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After 35 years, `Price' is still right for Bob Barker

`When I get a job I hang onto it,' says the indefatigable game show host, who got his start on TV in the '50s.

September 20, 2006|Sandy Cohen | Associated Press

Television's iron man continues to forge on.

Bob Barker began his 35th season as the host of "The Price Is Right" this week.

Johnny Carson once held the record for continuous tenure with the same show: 29 years. Barker broke it in 2002. And Merv Griffin's game show classics "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" are years behind "Price," the longest-running game show in TV history.

Barker's approach, like the show's set, has remained essentially unchanged since he arrived Sept. 4, 1972, to host what was then called "The New Price Is Right": wholesome, playful and family friendly.

He's weathered some challenges along the way, including the death of his wife (and producer), Dorothy Jo, in 1981 and a sexual harassment lawsuit filed (and later dropped) by one of the show's models in 1994.

But even in this era of endless channel choices and increasing fascination with the shocking and salacious, Barker and "Price" maintain an upbeat, timeless charm.

The 82-year-old talked about the secrets of his lasting appeal and what he has planned for the next 35 years.

Question: What is it about the show that's kept audiences hooked for all these years?

Answer: My agent says it's the host. We've been on so long, I've been told by young people, that their grandmother introduced them to "The Price Is Right." It all adds up to a family thing that has been passed down from one generation to another. And nothing has changed. The only thing that's changed on the "The Price Is Right" is the color of my hair. When you turn the television on, you're back in the 1970s.

Q: Will you ever retire?

A: I've thought about retiring for 10 or 15 years, but I have so much fun and the show is so successful that it's tough to walk away from. I just signed a five-year contract, believe it or not. I don't expect to last five years. I know that for about three years now, Freemantle [Media, which owns "Price"] has been looking for a host. But I'm still doing the show so apparently they haven't found the right one.

Q: Did you ever expect to last this long on the program?

A: My late wife said, "If you have anything, it's tenacity." I did the pageants, Miss Universe and Miss USA, for 21 years. I did the Rose Parade for 21 years. I did the Pillsbury Bake-Off for 20 years. I went back for years, about 20 years, and did the Indianapolis 500 parade. I did "Truth or Consequences" for 18 years. When I get a job I hang onto it.

Q: How did you get your start in television?

A: I started in radio. My first job was writing local news and doing a sportscast, and I set out from that day to get a national radio show. My wife worked right along with me. We decided that if I were ever going to get a national show, we had to be in New York or Hollywood, so we headed for California. I was a ripe candidate to starve to death. Had I known as much about Hollywood then as I do now, I don't think I would have ever had the nerve to come out here. I didn't have an agent, I didn't have a job and I didn't have a contact of any kind. Eventually ... I got my first television show on a local NBC station. It was called "Your Big Moment." I would say, "Welcome to 'Your Big Moment,' the show that gives you, if you have the talent, your big moment on television." And believe me, we gave a lot of people who didn't have talent their moment on television. That was my first television show -- about 1951 or '52.

Q: What would you say is the biggest change in TV through the years?

A: I think we're going through what is probably the most disgusting period in television that I've seen. It must be getting ratings or they wouldn't have it on. Things that are just in such rare bad taste.

Q: What's it like to have 50 years of history in such a youth-focused industry?

A: I am blessed. The viewers in this country have allowed me to be a guest in their homes for 50 years and it is these viewers who really make the decisions in television. Executives decide which shows get a chance and executives decide who gets a chance to do these shows, but the viewers decide who will last. I owe so much to them and I really feel that I am blessed to have been able to work for 50 years, a half a century, doing something that I completely enjoy.

Q: How many kisses from exuberant "Price" players have you gotten over the years?

A: I would say, including yesterday, I probably have had 932,403 kisses. There's no doubt in my mind that I have been kissed more than anyone in television. Particularly on the right cheek. I've had a minimum on the left cheek. My contestants are always on my right.

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