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‘The Price Is Right’ And The Charm Of What Doesn’t Change

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
February 24, 2012

I first became a regular viewer of The Price Is Right in college, when my friends and I would sit around in one of the TV lounges before lunch and discuss the finer points. And yes, we did believe there to be finer points. They included, at the time, our fervent beliefs that:

1. More often than not, the price of the car ends in a zero, dummy.

2. The Garfield lamp costs $45. (They kept giving away this same Garfield lamp. Seriously.)

3. It’s really gross that Bob Barker, when a woman guesses the price of a prize exactly right and gets up stage, makes the woman retrieve her $100 bill by “reaching in the hundred-dollar pocket.” [This really happened. He used to make women reach into the jacket pocket of his suit, and he would actually say, "Reach in the hundred-dollar pocket." Blech.]

4. Plinko is stupid.

5. If you can’t win at 10 Chances, you don’t know how to play it. And if you can’t win at the Clock Game, you have had apparently fallen asleep or had a panic attack during the Clock Game.

6. Bob Barker is clearly lying when he says he can’t turn on the RangeFinder again for 24 hours if you hit the button before you intend to.

7. Every episode would be improved if it were just six rounds of Cliffhangers. (Yodel here.)

I drifted from TPIR in the post-college era, only to recently rediscover the Drew Carey version — he took over from Barker in 2007. It’s a bit shocking how little the show has changed, not just since the 1990s, but since 1972 when the Barker incarnation premiered. And I have to admit, it’s kind of charming.

The show still opens with the same gaudy graphics that surround the crowd shots with a light-bulb border that looks like you made it on a video editing program in Windows 3.1. The announcer still says “Come on down!”, people still stop and hug a bunch of strangers, and the technology on Contestants’ Row hasn’t improved at all, so it’s one of the few places you can still see the big, blocky numbers made out of straight lines.

Carey, like Barker, carries the long, skinny microphone — though his is cordless, while Barker for many years managed a cord while he walked around the stage. Everything is still sparkle and glitter and lights and physical things that move around. It’s still very much an analog show in a digital age. The principles have remained largely consistent: It’s really helpful to know how much laundry detergent costs, which is a nicely earthy question to challenge yourself with at the end of the day.

It’s strange, but it’s true: It’s a really good show to put on your DVR to watch while you’re in and out of the kitchen making dinner. It’s low-stakes, it’s terrifyingly happy (Carey’s ability to find overexcited contestants hilarious and unsettling is one of his best host qualities), and there are countless opportunities to yell simple but satisfying advice like, “VITAMINS ARE EXPENSIVE!” and “THERE’S NO WAY A SMALL CAN OF DRUGSTORE HAIR SPRAY COSTS MORE THAN FIVE DOLLARS!”

There’s something about how little they’ve changed this show that makes it awfully comfortable to watch. There is absolutely no interest in snagging people who want to see everything done with fancy technology. People still push buttons and move levers and flip over cards. For crying out loud, they have a game where you throw foam dice out of a big plastic bucket. You could recreate some of the games relatively easily with supplies from a party store.

Much of game-show culture has been displaced by things like Survivor. Certainly, Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy! survive. But the stubbornly nerdy, relentlessly corny, hopelessly uncool The Price Is Right — with a very able Carey at the helm — remains a pretty good way to unwind. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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