You can almost hear Johnny Olsen or Rod Roddy holler, “Bob Barker — come on up!”
It was announced on Saturday that Barker, the longtime host of The Price is Right died at his California home.
Olsen and Piper, two announcers who predeceased Barker, also enjoyed long runs on the CBS daytime staple. They were the ones who called for contestants to, “Come on down!”
I had the pleasure of meeting Barker back in 1986. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, working for TV Guide Canada. The magazine had put Barker on the cover, and copies were sent to me at my home office in Sherman Oaks. The same week, my parents came down for a visit.
They had never been to California before and I arranged for them to see some of the sights. While Disneyland and the Chinese theater were on that list, at the top was the opportunity to attend a taping of The Price is Right.
Thanks to the CBS publicity department, I was able to arrange for my mom and dad to get seats in the front row of the studio audience. My mom, however, was still not happy. Because they were “guests,” they could not participate in the game. Mom still hasn’t forgiven me for not making her eligible to win a washer or dryer.
What they did get, however, was their own showcase right off the top of the show. I had given them both copies of the Canadian TV Guide to wave around as Barker strode out to the lip of the stage. He came right over, saw their yellow name tags, and said, “Ross and Marg — what do you have there?” That led to 30 seconds of banter with Barker and the Brioux’s. All was forgiven.
Barker hosted the game show from 1972 right through until 2007 — 35 years. Throughout his tenure, all tapings took place at CBS Television City in Hollywood. CBS recently sold that studio, a massive facility that had been custom built for television. When it opened in 1952, Jack Benny was among the first to move his program there and soon many others joined him, including Art Linkletter’s People Are Funny and The Red Skelton Show. [My recent guest, Cinecon president Stan Taffel, talks about the roots of CBS Television City here on brioux.tv: the podcast.]
CBS, however, has sold the facility and The Price is Right — which was recorded in Studio 33, rechristened the Bob Barker Studio –was one of the last TV tenants to move out after 51 seasons. The series returns this fall from a new location, with Drew Carey back for a 17th year as host.
Carey has maintained Barker’s public service signoff, encouraging viewers to “spade and neuter your pets.” Barker took this opportunity to control the pet population seriously, refusing early in the show’s run to offer fur coats as prizes on the show. In retirement, he once donated a million dollars to transfer three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to an animal sanctuary in California.
Together with several reporters attending a Television Critics Association press tour, I attended a 2012 taping of The Price is Right early into Carey’s run as host. The comedian told me that one of his biggest gaffes was the day the studio audience was filled with moms-to-be. At the end of the episode, he told the many pregnant women out front that he hoped they had safe deliveries. Then he reminded them all to spade and neuter their pets!
“I promised Bob Barker I would say that at the end of every show,” he explained.
As I was reminded Saturday while called upon to salute Barker on the CTV New Channel Saturday, Barker was once embroiled in a scandal on the show. Back in the mid-’90s, it was alleged that he had been involved in a relationships with one of the models on the show, Dian Parkinson.
Parkinson, who had posed for Playboy, quit the show after 18 seasons and soon after sued for sexual harassment. She later withdrew the charge. Barker, a widower at the time, vehemently denied any wrong doing. It didn’t help that the all-female models on the show at the time were referred to as “Barker’s Beauties.”
Had it happened in the “me too” era, Barker would likely have been canceled. That he weathered the storm said volumes about his stature as a beloved daytime TV host, providing a Teflon coating not unlike the frying pans contestants had to occasionally price on the series.
It also helped that Barker didn’t take himself too seriously. The best example of this was his hilarious cameo in Adam Sandler’s 1996 comedy “Happy Gilmore.” The two also reunited for a very funny hospital sketch nearly 20 years later.
Upon news of Barker’s passing, Sandler was among the first to salute the host:
“The man. The myth. The best,” he posted on X (formerly Twitter). “Such a sweet funny guy to hang out with, Loved talking to him. Loved laughing with him. Loved him kicking the crap out of me. He will be missed by everyone I know! Heartbreaking day. Love to Bob always and his family! Thanks for all you gave us!”