and the player is given another chance. In the case of senior citizens and other contestants who may be too weak to spin the wheel fully, Barker usually helps spin the wheel for them.

If two (or very rarely all three) contestants are tied, there is a spin-off consisting of one spin only each. The $1,000 bonus and subsequent bonus spin can still be earned in a spin-off. If two contestants tie with $1, there is a spin that is simultaneously a bonus spin and spin-off. However, a contestant cannot win more than one $1,000 bonus. Until the late '70s, however, there was no "bonus spin", and contestants simply won a $1,000 bonus every time they spun $1 (so if two people tied at $1 and had a spin-off, they could win another $1,000 bonus by spinning $1 again).

Another possibility, more common than the spin-off scenario, is that the first two contestants in a Showcase Showdown will go over. In this case, the third contestant (the top winner of that half of pricing games) automatically makes it to the Showcase; he still gets one spin to try to get $1 and win $1,000.

The Showcase

The two winners of the Showcase Showdowns in each episode make it to the Showcase. The Showcase usually involves several prizes connected by a little story, and tend to be worth between $12,000 and $40,000, although they occasionally exceed $55,000. The goal, as in Contestants' Row, is to be the closest without going over. One showcase is shown, and the contestant with greatest winnings so far has the option to "bid or pass". After the bid is placed, the 2nd showcase is shown and bid upon by the remaining contestant.

If both contestants go over, nobody wins the Showcase. If the winner is within $250 of (or prior to Season 27 (September 1998), less than $100 away from) the price of his/her own showcase, he wins both showcases. If the two contestants are exactly the same distance from the actual prices (in other words, if there is a tie), each wins his/her own showcase; this has happened exactly once in the show's history. If there is a tie where the difference is within $250, both contestants win both showcases; this has never happened.

In the 1970s, some of the second showcases were introduced very elaborately, and a recorded voice-over is sometimes obvious, such as when Johnny Olson appeared as "Kook Skywalker" in a "Star Wars" themed showcase.

The program is usually produced in exactly one hour, with carefully timed commercial breaks, even though it is taped well in advance (for example, the morning taping of November 16, 1983, was aired on January 10, 1984 - a poster tells the audience when the show will be broadcast, so they can send postcards to a friend). The audience is entertained for several minutes before taping begins; Johnny Olsen once joked that his clothes were from "pen-nayy... J.C. Pen-nayy". After the taping session, there may be a draw for a door prize.

Barker's Beauties

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Janice Pennington

The daily show featured models who became known as Barker's Beauties. From the mid-70s through most of the 80s these were Dian Parkinson, Holly Hallstrom and Janice Pennington. Controversy erupted in 1993 when Parkinson sued host Bob Barker for sexual harassment. Barker admitted to sexual involvement with Parkinson in the late 80s. In 1995, Hallstrom was dismissed from the show. When she subsequently complained that she had been fired for failing to lose weight, Barker sued her for libel and slander. Hallstrom replied with a countersuit. Pennington was fired shortly after having been subpoenaed to give testimony during Hallstrom's lawsuit.

Production Companies

The current version of the series was originally a Mark Goodson/Bill Todman production in association with CBS. Although CBS still has a hand in the production of the show, the Goodson/Todman unit has changed ownership over the years. After Todman passed away in 1979, the unit became known as simply Mark Goodson Productions (although this name change didn't take effect until 1983).

In the mid 1990s, the Goodson company was bought out by All-American Television, which was later itself bought out by Pearson Television. In 2000, Pearson plc. sold their television division to RTL Group, whose North American arm is known as FremantleMedia North America. The series is now produced by The Price is Right Productions, a joint venture of RTL and CBS. Some fans associate this time as the start of a decline in the show's quality. There are several recent changes that are disliked, including:

  • The frequent turnover in models. Longtime models, such as Janice Pennington (who was with the Barker version since day one) and Kathleen Bradley (a fan favorite who began appearing in the early 1990s) have been fired to make the show more appealing to younger viewers.
  • The announcer no longer appears on camera; traditionally, the late Johnny Olson and Rod Roddy made at least one on-air appearance per episode. Recently, though, this policy has been relaxed; Rich Fields has begun to appear at the end of the show alongside the rest of the cast with the Showcase winner.
  • A proliferation of college-aged students as contestants (some who seem to have no idea how to play their assigned game), especially since the mid-1990s.

