The Price is Right was once named “the greatest game show of all time” by TV Guide, and we couldn’t agree more. Whether you discovered it as a kid during a sick day home from school, when it was the only show on daytime TV worth watching, or if you’re one of those hardcore fanatics who dream of hearing your name followed by “coooome on down,” The Price Is Right has become the game show we can all agree on.
It has none of the intellectual snobbery of Jeopardy or linguistic gymnastics of Wheel of Fortune. Instead, it’s a show where people make a lucky guess about what a dozen cans of stewed tomatoes or a dinette set probably cost. There’s no discernible skill required to be a victor on the show—just the ability to pick a random series of numbers that match the retail price of household items.
To celebrate the iconic show’s 47th season (wow, has it really been on the air that long?) we’ve assembled this list of some of the most surprising, jaw-dropping, downright amazing facts about what is, and probably always will be, the greatest game show ever created.
The show premiered in 1956 and ran for almost ten years, taking a brief hiatus before coming back in 1972 . All together, there’s been a grand total of over 11,000 episodes, making it the longest-running game show in history, beating out Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. And the series is still running strong, with no signs of being cancelled anytime soon. And for more amazing popcorn TV moments, here are The 30 Funniest Reality Show Moments of All Time.
Believe it or not, during the show’s original run during the ’50s and ’60s, home viewers could mail in their educated guesses on the retail price of a featured showcase, and if they picked the right amount down to the penny, they’d win everything. As former producer Bob Stewart revealed in the book The Box: An Oral History of Television, there was such an overwhelming response that they hired “literally hundreds of housewives in Queens (to) go through the postcards.”
Before cable TV gave us dozens of networks, there were just three—ABC, CBS, and NBC. The Price Is Right has been on all of them, beginning with NBC in 1956, before moving to ABC in 1963, and finally arriving at CBS, where the show has called home since 1972.
Barker had to get approval from the head of daytime programming in 1987 when he wanted to stop dying his hair. It was a risky move, as exactly zero daytime hosts had anything but youthful appearances. But as Barker explained in an interview, he was never satisfied with his dye-job.
“I didn’t look good,” he said. “It looked like I had no hair at my temples, so they suggested I tint it.” When he stopped tinting during a vacation, he received enough compliments from strangers that he decided to keep the gray locks. The audience went wild, with letters pouring in from viewers who loved Barker’s new silver fox appearance. And the ratings went through the roof.
Nobody makes it to the stage on The Price Is Right without catching the eye of this longtime production assistant. Since 1979, Blits has evaluated everybody who walks through the studio’s door, and decides within seconds who will get a coveted spot at the front. “I am looking for energy, sincerity, and potential humor,” he said in an interview. “And if they can equal my energy or exceed it and maintain it, they are at the top of the list.”
How crazy? In 1958, a barber names Carl Slater “struck it rich” (his words) when he left the show with a dining room set, a two-year old white Palomino horse, a suit of armor, and a trip to Scotland—to visit the castle where said armor originated. And that’s not even the weirdest stuff that the Price Is Right has given away. A few lucky contestants have been rewarded with a submarine, a Ferris wheel, a color TV (along with a live peacock, the NBC logo), and an island in the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Comedian Daniele Perez was a big Price is Right winner in 2015, when she won her very own treadmill. But there was one problem. As was very obvious to everyone in the audience, Perez was wheelchair-bound, having lost both of her legs in an accident in 2004. But she wasn’t offended by the very, very inappropriate gift. As she said later in an interview, “I just thought, ‘Oh this is perfect, you cannot write this, you cannot make this up.’ It’s not even that I’m in a wheelchair, it’s that I literally don’t have feet.”
According to one former winner, “You don’t just drive off the backlot with the car like I thought the entire time I was growing up.” There is paperwork to sign, and taxes to be paid. “If you win in California,” a winning contestant revealed, “you have to actually pay the California state income tax ahead of time. And that can be a lot. When ABC News interviewed former contestants about their tax burden, one winner who walked away with $57,000 in prizes had to pay almost $20,000 in taxes.
