First, you hail from the Midwest or Florida. Then you wear a big sweatshirt or any other overtly 80’s apparel. Then, when you hear your name called out by Rod Roddy, you do one of two things: you either a. jump up out of your chair like someone just jabbed you with a live wire and run down to Contestant’s Row; or b. rise from your seat as you might rise from a rocking chair on a porch on a warm Summer day and leisurely stroll down to Contestant’s Row while everyone looks on thinking, “This person has no idea what’s going on.” Either way, after that you embark on an hour long journey through what is undoubtedly the most inventive game show ever devised around guessing the price things.
Bob Barker defies definition. Sexually aggressive, egomaniacal and as old as a Giant Red Oak, Bob Barker has ruled over daytime television for over 30 years. To this day, his show still gets higher ratings than its competition, including Martha Stewart’s show “Martha” and “The View.” “THE VIEW” people!
Women want to kiss Bob Barker and men want to shake his hand. I heard a rumor once that Bob Barker turned down sex with a college girl because “she made him feel old.” OK, that’s a lie, but don’t even try to tell me that you didn’t believe it. Because at this point there’s very little you could hear about Bob Barker and not believe, unless it was something like “Bob Barker made a mistake,” or “Bob Barker’s hair was messed up.” Hell, Bob Barker sued one of the models on his show solely because she sued him! Then, when another model was subpoenaed to testify against Bob, he fired her! This man does what he wants, when he wants and no one, not even Alex Trebek, would be willing to step in his path.
Last year, my friend Scott decided that he wanted to go to a taping of “The Price is Right.” He and a friend flew out to L.A., waited on line, got their tickets and made it into the audience. Now if you don’t remember the show, during commercial breaks Bob Barker would chat with the audience and sometimes this would spill over into the show after the break. Well, my friend Scott, being loud and from Queens, caught Bob’s attention with his homemade t-shirt reading “NYC luvs BOB.” And when Bob singled him out of the audience and complimented him on his shirt, this conversation ensued:
Scott: “Can I have your suit?”
Bob: “What size are you?”
Scott: “42 regular.”
Bob: “That's what I am. How tall are you? 6'1"
Scott: (laughing) “Only 5'7", Bob.”
Bob: “My suit jacket would be like tails on you!”
Scott’s friend Len sitting next to him: “Bob put you in your place!”
Scott: “And that place is sadness . . .”
(commercial break ends and they start taping)
Bob: “There was a gentleman in the audience who wanted to buy my suit. Stand up . . . well what do you bid, Scott?!”
Scott: “One dollar!”
Bob: “Sit down!”
To this day, Scott says it was the most stern yet loving command he has ever received.
Why I Liked It
I could probably list about 75 things I loved about this show. But I’ll limit it to the following:
– Barker’s Beauties. Made up almost exclusively of past or future Playboy models, Bob Barker single handedly revolutionized sexual objectification in the late 70’s straight through the 80’s. His concept was simple: get hot women to wear low cut shirts and show off the prizes. I’m 100% convinced that “The Price Is Right” is the grandfather of the modern beer commercial. Also, to a 12 year old, Janice Pennington showing off a beautiful new bedroom set is like porn.
(Note: Ian Ziering’s wife, Nikki Schieler Ziering, was a model on the show until 2002 when Bob Barker had her fired, presumably because she had become too popular and taking attention away from him. Yes, you read that correctly, Ian Ziering’s wife is popular.)
– The Showcase Showdown. Whether it was a little old lady who needed Bob’s help or a hulking logger who spun it so fast it looked like a pinwheel, there is perhaps no greater game show prop than The Wheel. As far as childhood dreams go, wanting to spin The Wheel was right up there with wanting to drive KITT.
– The brilliance of the following games:
Shell Game. Six words: Overgrown walnut shell Three Card Monty.
Safe Crackers. There’s something about a model and a gigantic safe. Something . . .
Punch a Bunch. This game combined two of my favorite things: violence and cash. Punch through a paper covered hole and pull out the slip inside. Then hand the slip to Bob and, in his subtly devastating way, he reveals to you what you have won.
Pathfinder. Guess the price of a car by stepping on the correct sequence of digits on a giant light-up board. Best way to guess the price of a car ever.
Plinko. By far my favorite game. A contestant guesses the price of four small items, and with each correct answer wins a Plinko chip. Then the contestant climbs the winding staircase to the top of the Plinko board and, positioning the chips with precision (the most strategic players started at the sides) dropped the chip and watched it wind its way through the pegs to the bottom of the board and, God willing, into a big-money slot. A maximum of $25,000 could be won and, indeed, only winning the maximum amount was considered to be a “win” for Plinko. Hence, with the maximum award topping out at $23,000, Plinko, to this day, has never been won.
Hole in One. Screw the game, it’s all about Bob Barker showing you “how easy it is.”
Hit Me. This was where I formed my lifelong love affair with oversized playing cards. Seriously, the props on this show were iconic. If someone offered me all the props from “The Price is Right” or all the props from Jenna Jameson’s last movie, well I can’t end this sentence without using the term “think long and hard,” so I’ll stop right here.
Cliff Hangers. Contestants guess the price of small items (shocker!) and for every dollar they are off, a yodeling climber makes his way one step up a hill. If he takes too many steps, he falls off the edge at the top and you lose. I honestly believe the creators of the show got together and smoked opium before coming up with some of the ideas for this show.
Blank Check. THAT pen?
Bump. Four busses displaying possible prices of prizes were aligned over two prices on a shelf below. The contestant would decide which way the bus train needed to move in order to line up the correct price with the correct prize. Then, Janice and Dian would seductively swivel their hips and, with sexual authority and memorable sound effects, “bump” the cars into place. Dian later sued Bob Barker for sexual harassment.
– The trench warfare that was Contestant’s Row. You’re down in a pit with three other contestants and the fighting gets dirty. I never understood how a fight didn’t start down there. While the $1 bid may just be good strategy, the “someone else’s bid plus $1” was just a nasty, dirty play. Basically you’ve taken that person out of the running to win, unless the item costs exactly what the other person bid. Honestly, if I was in Contestant’s Row and I bid $500 and the last person bid $501 and the actual price of the prize was $525, I would run over and tackle the guy on his way to the stage. Or old woman, or whoever the son of a bitch was who did it.
– When a woman would guess the exact value of the Contestant’s Row prize and Bob Barker would make her take her $100 bonus directly out of his pocket. God bless the 80’s.
What Was Wrong With It
Is there any more random sign off in the history of television than Bob’s plea to have your pet spade and neutered at the end of every episode? And it’s not that I didn’t like it, I just think he could have had more fun with it. Like one week say, “And remember, shut the water off when you’re brushing your teeth,” or “Please, cover your mouth the next time you sneeze in public. I’m Bob Barker.” But no, Bob devoted all his energy and considerable fame to the cause of not propagating the unwanted pet population. Which isn’t a bad cause I guess. I’d probably put it in the Top Three, along with world hunger and cancer.