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It was a Halloween trick, not a treat, for fans of CBS’ “The Price Is Right” to learn in October that Bob Barker would be retiring in June. But for Barker, the numbers just added up — 50 years as a TV game show host, 35 at “Price,” 17 Daytime Emmys on his mantel (including a record 13 for outstanding game show host). The silver-haired, genial activist now plans to devote time to passions offstage: his animal rights work — and lots of travel. But before going to that final showcase showdown, Barker sat down with Melinda Newman for The Hollywood Reporter to discuss how he treats his guests, keeps his cool and became a success by being himself.
The Hollywood Reporter: You’ve talked about retiring a number of times before. Was there a moment when you realized that this was the right time?
Bob Barker: No, there really wasn’t. For years I had thought, “Well, maybe I’ll just hang it up this year (but kept going).” Here I am at 83 and still doing it. The show is more demanding than you might think. We used to do two shows a day, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but probably between (the age of) 75 or 80, I reached the point where two shows a day left me too tired. So, I said, “I think I can do two shows on Monday, and then I’ll do one on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” and they agreed. And I appreciate it because it makes (the show) more expensive and less profitable.
THR: Your staff says that the minute you come on stage, it’s like you’re 40 again.
Barker: That’s sweet. The Mondays are tough for me, the two shows, but I get through them. The one show a day is really not too much, but I can’t catch cold or we don’t tape. I have to be careful; there’s always the show, no matter what else I might want to do. And I think maybe the time has come for me just to not have that constant pressure on me.
THR: How did your previous job as host of “Truth or Consequences” prepare you for “The Price Is Right?”
Barker: That prepared me for anything and everything that might come (Barker served as host of “Truth” from 1956-74). We would probably have three different consequences every day. It was a perfect training ground because we did so many different things — some of them were quite sentimental, some were hilariously funny in a physical way, some were surprises out on the street with hidden cameras.
THR: Things can often go wrong during a taping of “Price” — recently, a model drove a car through one of the sets. But you keep rolling tape. Have you ever gotten flustered?
Barker: I tell you what, you’re able to handle the moment when things go wrong because over the years you had so many things go wrong. You know, in all probability, nobody is going to be seriously injured, and everyone is going to survive. As long as there’s not a body count, it’s a success.
THR: People with tickets camp out overnight to get a good seat. People weep when their names get called to “come on down” to Contestants’ Row. Why does the show inspire such devotion?
Barker: I think (those are) tears of joy. They’ve probably watched the show for years. You must be 18 years old to come to the show. Probably every audience has kids in it who are turning 18 that day. Even if you’re 35 years old, you’ve never known life without
“The Price Is Right.” All your life, you’ve been turning on the show. And the show still looks very much — if not exactly — like it did in 1972. We don’t change anything.
THR: When you look at game shows today, the hosts aren’t always respectful of the contestants. You treat them as if they were guests in your home.
Barker: I treat them exactly as if they were guests in my home. I want them to be delighted that they were chosen to be on the show. I want them to enjoy the experience, and I want them to look back on it with great fondness. I want it to be fun, fun, fun — for them.
THR: What personality traits should the new host have?
Barker: One of the people who auditioned happened to come into my dressing room, and he said, “What advice do you have for me?” And I said, “I’m going to give you the same advice that Ralph Edwards (Barker’s predecessor on ‘Truth’) gave me.” (Edwards) said, “Bob, I want you to go out there and do ‘Truth or Consequences’ just the way you think it should be done. Don’t imitate me, don’t imitate anyone else; you be Bob Barker.” That’s the best advice I could give to any television host. Just go out and be yourself — and let it rip.
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