15 Facts About The Price is Right
The Price is Right has been around for so long that most of us grew up with it in some capacity. Originally a black-and-white show on NBC consisting of four people bidding auction-style on items, it began airing in 1956 with Bill Cullen as host. The show was canceled in 1965, but revived in 1972 at CBS, with the now-iconic Bob Barker as host. The game show benefited from its audience participation format, and having people perform the simple task of guessing prices of everything from cars to vacations.
In 2007 Barker retired, and a few months later Drew Carey took over as host. In 2014, the show celebrated its 8000th episode and 43 seasons, and in 2015 the show hit a milestone in becoming the longest-running game show of all time. About 2.4 million people have sat in the studio audience, and the show has given away more than a quarter of a billion dollars in cash and prizes. Here are 15 more Showcase Showdown-sized facts about the game show.
1. THE SHOW’S RATINGS IMPROVED WHEN BOB BARKER WENT GRAY.
In 1987, Barker had to get approval from the head of daytime programming to stop dyeing his hair, becoming one of the few TV hosts with gray hair. “I was prematurely gray,” Barkers told the Los Angeles Times. “I began to gray at my temples, and I guess it could be that technology at that time was not what it is today, but I didn’t look good. It looked like I had no hair at my temples, so they suggested I tint it.” Barker went on vacation and stopped tinting, and people complimented his gray locks so he decided to keep the look. “We taped ahead. So let’s say on the Wednesday show I had dark hair, but when we taped the next show I had gray hair, and that show aired on Thursday. I got a letter from a fellow who said, ‘Bob, you must have had one hell of a night.’”
2. A MAN NAMED STAN BLITS SCREENS EVERY POTENTIAL AUDIENCE MEMBER.
Stan Blits’s job is to talk to every person in line who wants to join the studio audience. He told the New York Post what he looks for in a potential contestant: “I am looking for energy, sincerity, and potential humor. And if they can equal my energy or exceed it and maintain it, they are at the top of the list.” It takes Blits about two hours to screen everybody, and the more energy you exhibit, the better. Just don’t be too aggressive, he cautions—and don’t try to bribe him with gifts.
3. JESSE PINKMAN WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE PRICE IS RIGHT.
A few years ago, a video of a pre-Breaking Bad Aaron Paul’s 2000 appearance on The Price is Right surfaced. Paul lost the Showcase Showdown, but to this day he’s probably the most famous person to have ever been a contestant.
4. WINNERS HAVE TO PAY TAXES ON THEIR PRIZES.
Sure, it seems fun to win a new car on The Price is Right, but the truth is winners have to pay taxes upfront in order to even gain access to the prizes. When contestants win any prizes, they first must file a return in the state in which they won, which is usually California. The prizes are treated as income. Winners have to pay based on the full retail value of the prize, so a lot of winners decide not to accept the prizes.
ABC News interviewed a few contestants about how much they had to pay in taxes, with one guy saying he won $57,000 in prizes but had to pay close to $20,000 in taxes. Another contestant turned down his $10,000 cash, because he didn’t want to give half to his ex-wife. In 2016, The Price is Right executive producer Mike Richards told The New York Times that the show sends a tax letter to every winner telling him or her how much in taxes they need to pay before they can receive their prizes. He said since he took over as producer in 2008, all of the Showcase Showdown winners have paid the taxes and accepted their prizes.
5. ONE TIME A CONTESTANT GOT SO EXCITED, HER TOP FELL OFF.
In 1977, long before the term “wardrobe malfunction” was coined, a female contestant on The Price is Right had just that happen to her in the middle of an episode. When Yolanda was told to “come on down,” she got so excited that her tube top slipped off and, for a brief second, revealed way more than is appropriate for a daytime game show. “She began jumping up and down and out they came,” Barker told Larry King of “the most talked about single incident in the history of the show.” When Yolanda finally got to her podium, Barker quipped, “I’ve never had a welcome like this.”
6. A CAMERA KNOCKED MODEL JANICE PENNINGTON OUT AND RUINED HER CAREER.
While Barker Beauty Janice Pennington was taping a show in 1988, a camera accidentally hit her and knocked her into “contestants’ row.” The unconscious model was taken to the hospital where she underwent two surgeries, one of which left one of her shoulders an inch shorter than the other. Because of her scars from the surgery, she wasn’t allowed to wear a swimsuit on the show anymore. Then in October 2000, after 29 years on the show, Pennington was let go. She told the Los Angeles Times she believed she was fired because she gave a deposition in a wrongful termination suit filed against Barker and the show by former “Beauty” Holly Hallstrom.
7. TERRY KNIESS MADE HISTORY IN 2008 WHEN HE GUESSED THE EXACT VALUE OF THE SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN.
