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The Price Really Is Right! Behind-the-Scenes of America’s Favorite Game Show

Steve Palace
Photo Credit: M. Phillips / WireImage / Getty Images
Photo Credit: M. Phillips / WireImage / Getty Images

Hysterical audience reactions and the catchphrase “Come on down!” are cemented into audiences’ minds as part of The Price Is Right (1972-present). This longest-running of game shows originally hit television screens in 1956, and while it’s had the random break here and there has survived well into the 21st century.

Format of The Price Is Right

Bob Barker standing with a contestant on 'The Price Is Right'
The Price Is Right, 1972-present. (Photo Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)

The core component of the winning format (created by Bob Stewart) for The Price is Right is guesswork. It’s a simple, yet highly effective game of taking a leap in the dark. By guessing the value of random products as accurately as possible, contestants hope to win big.

When it comes to random, producers haven’t fooled around over the years. A 2018 article for highlighted a 1961 episode, where “the first prize up for grabs… Is nothing less than a submarine.” Alongside such mundane things as household goods were surprise elements like a “live peacock” or “a private island.”

The kicker to this surreal streak is that it comes from The Price Is Right’s earlier incarnation. When it started in the 1950s, it was a restrained affair in black and white, hosted by Bill Cullen. The title “Dean of Game Show Hosts” was bestowed upon him, but this was far from the modern era of colorful sets and screaming competitors. Back then the eye-opening prizes stood out and were the selling point over the staid presentation.

A turbulent road to success

Bill Cullen and contestants on the set of 'The Price Is Right'
Original run of The Price Is Right, 1956-65. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

Beginning on NBC before moving to ABC, the first edition of The Price Is Right was axed by 1965. It ran for nine seasons, with four contestants – one returning and three new – bidding on items in an “auction-style format.”

When CBS decided to relaunch it in 1972, the show took the form audiences know today. From there, it just kept going. Mark Goodson and Bill Todman joined Bob Stewart on the creators’ list, and the legendary Bob Barker took on hosting duties. Barker became synonymous with the show and finally stepped down in 2007.

Drew Carey has been the master of ceremonies ever since.

Vetting who takes part in The Price Is Right

Bob Barker on the set of 'The Price Is Right'
The Price Is Right, 1972-present. (Photo Credit: Jesse Grant / WireImage / Getty Images)

Veteran TV producer Stan Blits is the person responsible for vetting those who want to take part. “Just don’t be too aggressive, he cautions — and don’t try to bribe him with gifts,” Mental Floss explained in a 2017 article.

Prospective players “come on down” to Contestant’s Row, where a correct guess gets them into the Pricing Game round. After this, the all-important Showcase delivers a spectacular finish, as packaged goodies are revealed and displayed for them.

One of the secrets behind its longevity, as well as a vague sense of anarchy, is The Price Is Right’s status as a people-driven series. There isn’t much in the way of elaborate gameplay or gimmicks – everything has remained largely the same across the decades. This straightforward approach meant it became the longest-running game show in 2015.

The Price Is Right has traveled around the world, and even goes on tour in a live version, which saw Jerry Springer wielding the microphone. In 2000, budding actor Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad (2008-13) fame came on down. He tried to guess the price of a sports car, but lost.

It isn’t all fun and games

Drew Carey standing with the audience on the set of 'The Price Is Right'
The Price Is Right, 1972-present. (Photo Credit: Greg Gayne / CBS / Getty Images)

Mental Floss noted in its 2017 article that winning on The Price Is Right can be taxing… Literally! After winning their prizes, the contestants must fire a return in the state in which they won (most often, California), as the winnings are treated as income. They have to pay taxes based on the full retail price, so, much of the time, contestants wind up refusing their prizes.

While this definitely dims our perspective of the show, the sense of fun remains unchanged. However, it hasn’t been all smiles and sunshine for the long-running TV favorite. Model and show regular Janice Pennington was seriously injured after being knocked over by a camera in 1988.

Also, when contestant Terry Kniess shocked the crowd in 2008 by correctly guessing the value of the Showcase Showdown, it was assumed the entirely honest participant might be cheating. He was a super fan of The Price Is Right and had memorized many of the prizes on offer.

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Luckily for producers – and the show’s budget – while the public loves the series, most wouldn’t go that far to win.