The Price Is Right (1956 U.S. game show)

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The Price Is Right (1956)
Tpir56.jpg
Format Game show
Created by Bob Stewart
Directed by Paul Alter
Max Miller
Presented by Bill Cullen
Narrated by Don Pardo (1956–1963)
Johnny Gilbert (1963–1965)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 2,263
Production
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions
Broadcast
Original channel NBC (1956–1963)
ABC (1963–1965)
Picture format Black & White (Daytime 1956–1962, 1963–1965; Nighttime 1963–1964)
Color (Nighttime 1957–1963; Daytime 1962–1963)
Audio format Mono
Original run November 26, 1956 (1956-11-26) – September 3, 1965 (1965-09-03)
Chronology
Followed by The Price Is Right (1972 version) (1972–present)

The Price Is Right is an American game show hosted by Bill Cullen which aired on NBC from 1956–1963 and on ABC from 1963–1965 in both daytime and prime-time. Four contestants made successive bids on merchandise prizes with the goal of bidding closest to the actual retail price of the prize without going over.

Bill Cullen hosted both the daytime and nighttime versions of the show. For two seasons (1959–60 and 1960–1961), the nighttime version was eighth in the prime-time Nielsen ratings[citation needed], making it the most-watched game show on television at the time. Cullen's easygoing personality was cited as a key part of the show's success. The show gained popularity during the years following the quiz show scandal, becoming the most-watched prime-time game show from 1959–1961.

The show was a precursor to the current and best-known version of the show, premiering in 1972 on CBS (as The New Price Is Right) and in syndication. Therefore, The Price Is Right as a whole is often said to have had the rare distinction of appearing on all three major networks (NBC, ABC and CBS).

Game play[edit]

Bill Cullen as the show's host.

On the original version of The Price Is Right, four contestants – one a returning champion, the other three chosen from the studio audience – bid on items or ensembles of items in an auction-style format.

A prize was presented for the contestants to bid on. A minimum bid was specified. After the opening bid, contestants bid on the item in turn with each successive bid a certain amount higher than the previous bid. A contestant could freeze his/her current bid instead of increasing it if he/she believed his/her bid was close enough to win. A later rule allowed contestants, on their opening bid only, to "underbid" the other bids, but this automatically froze their bid and prevented them from later increasing the original bid. Some rounds were designated as one-bid rounds, where only one round of bidding was held (this is the format used on the current version of The Price is Right); sometimes the minimum-bid and higher-bid threshold rules also were waived.

The bidding continued until a buzzer sounded, at which point each contestant who had not yet "frozen" was given one final bid. Bidding also ended when three of the contestants had frozen, at which point the fourth contestant was allowed one final bid, unless he/she already had the high bid. Cullen then read the actual retail price of the prize. The contestant whose bid was closest without going over the actual price won the item. If everyone overbid, the prize was not won; however, Cullen sometimes had the overbids erased and instructed players to give lower bids prior to reading the actual price (similar to what is done on the current CBS version and its syndicated spinoffs).

Frequently, a bell rang after the winner was revealed, indicating a bonus prize accompanied the item up for bids. While this was typically an additional prize, a bonus game often accompanied the prize (e.g. a tune-matching game, where a clip of a well-known song was played and the contestant matched it with a face for a cash bonus).

After a set number of rounds (four on the nighttime version, six on the daytime), the contestant who accumulated the highest value in cash and prizes became the champion and returned on the next show.

Home Viewer Showcases[edit]

The Price Is Right frequently featured a home viewer "Showcase", a multi-prize package for which home viewers were invited to submit their bids via postcard. The viewer who was closest to the actual retail price without going over won everything in the Showcase, but one item was sometimes handmade so the viewer could not check the price of all the items. The term "showcase" was later replaced by "sweepstakes".

Very often, home viewers were stunningly accurate with their bids, including several viewers who guessed the price correct down to the penny. In such a case, the tied contestants were informed and asked to give the price of a specific item; this continued until one of the contestants broke the tie (re-ties and all-overbids were thrown out.)