In an intriguing Esquire piece from 2010, contestant Terry Kniess explained how during the Showcase Showdown, he managed to guess the exact value of the package—something that hadn’t occurred in the show’s entire run. He had religiously watched the game show and memorized the values of the prizes, since the show had a tendency to repeat the same prizes. “Terry says he’d seen all three prizes before,” read the article. “The karaoke machine was $1000. The pool table, depending on the model, he says, went for between $2800 and $3200. Terry went with $3000.” To round out the bid, “he picked 743 because that was the number he and Linda [his wife] had used for their PINs.”
As the article explained, Kniess was too perfect. When host Drew Carey realized that he had chosen the exact bid, the show immediately stopped taping and took 45 minutes to figure out if Kniess was cheating. The taping restarted, and Carey unenthusiastically resumed his duties.
8. WHEN DREW CAREY FIRST STARTED AS HOST, THE SHOW’S PRODUCERS MADE SURE THE GAMES WERE EASY SO THAT MORE PEOPLE COULD WIN.
Roger Dobkowitz was a Price is Right producer for decades, but was fired soon after Carey took over hosting duties. “It was extremely important for the first couple of months of the show to have plenty of winners,” Dobkowitz wrote in a blog post. “Such a situation would maintain a real positive and upbeat feel to the show and help viewers, hopefully, to accept Drew as the new host.” In order to achieve this, he ignored the prize budget and scheduled easy games with easy combinations so more people would win. “However, my plan to give away plenty of prizes went a little too well,” Dobkowitz said. “By January 2008, I was about $700,000 over budget.”
9. CAREY WASN'T THE ONLY PERSON ANGLING FOR BARKER'S JOB.
Though Carey has been running the show on The Price is Right for 10 years now, he wasn't the only person being considered to replace Barker. Among the other possible contenders? George Hamilton, Mario Lopez, and John O’ Hurley.
10. IN AN UNINTENTIONAL GAFFE, A WOMAN WITH NO LEGS WON A TREADMILL.
In 2015, an awkward hush fell over the audience when contestant Danielle Perez—a comedian who lost her legs in an accident in 2004—won a treadmill on The Price is Right. “It’s funny though, they edited out a little bit,” Perez told People. “When they revealed the prizes, the audience hesitated. There was a feeling of, ‘Oh no, they’re not really serious. They’re not gonna do this, they’re not gonna put this woman through this.'” But Perez and the show handled the incident with aplomb.
11. IT ALL COMES DOWN TO STATS.
In a scientific paper called "To Spin or Not to Spin?," the Royal Economic Society studied The Wheel on the show. “We derive the unique subgame perfect Nash equilibrium (USPNE) for The Wheel and test its predictive ability using data from both the television show and the laboratory of this game. We find that contestants frequently deviate from the USPNE when the decisions are difficult.” The manuscript lists contestant-winning percentages on The Wheel and the types of calculated decisions contestants make while spinning it.
12. A WOMAN FROM TACOMA, WASHINGTON WON THE MOST EXPENSIVE CAR TO EVER APPEAR ON THE SHOW.
Occasionally The Price is Right offers incredible prizes, such as a Ferrari 458 Spider (priced at $285,716) or an Audi R8 V-8 Spyder (priced at $157,300). A woman lost the chance to win the Ferrari, but in 2013 Sheree Heil won the Audi, beating the previous daytime record of $147,517 won by a single contestant. Heil also won $10,000 in cash and a pair of Prada shoes worth $3045. Her winnings weren’t the all-time biggest; in 2008 a man won $1,153,908 during “The Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular” nighttime special.
13. PETA NAMED A BUILDING AFTER BARKER.
In the 1980s, Barker started signing off with, “Have your pets spayed or neutered.” (New host Drew Carey continued the tradition.) In 1987, when Barker hosted the Miss USA pageant and the contestants were supposed to wear fur, he threatened to leave the production if they didn’t change the attire to fake fur, which they did. After he retired, he donated $2.5 million to renovate a Los Angeles building to become PETA’s west coast hub. Barker wanted to help the plight of animals and have people someday look back and say, “They were still cutting up animals in laboratories? They had animals doing tricks in circuses?” he told ABC. Barker also magnanimously donated $1 million to Columbia Law School to fund the study of animal rights.
14. BARKER MADE A RARE APPEARANCE ON THE SHOW IN 2015.
Since retiring in 2007, Barker has kept a low profile. He didn’t even appear on a special celebrating the show’s 8000th episode, but he appeared alongside Carey on an April Fool’s Day taping of the show in 2015. At 91 years old, Barker seemed like his old self.
15. THE SHOW REMAINS POPULAR BECAUSE EVERYONE CAN RELATE TO PRICES.
“The reason it was so popular originally and why it is still popular is because of the powerful basic premise of the show—everything is based on prices,” Barker told the Los Angeles Times of the secret to the game show’s success. “Everyone identifies with prices. The minute we put something up for bid and the contestant makes a bid, the viewer is involved. Once you become involved, we have accomplished what the producer of every game show wants: viewer involvement. The Price is Right has that to the nth degree.”