Bob Barker Comes on Down for the Last Time
But longtime Price Is Right host Bob Barker -- who has been doing his thing since 1972, for those keeping score -- told the Associated Press today that he's hanging up his microphone for the last time in June, after 35 years on Price and 50 years on TV "while I'm still young." (even after all these years, he still gets the girl!)
I had a great time when I spoke to Bob, who has somehow managed to avoid irrelevancy, scandal (for the most part) and infirmity well into his 80s. He will retire as the TV personality with the most Emmys, the longest-running show and the sharpest wit.
Check out this Q&A I pulled together with the man in 2003, just before his 80th birthday. Sure, he had a list of quote-worthy bon mots ready -- I've seen the story about the topless woman in countless interviews. Still, if the man wants to tell it one more time, I'm gonna listen.
Best of all, after the story ran, Bob sent me a handwritten note of thanks. Now that's class...
Times: What do you know at age 80 that you didn't know at 60 or 70?
Barker: "I'll tell you one thing, in what I do for a living, there's no substitute for experience. I don't care how much natural talent you may have. . . . In the type of show I do, you can depend on surprises. By that I mean props don't work, cameras go out. Contestants don't react the way you expected. You're constantly facing a crisis, or something unexpected."
Times: You had one incident in which a woman's top came off during the show, right?
Barker: "The most talked-about incident in Price Is Right history. That lady was wearing a tube top, her name was called to be a contestant, and she jumped to her feet and began jumping up and down, and out they came. She came on down and they came on out."
Times: How does experience help when something like that happens?
Barker: "When I made my entrance, the audience was screaming, and I thought, "Well, they love me.' Then I realized no audience had loved me that much. So I turned to Johnny Olsen - he was (the announcer) then - and I said, "Johnny, what has happened out here?' And he said, "Bob, this girl has given her all for you.' " (He chuckles.)
Times: In 32 years, you've survived the decline of game shows on daytime TV, sexual harassment allegations in 1994 and two announcers: Johnny Olsen, who died in October 1985, and Rod Roddy, who died in October. What's your secret?
Barker: "I owe it all to the viewers, because they make the decision. Networks decide who will have a chance to do shows, but it is the viewers who make the final decision of who stays and who goes. I am very fortunate, in that the television viewers of our country have decided that Bob Barker can stay.
"Many people have the idea that game shows are easy to come up with. And nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, game shows are a very delicate combination of several things - and one of the most important things is the basic premise. You can't fool television viewers with dancing girls and flashing lights.
"In our case . . . everyone identifies with prices. When we bring out something and offer it for bids, you think, "That bid's too high,' or "That's a good bid.' Whatever you think, you're involved. That is one of the reasons we've been able to survive for so many years."
Times: Even though people like Johnny Carson, Mike Wallace and Dick Clark started on game shows, for many of them it was a transitional job. Why have you stuck with it for so long?
Barker: "I've learned my song, and I sing it. This is the area that I know. (While finishing college in the early 1950s), I got a job at a radio station. And it wasn't long before I had an opportunity to do an audience participation show, where I talked with unrehearsed contestants. When my wife heard this show, she said, "That's what you should do. You do that better than you've ever done anything else.' She didn't say I was good. She just said I did it better than anything else. I had great confidence in her judgment, so I thought, "Well, that's what I'll do.' "
Times: What did you do that worked?
Barker: "The first thing on the list is listen. So many hosts will ask a question of a contestant and pay no attention because they're so busy thinking about what they, the host, will say next. If you ask a question or make a remark and listen, often that contestant will provide you with a little gem you can work with.
"I play more than 70 games on the Price Is Right. I know all of these games so well that I don't have to worry about cue cards, or worrying about the rules of the game. I'm completely at ease. So what I try to do is have fun with the audience and get laughs . . . make it a big party. On our show, we don't solve the problems of the world. But hopefully, we can help people forget their problems for an hour."