The Home Viewer Showcase was reformatted as the final round of the current CBS version. The two Showcase Showdown winners on the current version's show compete to bid on separate showcases of prizes, with the contestant who bids closer (without going over) to the actual retail price of his/her own showcase winning the prizes contained within it.

Home Viewer Showcases have also been featured on the CBS version, in 1972, 1978, annually from 1980–1987, 1990, and in 2011. Its format was unchanged through 1990, but the 2011 version, because of the advance in technology, changed to a ten-prizes-in-a-week format, with two prizes appearing per episode during the week. Each day the price of one of the prizes was revealed to the home audience, and the price of the second prize (which was in either of the two Showcases) was not provided. Instead of postcards, the bids had to be submitted through the show's website.[1]

Prizes[edit]

While many of the prizes on the original Price Is Right were normal, standard game show fare (e.g., furniture, appliances, home electronics, furs, trips, and cars), there were many instances of outlandish prizes being offered. This was particularly true of the nighttime version, which had a larger prize budget.

Some examples:

Sometimes, large amounts of food – such as a mile of hot dogs along with buns and enough condiments (perhaps to go with a barbecue pit) – were offered as the bonus.

Some other examples of outlandish or "exceptionally unique" bonus prizes:

  • Accompanying a color TV, a live peacock (a play on the NBC logo) to serve as a "color guide".
  • Accompanying a barbecue pit and the usual accessories, a live Angus steer.
  • Accompanying a prize package of items needed to throw a backyard party, big band legend Woody Herman and His Orchestra.
  • Accompanying a raccoon coat worth $29.95, a sable coat valued at $23,000.
  • A bonus prize of a 16'x32' in-ground swimming pool, installed in the winner's back yard in one day's time.
  • A bonus prize of a trip to Israel to appear as an extra in the 1960 film Exodus.

In the early 1960s, the dynamic of the national economy was such that the nighttime show could offer homes in new subdivisions (sometimes fully furnished) as prizes, often with suspenseful bidding among the contestants.

In the last two seasons of the nighttime run, the series gave away small business franchises.

In some events, the outlandish prizes were merely for show; for instance, contestants may bid on the original retail price for a 1920s car, but would instead win a more contemporary model.

History[edit]

The Price Is Right was created and produced by Bob Stewart for Mark GoodsonBill Todman Productions. Stewart already had created one hit series for Goodson-Todman, To Tell the Truth and he would later create the enormously successful Password. In 1964, Stewart left Goodson-Todman to strike out on his own as a producer. (Frank Wayne, who later produced the Barker version of The Price Is Right, took over Stewart's Password spot.)

Bob Stewart attributes the creation of The Price Is Right to watching an auctioneer from his office window in New York City, auctioning off various merchandise items.

In 1959, shortly after the quiz show scandal broke, most game and quiz shows lost their popularity rapidly and were cancelled. The Price Is Right was an exception; Goodson and Todman had built a squeaky-clean reputation upon relatively low-stakes games. Thus, as the more popular competition was eliminated, The Price Is Right became the most-watched game show in the country, and remained so for two years.

ABC[edit]

When the series moved to ABC in 1963, three studio contestants – including the returning champion – played. The fourth chair was filled by a celebrity who played for either a studio audience member or a home viewer. If the celebrity was the big winner of the show, the civilian contestant who had the most winnings was considered the champion; it is unknown what would have happened in the event of a shut-out with the celebrity winning.

As Don Pardo was still under contract at NBC, he was replaced by Johnny Gilbert, who currently serves as the announcer for Jeopardy!. Coincidently, Pardo would announce on the original Jeopardy! for 11 years.

When the show moved to ABC, several CBS affiliates took up ABC secondary affiliation to show The Price Is Right (especially if its market lacked full ABC affiliation), in part because of the still-high ratings the show enjoyed in daytime.

Goodson-Todman wanted The Price Is Right to be ABC's first non-cartoon color show, but the network could not afford to convert to color. This meant that the nighttime version reverted to black-and-white.

