The Price Is Right (sometimes called The New Price Is Right), a game show in which audience members compete for prizes by guessing the retail prices of consumer products, is one of the rare programs to have endured for most of the history of American television. It has the distinction of being television’s longest-running game show and has won many Emmys. Created by Bob Stewart for Mark Goodson-Bill Todman productions, to be broadcast on NBC in 1956 with Bill Cullen as host in daytime and primetime, it aired in different versions on all three of the commercial networks in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. In its early years, it was programmed in both daytime and primetime. In 1972, CBS began to produce The Price Is Right for daytime, with Bob Barker (previously of Truth or Consequences) as the host, and that version has aired five days a week ever since, continuing as the comedian and sitcom star Drew Carey took over from Barker in 2007. The Price Is Right made famous the phrase “Come on down!” as spoken by announcer Johnny Olson from 1972 until his death in 1995, as he called exuberant, surprised audience members to “Contestants’ Row.” Its brand identity has been licensed for board games, casino gambling machines, and lottery tickets, and has penetrated deep into American popular culture.
The hour-long CBS daytime version follows a familiar format: the four studio audience members called down compete to quote the most accurate price of some consumer product without going over. The winner comes onstage to banter briefly with the host (“Where are you from?”) and play a more elaborate game related to determining the actual retail price of one or more products unveiled to studio audience applause. Audience members scream suggestions to the stage and cheer volubly. Each of the contestants called down later has the chance to spin a giant number wheel, and the two who pass this contest compete in the culminating event of the episode, a “Showcase Showdown” in which contestants may win a large package of prizes such as exotic vacations, furniture sets, or automobiles. Throughout the episode, the prizes are presented by models (female “Barker’s beauties” for much of the show’s run), some of whom, like the hosts, have become celebrities.
Having aired for many decades, The Price Is Right became a fixture of the American daytime television schedule, having given away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of prizes to tens of thousands of contestants. It is unique for having endured for decades on a network as game shows were increasingly syndicated. The Price Is Right is among the many successful productions of Mark Goodson, the prolific game show pioneer who also made Family Feud, To Tell the Truth, and What’s My Line. Bob Stewart, who came up with the idea for The Price Is Right in the 1950s, was also the creator of other hit shows of the genre including To Tell the Truth, Password, and the Pyramid series.
The Price Is Right is known for its studio’s carnival atmosphere, with loud brassy music, ringing bells, flashing lights, riotous set design with colorful shapes and groovy flowers, and the opportunity to play to win something of high value. Like an old-time traveling show, The Price Is Right thrives on audience participation, and the studio audience is encouraged to wave, scream, shout, and cheer, or else knows to do so from years of watching television. Audience members lucky enough to make it up to the stage hug the host and express their excitement, jumping and waving. Regardless of whether they win a prize, they get to appear on TV standing next to a celebrity and say hi over the air to friends and family. The audience at home gets to see itself on the screen and to play along with the contestants, guessing prices and advising about game strategy. As the show’s creator, Bob Stewart, has said, "Once you cause somebody at home to talk to the television set aloud, even by himself or herself, then you've got a good game show."
The show’s pricing games reward viewers’ everyday knowledge gained from a lifetime of consumer experience at the supermarket or reading circulars and catalogs. The show itself functions as a commercial for the products seen on air, whose value is ultimately the secret revealed by the various games. In contrast to the worldly knowledge of facts rewarded by quiz shows like Jeopardy!, the knowledge required to do well on The Price Is Right is rather more democratic, appealing to anyone who regularly shops, or who watches enough of The Price Is Right.
-Michael Z. Newman, May 2019
NBC daytime November 1956-September 1963
NBC primetime September 1957-September 1963
ABC daytime September 1963-September 1965
ABC primetime September 1963-September 1964
CBS daytime September 1972-
Syndicated September 1972-September 1979; September 1985-September 1986; September 1994-January 1995
CBS primetime August 1986-September 1986
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