Fremantle has done many remakes of other Goodson-Todman shows, such as Match Game (1998), Family Feud (1999), To Tell The Truth (2000), and Card Sharks (2001). Of these, only Feud was still in production at the beginning of the 2005-2006 Season. They also did a revival of Press Your Luck exclusively for GSN, which coincidentally came on in the timeslot before Price during its CBS run. The revival was known as Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck (2002).

Bloopers and other memorable moments

The Price is Right has a number of the most celebrated game show bloopers in history -- including one on a live edition of the Cullen version in which the prize was an elephant. The camera cut to the elephant -- which was moving its bowels.

The most frequently mentioned blooper happened in the summer of 1977, when at the beginning of the show, a woman was called to "C'mon down!" The excited contestant – who was wearing little more than a tube top – ran so hard to Contestant's Row that she failed to notice her top slipping downward, exposing her breasts (later showings of the clip had a bar with the word "OOPS!" go up across the screen); only when she was in Contestant's Row and someone informed her did she realize what happened. The audience went into hysterics.

Ironically, as Barker was waiting behind the center doors for Olson to introduce him, the emcee didn't have a monitor to see what was going on. He was flummoxed to hear the wild audience reaction to his entrance, figuring that something in the audience's tone "was not legitimate" in his words.

"Bob, they have given their ALL for you," Olson joked to the still-unsuspecting Barker, bringing the house down. Barker then speculated it had something to do with the hepatitis injections the Price Is Right crew got some time earlier. Whatever it was, he told Olson, "Johnny, this is the way I want it every day from now on!" again bringing the house down.

Barker finally found out about the mishap during the first commercial break.

Other moments:

  • A woman was called to "C'mon down" to contestants row ... while in the ladies' room! Her husband eventually went to get her when she came barreling out. Again, Bob had fun with the moment.
  • Samoan contestants who try – many of them successfully – to give a great big ol' hug to Bob upon winning their one-bid item or winning a game. Two clips illustrate this perfectly:
    • In the late 1970s, an excited female contestant grabbed Bob, squeezed him hard (lifting him in the air in the process) and gave him a straw hat.
    • The famous "Grand Game getaway," where an overly excited contestant named Pauline chased Bob all over the stage after winning $10,000 in the Grand Game.
There have been other "memorable" kissing and hugging moments ... such as men who try to hug Bob (and kiss his cheek); and the time when a female contestant wanted to kiss Bob, and he more than obliged.
  • Cars with malfunctioning brakes and other prizes which give way at the wrong time. Usually one of the models is the "victim" of these unfortunate mishaps.
  • The sets to almost every pricing game have malfunctioned at one time or another.
  • Numerous "Wheelies" in which a contestant spins the Big Wheel but pushes it too hard, resulting in him/her landing on his posterior.
  • In the show aired on January 10, 1984, the fourth contestant called down didn't seem to recognize her maiden name, having given her future married name as her contestant's name. The cameras panned in vain across the audience numerous times as Johnny Olson kept calling out, "Susan Derbeck!" Finally, one of the producers spotted her and, embarrassed, she stood and ran down. Bob Barker is usually waiting for the big doors to part, but when they opened the usual narrow width, he wasn't there. Finally, he stepped into view. At the microphone, he said, "If it was good enough for Susan, it's good enough for me!" When he questioned Susan, she replied, "I go by Susan Dupont!" When she explained that it was her fiancee's name, Barker joked that that was illegal and asked a page to take her to jail.
  • A similar incident happened on the June 3, 1998, episode, when Rod Roddy called someone named Nicole Thorenson to "come on down," yet nobody came, and Roddy eventually called another contestant. Barker misheard the name as Nicole Barrington while he was behind the big doors, and Roddy remarked that "there was a door between us, Bob." The contestant — whose real name was Nicole Thornbrough — was called down again before the second item up for bids and assumed her spot in Contestants' Row.
  • When contestants faint after big wins (they always turned out OK).

Other memorable moments aren't bloopers but are celebrated for their unusual circumstances, such as the time a contestant playing Punch a Bunch gave back $5,000 (the game's second-best prize) and won $10,000. Clips have also aired on recent Million Dollar Specials where a contestant becomes overly excited when Bob does his classic "delay" routine.

References in popular culture

In the June 2004 issue of MAD Magazine, The Price is Right joined the plethora of other shows the magazine has satirized as The Prize is Slight, with Bob Barfer.

External links


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