Afterward[edit]

After the success of The Price Is Right, To Tell the Truth, and Password, producer Stewart left Goodson-Todman in 1964. Stewart's follow-up to The Price Is Right, his first independent production, was Eye Guess, a sight-and-memory game with Bill Cullen as host. Later, Stewart created other successful shows such as Jackpot! and The $10,000 Pyramid.

In the early 1970s, Mark Goodson was preparing a revised version of The Price Is Right for syndication and CBS daytime dubbed The New Price Is Right, which incorporated elements of the Cullen version with new mini-games influenced by Let's Make a Deal. Dennis James, who was a regular substitute for Monty Hall on Deal, was selected to host both versions of the reincarnated show; however, he hosted only the syndicated version as CBS insisted that Bob Barker, then still hosting Truth or Consequences, host the daytime show. While the syndicated version lasted only until 1980 (Barker replaced James on the syndicated version in 1977), the daytime version has been on the air five days per week since 1972, with Drew Carey replacing Barker in 2007. Two more syndicated versions would air during the 1985-86 and 1994-95 seasons (with the latter show being known as The New Price is Right), hosted by Tom Kennedy and Doug Davidson, respectively.

In 1982, Bill Cullen appeared on Bob Barker's Price is Right to promote "Child's Play", Barker & Cullen didn't talk about Cullen's run as host of The Price is Right

Bloopers[edit]

  • On one show, the prize was a trip to the circus. The producers placed a live elephant in front of the circus backdrop. The camera cut to the elephant which in the process of moving its bowels. Cullen quipped: "Join us again on Monday when we'll have equal time for the Democratic Party!"
  • On a nighttime episode, Bill Cullen was surrounded by female mannequins dressed in an ensemble of fashions which were the prize up for bids. In an attempt at trying to "play it suave," he holds one of the mannequin's hands, only for the mannequin's hand to come off. Attempting to put it back in place, the mannequin's entire arm comes off.
  • In another episode, an elephant was offered as a "bonus prize" for a contestant who had won a grand piano ("for extra ivory"). The real prize was $4,000; however, the contestant, who was from Texas, wanted the elephant and persisted with his demand. Eventually the contestant got his wish and a live elephant from Kenya was delivered to him. This incident was spoofed in an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Bart Gets an Elephant".[2] In the episode, Bart is offered $10,000 as the prize.
  • On a 1957 daytime episode, an elk's head was offered (it was connected to a bonus prize of a trip to a Vermont hunting lodge). One camera angle had the elk head, which was suspended from the ceiling, looking like host Cullen was wearing it. Apparently seeing the camera shot from an offstage monitor, Cullen appeared to duck from under the head and in deadpan fashion said "hello, there" before standing up straight, his head once again seemingly disappearing into the neck cavity of the elk's head.
  • Sometimes, the contestants' bid displays (furnished by American Totalizator, "a division of Universal Control, Inc.") would break down. When this happened, a chalkboard was wheeled out and placed behind the contestants. One of the models would then act as "official scorekeeper" for that show.

Origin[edit]

The show originated from the Hudson Theatre in New York City, converted for television. A year later it used NBC's Colonial Theater at 66th and Broadway as its main origination. The Ziegfeld Theater was used for a few shows as well. When the show moved to ABC, the Ritz Theater became the show's broadcast origination.

In addition to his hosting duties on The Price Is Right and his weekly appearances as a panelist on I've Got a Secret, Cullen also hosted a weekday morning radio show for WNBC in New York.

Substitute hosts[edit]

Over the nine-year run, various people sat in Cullen's place while he was on vacation.

  • Sonny Fox (June 10, 1957; first substitute host; he was also Bud Collyer's "designated" substitute host on Beat The Clock through 1960; it went off the air at the end of January, 1961)
  • Sam Levenson (March 11, 1958- for 2 weeks)[3]
  • Merv Griffin (August 5 & 12, 1959 nighttime) - also filled in daytime during those two weeks[4][5]
  • Jack Narz (month of May, 1960; Bill's brother-in-law, later that year he began hosting Video Village; his brother Tom Kennedy later hosted a syndicated version of the 1972 The Price Is Right revival during the 1985-86 season.)
  • Arlene Francis (February 1, 1961 nighttime; at this point, she was a rare occurrence of a woman hosting a game show)
  • Don Pardo (December 31, 1959/December 28, 1962)
  • Robert Q. Lewis (December 27, 1963 {Cullen himself was the celebrity guest})
  • Jack Clark (specific date unknown)
  • Johnny Gilbert (specific date unknown)

Models[edit]

Throughout the nine-year run of The Price Is Right, the show also employed models, whose duties were similar to those of the models in the current version.

