To hear you name called out by the announcer, inviting you to “come on down!” is every The Price is Right fans’ dream. It’s an exciting, adrenaline-rushing experience of being seen on TV, playing the game and potentially winning the prices all-in-one.
The Price is Right is the longest-running game show on TV today. This game show franchise was originally produced by Mark Goodson and Bill Todman, and created by Bob Stewart. It is now owned by FremantleMedia (Endemol). The show first started in 1956 and premiered on NBC as a daytime series. The original version ran until 1965 and followed a format where contestants would bid on prizes multiple times rather than just once.
Breaking away from trivia quizzes (which is the format of other popular game shows on TV), The Price is Right is a price-guessing show where contestants guess the cost of random retail items, ranging from the small, like dish soap or a cream of mushroom soup; to big ones, like new cars or trips to Hawaii. Contestants compete with each other to win cash and prizes by guessing the prices.
Let’s start by understanding how the show runs. Since 1972 until today, this is how The Price is Right is structured:
- At the beginning, four contestants are called to “come on down” to participate in the One Bid game. Each of the players attempt to bid on an initial price, and whoever has the closest guess without going over is the winner. The winner of One Bid gets to compete in a pricing game for another set of prizes, and then in the Showcase Showdown. After each pricing game, a new player is called to fill the slot.
- Pricing games follows next, where the contestant plays for a range of prizes, usually cash or cars, with most games based on the player’s knowledge of the prizes of the items.
- Then it comes to the Showcase. This is where the top two players of the day are shown two showcases, which are collections of several prizes. The player with the highest winnings gets the options of either bidding on the first showcase, or otherwise passing that to the other player who must bid on it. The second showcase is then bid on by the remaining player. The player who guesses closest to the retail price of the showcase without going over wins the showcase. It’s also possible to win both showcases by guessing very close to the actual price. But of both players both overbid, then neither of the showcase is won.
Recently, the Showcase Showdown was added to select the players who would play in the Showcase. In the Showcase Showdown, each player is given two chances to spin a wheel that displays every monetary amount from 5 cents to $1, in 5-cent increments. The player may either stop after the first spin or take a second one, with values from both spins being added together in the latter to determine their score. The player who gains a spin closest to $1.00 without going over (either on the first spin or the sum of both), gets to compete for the Showcase. If the first spin or sum of two spins are exactly $1, the player will be awarded a cash bonus and will be given a chance to win larger amounts in bonus spin. If you are interested to learn more about classic game shows on TV, you may also read our article, What Were the Must-Watch Game Shows of the 1950s?
There are 75 different pricing games on The Price is Right, so it’s impossible for the audience or contestants to predict what pricing games they will be playing in any given show.
When the new format of the show debuted in 1972, the show had 30 minutes of airtime, so three pricing games were played before the two contestants with the highest winnings entered the Showcase. In 1975, the show was expanded into a one-hour show, so six pricing games were played per episode.
With 75 games comes 75 sets of rules to remember, so it would be hard for any new host to catch up. Plus, the show tapes five shows a week – a total of 30 different pricing games. To make it easy for Drew Carey when took over as new host in 2007, they only featured six different games per week, and introduced a different set of 6 games the next week and pushed the airdate back one month, so they could air the shows in random order. This way, it appeared that each week, different games were being played.
Many have come and go from the pricing games, but Plinko became the fan favorite since its debut in 1983 up to this day. The show even did an all-Plinko episode on the game’s 30th anniversary in 2013.
If you ask anyone who watched The Price is Right from 1972 to 2007, they will surely tell you that Bob Barker was the host they will always identify the show with. Barker hosted the show for 35 years, making this hosting stint a major highlight of his career. During his term as a host, he won numerous awards and honors including a Lifetime Achievement Award and Daytime Emmys. Directors and producers of the show have also received Emmys for their performance.
However, it was not Bob Barker who was the original host of the show. During 1956 when the show was first launched to 1965, Bill Cullen was the host of the show. Bill Cullen, who was dubbed as the “dean of game shows,” hosted 35 different game shows during his career.
When Bob Barker had to retire, there was a big shoes to fill. The audiences loved Barker as he hosted the show for decades, and the host before him (Cullen) was a bigtime host too. Drew Carey was selected to be his successor, and bested out other hopefuls who wanted the role, such as George Hamilton, Mario Lopez and Rosie O’ Donnell.
The producers admitted that the legendary Bob Barker was hard to replace. In an attempt to make the transition to Carey favorable for the audiences, producer Roger Dobkowitz confessed that the prizes got a little better and the games were made a little easier. Dobkowitz sweetened the deal by ignoring prize budgets and scheduling easier games, as it was very important for the first couple of months of the show with the new host to have a lot of winners, in order to keep the audiences hooked. It worked a little too well, as Carey’s hosting was praised, but the show came in over budget of $700,000.
Memorable winning records
As a game show that has been on air for more than 50 years, The Price is Right definitely had epic winning moments that made everyone shout and scream, whether on the set or in front of their TVs. Here are some of those memorable wins on the show:
- The most valuable single prize in the show’s history went to Sheree Heil of Tacoma, WA. In 2013, she took home an Audi R8 V-8 Spyder (worth $157,300). It was a rare win, as many of the prizes in the show are household items. However, once in a while the show will give away something really pricey, like a 458 Ferrari Spider worth $285,716 (but nobody won).
- The biggest winner of all time on the history of the show, as well as the show’s first million-dollar winner and record-holder for the biggest winnings on a primetime show is held by Adam Rose of Los Osos, CA. On February 2008, the first The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular episode since Carey became host, Rose won big, as he got $20,000 playing Grand Game, and even won both showcases that included a Cadillac XLR convertible from his own showcase, and a Ford Escape Hybrid from his opponent’s showcase. To top that big prizes, he also got a $1 million bonus for being within $1,000 of the actual retail price of his own showcase, bringing his total winnings to $1,153,908.
- The primetime specials of the show had garnered a lot of big winners, but it was rare for the daytime version. The record for the biggest winner in daytime TV history went to Christen Freeman. In 2016, Freeman won $210,000 in cash for playing Cliff Hangers. For that episode, the game rules were modified to offer the jackpot prize of $250,000, which was reduced by $10,000 for every step the mountain climber took. In addition to her big prize, she also won a One Bid prize and a $1,000 during the Showcase Showdown, garnering Freeman a total of $212,879.
- Three contestants set a record in 2017 by winning a combined $80,000 in one round on the Showcase Showdown, a.k.a. The Big Wheel. All three of them managed to spin $1, which is a very rare occurrence. Each three of them received $10,000 for that lucky spin. Each received a bonus spin, which upped the stakes a bit. Two of the three contestants hit the $1 jackpot again, so they both receive an additional $25,000. If you do the math, both took home $35,000 each, while the other player received the preliminary $10,000 win. Combined, the show gave away $80,000 on this game alone, which was the most amount of money ever given away on the Showcase Showdown.
There also was a contestant who didn’t just win, but made the first perfect bid on the value of the Showcase. In 2008, Terry Kneiss correctly guessed the value of the showcase right to the last dollar, as his perfect guess of $23,743 won him both showcases. His guess was too exact to be true, so the taping of the show was immediately stopped as Carey and the show staffers became concerned that the game was rigged and that Kneiss was cheating. It was later learned that by constantly watching the show, by noting the frequency of certain products showing up, and by using statistical analysis, Kneiss and his wife Linda (who was in the studio audience) had legitimately guessed the exact prices of the items in the showcase. For more information about game shows, you may also read our article, Which Game Shows Defined the 1960s Television Experience?