Your chance to enjoy one of the great American college experiences will soon be lost. Bob Barker, the legendary host of the famed game show “The Price is Right”, is set to retire in June. For 35 years, he was the first and only host of the lone show that could bring together the elderly and those college students who could wake up for its 11 a.m. time slot.
When Barker decided to retire in October
2006, I knew that, though I hadn’t watched the show in years, I had to see one of our country’s great cultural institutions before he left. I had been out of the country and traveling, but I finally found an opportunity (and a few hundred dollars) to book a plane ticket and hotel in Los Angeles.
I requested a ticket for “The Price is Right” online and, with a provisional
audience ticket in hand, I was ready.
Barker is in his mid-80s now and has been one of the great constants in our country,
gracefully handling his slender microphone
and twisting its lengthy cord while leading ecstatic T-shirt-clad strangers from Contestant’s Row to one of the show’s 80 trademark games. The man has presided over nearly 7,000 Showcase Showdowns since the show’s debut in September 1972.
After 1 a.m. on a Thursday night, I took a cab from my Hollywood hotel to the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. The night was otherwise quiet until I found 200 people lying, sleeping and sitting in a long line on the sidewalk leading to the gates of CBS Television City. A show that has been taped four times a week for nearly twice the amount of years in my life managed to bring a line of, all told, more than 400 people willing to stay out all night.
It was no surprise to me. Barker’s star power has never been like so many explosive starbursts, but rather a steady stream of light and warmth and “Plinko”-comfort. In short, to continue my celestial simile, Barker is our sun. He has transcended generations, more than David Letterman, Johnny Carson, Dick Clark and perhaps even Bob Hope. He accomplished all of this while at the helm of a daytime show that the average working American could never see.
Enter the old and the college-educated; the show created cults out of two of the most coveted demographics.
And, they all love him. How could they not? His fame reached incredible proportions
in 1996 after Barker took hold of one of American cinema’s funniest moments, a fistfight with Adam Sandler in “Happy Gilmore”.
“The price is wrong, b-tch,” Barker said in the movie. That was for the MTV generation, but Barker has spent 50 years on television. Repeat: Bob Barker has been on television for half a century. He has won 17 Emmy Awards; 13 as host, which is more than any other performer in history.
Moreover, he is just so damn likeable. As the show is taped in real time, during commercial breaks, Barker interacts with the audience, telling jokes and answering questions. I asked him what would happen to the show when he steps down. According to the legend himself, when Barker retires, “The Price is Right”, the longest running and highest-rated game show in television history, will cease to be a mid-morning spectacle.
Your time is running short. Two weeks ago, I sat on my roommate’s bed to watch the airing of the taping I saw. I watched someone named “Anthony” being called to “Come on down,” and saw me, a streak of frantic gray Temple-sweatshirt madness,
tackle a delirious hug out of the stranger. Barker beamed. He was light and warmth and “Plinko”-comfort.
He is from another age, yet there isn’t a young person, and certainly not a retirement home-resident, who doesn’t know Bob Barker.
Buy a plane ticket and get yourself to CBS Television City on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles before June. Whatever the cost, to see Barker in his element – the price is right.
Christoper George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.