June Ferguson and Toni Wallace were the regular models, while Gail Sheldon also made frequent appearances. Ferguson, Wallace and Sheldon were featured during the show's entire nine-year run. Other models appearing included Beverly Bentley and Carolyn Stroupe; various other models either assisted Ferguson and Wallace, or appeared during their absences.

Announcers[edit]

During the NBC run, Don Pardo was the main announcer. Whenever he was off, or filling in for Cullen as host, substitute announcers included Dick Dudley, Vic Roby, and Roger Tuttle.

Following the move to ABC (due to Don Pardo was under contract to NBC), Johnny Gilbert became the announcer; one fill-in was ABC staff announcer Ed Jordan.

Theme songs[edit]

The first theme song (used from 1956–1961) was an arrangement of Charles Strouse's "Sixth Finger Tune", originally written for Milton Scott Michel's 1956 play Sixth Finger in a Five Finger Glove.

The second theme song (used from 1961–1965) was called "Window Shopping" and was composed by Bob Cobert. This theme was later used on another Goodson-Todman game, Snap Judgment, and later found its way back to Bob Stewart's stable with the short-lived game You're Putting Me On.

Episode status[edit]

Although The Price Is Right became Goodson-Todman's first regularly aired game show to be broadcast in color on September 23, 1957,[6] no color kinescopes or videotapes are known to exist from the nighttime run. Many monochrome NBC nighttime episodes (plus at least one ABC episode) aired on Game Show Network from 1996–2000, at which time the network's contract to air the show ended; it has not been renewed since.

The daytime run is believed to be destroyed; the UCLA Film and Television Archive lists the first and third episodes from 1956 among its holdings.[7] A few NBC daytime episodes with commercials intact, originally broadcast in the late spring/early summer of 1957, have been around the "collector's circuit." They are now available for viewing on YouTube.

DVD release[edit]

Four episodes, including the 1964 nighttime finale, were released on "The Best of The Price is Right" DVD set (March 25, 2008). Despite pre-release assumptions that each of the four unique runs would be represented, as it was announced that there would be four Cullen episodes, none were of the ABC daytime run despite the existence of episodes from that era; a second NBC prime-time episode instead filled that slot.

Many noticed that the four Cullen episodes lacked commercials, as well as the fact that all three NBC episodes had already been spotted prior to the DVD release. Both NBC prime-time episodes (January 13 and 27, 1960) had aired on GSN before, while the daytime episode (February 21, 1957) had been available in the public domain for several years; the daytime episode is notable for not only missing its opening, but for Cullen promoting Charles Van Doren's match against Vivienne Nearing on Twenty One – which eventually led to Van Doren's defeat.

The Fremantle logo animation was added after each episode, as the production company currently owns all Mark Goodson properties.

The episode listing included with the DVD set states the daytime episode aired March 10, 1957 and the ABC episode aired September 4, 1964 (with guest Jose Ferrer); however, the former actually aired on February 21, 1957 and the latter is not actually present on the DVD set but had been aired by GSN. The 1964 finale featured Pat Carroll as the celebrity player, and the night's champion was invited back to appear on the following Monday's daytime episode.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Prize of the Week, March
  2. ^ Information on the "$4,000 versus elephant" incident
  3. ^ The Times Record (Troy, NY): p. 30: 1958-03-10.
  4. ^ "Daily Record" (Stroudsburg, PA): p.11: 1959-08-05
  5. ^ "The Zanesville Signal" (Zanesville, OH): p.9: 1959-08-12
  6. ^ "Colorcasting". Broadcasting-Telecasting: p. 35. 1957-09-23. 
  7. ^ UCLA Archive: The Price is Right

External links[edit]