Even after they pay off the taxes, it’s not like winners can expect to enjoy the spoils of their game show victories anytime soon. Producers are adamant that contestants don’t see their winnings until after their episodes have aired, which can be many, many months after a taping.
“We want it to be a surprise even in their community,” says executive producer Mike Richards. “We don’t want them to give away what happened, because that takes away some of the fun of watching a game show. So we don’t want a brand new car with a Price is Right license plate frame sitting in the front yard a month before the show airs.”
Barker only signed on to host the Price Is Right in 1972, and though he had the longest run—35 years as the most recognized face in daytime TV—he was not the first to stand on stage and ask contestants to guess the price of a washer/dryer set. That honor belongs to Bill Cullen, the so-called “dean of game shows” (he hosted a whopping 35 different game shows during his career) who helmed the Price Is Right ship between 1956 and 1965.
The problem with guessing what something costs is that prices can vary wildly depending on what part of the country you’re in. A dinette set in Kansas is not going to cost as much as the same furniture in New York City. “We’re not shopping in Alabama for peas one day, then Florida, then Maine, then Nevada,” says producer Richards. So to make sure there’s a price continuity, the producers have always used prices taken from the same retailers based in California. And no, they’re not about to identify any of the stores by name. They don’t want to make them a target for Price Is Right fan pilgrimages.
Long before he played the character Jesse Pinkman on the hit AMC series Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul was just another Price Is Right contestant waiting to be invited to “Cooooome on down!”
It happened in 1999, and Aaron looks like he’s barely a teenager. The clip is well worth watching, if only to see Aaron gush over Barker, shouting at him, “You’re the man, Bob! You’re my idol!” He doesn’t go home a big winner, alas, after overbidding at the Showcase by just $132.
When a contestant on the Jack Barry-hosted quiz show Twenty-One revealed that he had been coached by a producer to beat his opponent, it had a domino effect within the TV game show industry, with many shows coming under scrutiny for allegedly rigging their results. The Price Is Right is one of the few shows that didn’t get caught up in the scandal, and to this day retains a squeaky-clean reputation for honesty and integrity.
Plinko, one of the more popular games on The Price Is Right—the Atlantic called it “basically a metaphor for life”—involves chips that are apparently super rare. As producer Richards explained in an interview, because they’re “enormously expensive to make,” only 10 Plinko chips were ever produced. They’re so protected that they’re locked away in a special box after every taping. And one super-special Plinko chip was included in a time capsule at CBS Television City.
In 2010, a 60-year-old retiree named Terry Kniess, who once worked as a weatherman and in casino surveillance, did the unthinkable by accurately predicting the retail price of a Showcase Showdown prize down to the last dollar. He guessed $23,743—the last three digits were his wedding date (April 7th) and wife’s birthday, March—and it was so stunning that the show immediately stopped taping for 45 minutes so the producers could investigate whether he was cheating. He wasn’t (as far as they could tell) and he left with his winnings, although host Carey was noticeably annoyed, perhaps still suspecting that Kniess had gotten away with something.
One former winner revealed that when she attended the show, the audience waited, on their feet, for four-and-a-half hours at the studio’s front gate before they were even allowed inside. The actual taping took another 90 minutes. So the entire experience takes around six hours, the average time for a flight from New York to Los Angeles.
When an audience member’s name gets called and they’re invited to “cooome on down”, the excitement can get a little frenzied. It gets so loud in the Price Is Right studio that some potential contestants don’t even hear their own names over the roar of the crowd. The shrieking is so eardrum-shattering that PAs wave huge cue cards with the names of selected contestants, so the audience has some idea who’s being invited up.
As host Carey explained, the vast majority of people who show up to play Price Is Right are not TV pros. This is their first time on television, and it’s easy to feel intimidated. The microphone was designed to look whimsical and non-threatening. Or as Carey puts it, “We’re not like Action News!”
The phrase “coooome on down” was never intended to be a rallying cry. It was just “three words in script,” Bob Barker once said in an interview. But it was announcer Johnny Olson’s over-the-top delivery that’s given it so much gravitas and excitement, and makes every audience member at a Price is Right taping start screaming when they hear their name called.
