Originally created 02/04/03

'The Price is Right' heading to prime time again



LOS ANGELES -- After a stagehand sweeps up, overexcited contestants wearing price tag-shaped name tags spill into the 320-seat studio at CBS' Television City complex.

The chattering stops, though, when announcer Rod Roddy, whose shouts of "Come on down!" lure lucky participants from their seats, appears in a gold lame jacket to explain the rules before cameras roll on the daily taping of "The Price is Right."

Roddy good-naturedly makes contestants promise to restrain their passion when kissing host Bob Barker. They laugh. He urges them to listen carefully above the din for their names and to reach contestant's row quickly, even if it means stepping on toes on their way out of the cramped seats.

Moments later, the cameras' red lights go on and Barker, wearing a suit, tie and gold "BB" cuff links, emerges from behind the glittery doors bearing the name of the longest-running game show in television history.

"What I enjoy about the show is creating spontaneous entertainment with the contestants and the audience," Barker said later in his small dressing room. "I'm trying to find those interesting personalities with whom I can have some fun, get some laughs. I try to give each show its own personality and that's stimulating."

Last year, the 79-year-old Barker broke Johnny Carson's record for continuous performances on the same network show. Carson retired from NBC's "Tonight" show in 1992 after 29 years, seven months and 21 days. Barker is in his 31st year hosting a show that began in 1956 with Bill Cullen.

"The longevity is undoubtedly the greatest surprise of all," said Barker, who signed a five-year deal in 2001.

Despite recent knee and prostate surgeries, Barker says he's in good health. He credits daily walks, a nightly glass of wine, being a vegetarian and not smoking.

"I feel good and I enjoy doing the show, I have fun doing the show," he said. "Every year I think well, maybe I'll hang it up and hey, here I am still doing it."

The hour-long daytime show remains a ratings success. Last year, CBS aired seven prime-time versions that were among the network's highest-rated specials, so Barker is doing it again.

"The Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular" on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST is the first of three specials airing on Wednesday nights in February.

"It's clear that he appeals to audiences in all time periods as well as to viewers of all ages," said Jack Sussman, senior vice president of specials for CBS.

For the first time in the show's history, prime-time contestants can win $1 million by landing on the $1 spot in two consecutive spins on the Big Wheel.

"I've given away an awful lot of washing machines, but I've never given away a million dollars," said Barker, who's awarded more than $200 million in prizes on "The Price is Right" (and in the 1950s and '60s on "Truth or Consequences").

The prize for the show's most popular game, Plinko, will be boosted from $50,000 to $100,000 for the three specials. In another prime-time twist, contestants can win three vehicles in a single game.

"Everything we do is based on prices and everyone identifies with prices," Barker said. "When we bring something out and ask contestants to bid on it, whatever you think about the bid, you're involved and viewer involvement is what every game show wants. Ours has it to the nth degree."

Barker, Roddy and the three models known as "Barker's Beauties" tape five shows over four days each week. They get August off as well as other weeks during the year.

"He's so great," said contestant Suzanne Ricci of San Francisco. "He looks older in person, but I still like him."

Little about the show or its set has changed over the years, and Barker believes such familiarity has bred success among an audience ranging from kids to people in their 90s.

"They turn on the television set and there's that same set with many of the same games and there's that same old man doing exactly what they grew up watching," he said. "It's like a security blanket."

Barker's style has evolved as his hair has gone from dark to all white over the years.

"When I started I was the youngest host in television to have a national show. I could not say some things without coming off as a smart aleck," he said. "Now I've been around for so long and I'm so old that I can get away with a lot of things that I couldn't have when I started out."

Like politely scolding a woman who charged on stage instead of first stopping at contestant's row.

During commercial breaks, Barker takes questions and accepts gifts from the audience.

Several women ask to come up for a hug and smooch, apparently unfazed by sexual harassment allegations made against Barker in the mid-1990s by one of the show's former models. Her lawsuit was dropped.

"They've had some pretty unkind things to say about me," Barker said, laughing. "I don't think anyone believes them. It certainly hasn't hurt our popularity."

Other than urging Americans to spay and neuter their pets at the close of each show, Barker said he has no other calling.

"I set out to do precisely what I'm doing and I'm still doing it," he said.

On the Net:

http://www.cbs.com



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