Many years before “wardrobe malfunction” became a pop culture running joke, a Price Is Right contestant proved why tank tops and giddy excitement don’t really mix. In 1977, Yolanda heard her name called, along with the familiar invitation to “coooome on down,” and she ran down to the stage with so much enthusiasm that her top momentarily slipped, exposing her chest to the world. (Her nudity was blacked out before airtime.) Barker looked, well, more than a little shocked, but he managed to get in a few quips. “I’ve never had a welcome like this,” he said with a wry smile.
Though many of the games have been updated with digital graphics and more advanced screens, the majority of them are still old-school, carnival style games, with cranks and pulleys and wires that look like they were assembled by carnies. One of the games, Freeze Frame, even has to be operated by a man with a crank who hides behind it. Carey sometimes likes to introduce the crank operator, if only because union rules stipulate that if a worker’s face is shown on screen, they get a few hundred extra in their paycheck.
Producers were understandably worried that after Bob Barker’s departure, The Price Is Right wouldn’t attract as many viewers. So to up the excitement, they changed the games ever so slightly. The old favorites were there, but now they were a little easier to win. “It was extremely important for the first couple of months of the show to have plenty of winners,” producer Roger Dobkowitz wrote in a blog post. The only downside: the show came in $700,000 over budget.
There have been numerous board and video games based on the show over the years, but the very first, a card game where players try to outbid each other, was shipped to stores in 1958. This means the Price Is Right game is older than Risk, the strategy board game that wasn’t released by Parker Brothers until 1959.
Though nobody knows exactly how many smooches Barker has received from female contestants over the years, CBS made a ballpark guess that the number is probably around 22,000 kisses.
You’re required to have an almost super-human level of enthusiasm to be in the Price Is Right audience, and that includes clapping. Again and again and again… and again… and again. Even when the show takes a commercial break. As one writer who attended a taping revealed, “During the commercial breaks, the show keeps up the energy with music—accompanied, of course, by more audience clapping.” By the time the show has finally ended, she reports, “your palms are like two hamburger patties.”
One of the things that make The Price Is Right so appealing is that it seems timeless. It’s been shot in the same place—Stage 33 in CBS’s iconic Television City in Los Angeles—since 1972, and it doesn’t look like the major set-pieces have been replaced since the ’70s. There have been minor changes in recent years, like the addition of digital screens. And as supervising prize producer Eric Mills has joked, “the 1980s (prizes) were all about grandfather clocks and sewing machines,” which aren’t going to impress modern contestants. But almost everything about the show, including the game equipment, hasn’t changed since bell bottoms and disco were popular.
Adam Rose was just a California teacher making less than $11 an hour when he decided to try his luck at the Price Is Right. He stood in line for 18 hours to be in the show’s first-ever Million Dollar Week in 2008, and when he was picked to compete, he won a staggering $1,153,908. Adam used the money to buy a house, cars for himself and his family, and to open his very own daycare center. He also gave $1,000 to each of the two audience members who stood in line with him and helped him practice prices.
When a contestant makes a perfect initial bid, nailing the “actual retail price,” Carey likes to reward them with $500 in cash taken straight from his suit pocket. You might’ve thought that was money provided to him by the show, but it’s actually his own hard-earned cash. CBS reveals that Carey, as of 2017, has given away at least $187,000 of his salary during the show.
In 1980, three years before she’d flip her first letter on Wheel of Fortune, Vanna White was a contestant on the Price Is Right. She wasn’t especially good, never making it out of Contestant’s Row and, in her own words, failed to win “a … thing.” She even got teased by Barker for looking at herself in the monitor too long.
The models posing with the spectacular prizes up for grabs on the Price Is Right have always been women—at least until 2012. That’s when the show hired their very first male model, a guy out of Boston named Rob Wilson. According to his official Price Is Right bio, he loved the show so much as a kid, he’d “fake sick to stay home from school to watch.” Other men soon followed, including their current male presenter, James O’Halloran.
Barker decided during the ’80s to sign off every episode by telling viewers, “Have your pets spayed or neutered.” His advocacy for animals didn’t end there. Over the years, he’s donated almost $4 million to PETA and to fund Columbia University studies on animal rights. He even threatened to stop hosting the Miss USA pageant in 1987 if any of the contestants came out wearing real fur. Carey, as a tip of the hat to Baker’s legacy, continues this tradition, ending each broadcast of the Price Is Right with the same reminder about pet sterilization.
Nobody needs to be more careful with words than an announcer on the Price Is Right. Rich Fields learned that the hard way when he announced during an episode that a contestant was playing to win “a computer desk and a Dell computer!” The only problem, the computer was actually an HP, and the mistake wasn’t noticed until the commercial break. Because he’d been given the wrong info, the producers decided the contestant should get the whole prize, despite overbidding by more than $5,000.
While shooting a commercial for the show in 2008, producers rigged the chips on a Plinko game so that they’d all hit the $10,000 slot—a little trick to demonstrate the excitement that could happen in any episode. Well, they forgot to fix the chips before the next taping, and before they realized what was happening, a contestant played three chips during a Plinko challenge and won $30,000. It wasn’t technically cheating, because she had no idea the chips were rigged, so they decided to let the contestant walk away with the entire thirty grand.
This sounds like a joke, but it’s 100-percent true. The Royal Economic Society devoted actual research money to study the Big Wheel on the Price Is Right. They published their findings in 2002, “To Spin or Not to Spin?,” which took a deep dive into the types of calculated decisions made by contestants and their winning percentages. “We find that contestants frequently deviate from the USPNE (unique subgame perfect Nash equilibrium) when the decisions are difficult,” they concluded. We’re not sure what any of that means, but nice try, science!
It can be exciting to be on the show. Just ask Florence Henderson, the former Mrs. Brady from The Brady Bunch, who made a guest appearance on a Mother’s Day episode in 2012. She and personal trainer Johannes Brugger had a simple assignment: Drive an SUV onto the set, to reveal it as a prize, and hit the brakes before it hits a wall. Well, things didn’t go as planned. Everybody had a laugh over their crash—the car was barely going two miles an hour, so nobody was hurt—and the announcer added to the levity by cheerfully declaring that the prize was now “A used SUV!”
Barker has made a few guest appearances in movies and TV shows over the years, from Bonanza to How I Met Your Mother, but his most memorable was playing himself in the 1996 Adam Sandler comedy, Happy Gilmore. He and Sandler’s character get into a violent scuffle, in which Barker repeatedly punches Sandler in the face, knocking him out cold. They recreated the moment 20 years later, when Barker was 91, for an autism fundraiser in 2015 called “Night of Too Many Stars.” Barker taunts Sandler about his age and weight, and when another physical altercation occurs, Barker knocks out his younger foe yet again.
If you’ve ever hummed along to the theme of The Price Is Right—and we can’t blame you, it’s an ear worm if ever there was one—you can thank the same composer who also penned the theme songs for shows like Nickelodeon’s Double Dare, ABC’s Monday Night Football and PBS NewsHour, among many others.
Why has the Price Is Right remained so popular when dozens of other game shows have come and gone? It’s because it’s so relatable, Barker said in an interview. While trivia tests your intellect, the Price Is Right gives audiences the chance to win big money by flexing a muscle they use every day, buying things. “Everyone identifies with prices,” Barker said.
“Bob Barker was a technician,” recalled producer Richards in an interview about the now 94-year-old game show legend. “He hit every mark within a half of an inch.” When Drew Carey took over as host, Richards said, it was a huge difference for everybody involved in running the show. Because Carey is more interested in improv—he hosted the improv game show Whose Line Is It Anyway? for ten years—his style is more laid back and anything goes. “It’s more of an ensemble now,” Richards said, adding that they don’t have to be as precise with camera shots anymore, because Carey moves around the stage without a structured choreography.
The late Price Is Right announcer Rod Roddy was known for his colorful and outlandish outfits. As he explained in a 1997 interview, he first decided to expand his wardrobe because of Barker. “Bob was one of the most dapper dressers on television,” Roddy recalled. “And to be on stage with him, you have to do something equal or different.” He began with pastel jackets from Hong Kong, and Barker was impressed, telling the announcer, “Gee, that’s nice. Why don’t you do some more of those?” He ended up investing in silk suits from Bangkok, which became his signature style.
It happened in 2017, when the always popular Showcase Showdown—otherwise known as the giant wheel—set a new record when three contestants won a combined $80,000 in just a single round. How’d it happen? All three of them spun the $1 mark, which earns them a grand and an extra spin. And then two of them landed on the same mark a second time, which earned them a whopping $25,000 each.
Of all the times to take a bathroom break, poor Patricia Bernard had to do it just as the announcer was about to invite down another round of contestants. When her name was called during a 1976 episode, the cameras scanned the room, looking for any sign of her. They eventually noticed a man running for the exit, and Barker quickly assessed what was happening. “This had to happen, did it not?” he said. “Patricia is in the ‘little girls’ room! A man I assume is her husband is out to look for her, and everyone in America is asking, ‘How long can they wait for Patricia?’”
Bladders can be unpredictable things, especially when you’re in a high-pressure environment. Drew Carey giddily recalled one contestant who maybe should’ve visited a bathroom before entering the Price Is Right studio. “We had a women pee herself when she was playing Plinko,” Carey said. “And she only won $21,000!”
As he shared with fans in a Reddit AMA, Carey is passionate about board games, particularly Monopoly. His strategy? “Don’t ever let anybody get the orange ones except for you,” he says. “Don’t ever give away the orange ones, because once someone gets the orange ones, the game is over.”
You would think that a man who spent most of his career watching contestants spin a gigantic wheel would have taught them a few things about technique. Apparently not. In 2003, Barker offered to help a wheelchair-bound contestant spin the big wheel, but his he didn’t put enough muscle into it and the wheel barely made it through a single rotation. The audience booed, and Barker admitted in front of the world that they’d just witnessed “the most humiliating moment of my life.”
Producers don’t run out to find different prizes for every episode. They have a stockpile that could last them for years and maybe decades. It’s all stored in three massive warehouses on the CBS Television City lot, according to producer Richards. “That hot tub you see, and the other six you don’t, are sitting in a warehouse,” he explained. “And then we bring it over and put the trees around it.”
Everybody wants to win a car on the Price Is Right, so the producers are always ready with a selection of between 37 and 45 luxury cars. “We do six shows a week, and each episode, for the most part, has three cars in it,” producer Richards said in an interview. Because he assumes that contestants (and the home audience) doesn’t want to see the same cars week after week after week, they need options to mix it up. “(We) rotate out the ones you saw before, so they don’t see them again,” Richards says.
Producer Richards had a dream, that The Price Is Right would someday offer up as a prize his favorite brand of car, a Ferrari. “There’s no reason this show shouldn’t have the best car in the world on it,” he’s said. In 2013, his dream came true when a Ferrari 458 Spider, worth an estimated $285,000, was presented to a lucky contestant. Unfortunately, she didn’t win it, and the car was returned to the dealer. (The Ferrari was only rented for the show, but Richards says they would’ve bought it if one of the contestants had won.)
Barker left some big shoes to fill when he retired in 2007, and producers considered just about everybody in Los Angeles. Among the contenders were John O’ Hurley (he played J. Peterman on Seinfeld), George Hamilton (everybody’s favorite over-tanner), Mario Lopez (a Saved By the Bell regular), and none other than Rosie O’Donnell.
Barker returned to the show just three times since his retirement, most memorably in 2013, to celebrate his 90th birthday. You’d think after being on the show for so many years, he would’ve done it all by now. But no, Barker had one more item to mark off his Price Is Right bucket list. For the first time ever, he announced a contestant’s name and invited them to “Coooome on down!” And for more Hollywood icons, don’t miss these 50 Amazing Jokes From Comedy Legends.
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