A former writer for radio variety shows, Mr. Stewart joined the Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions in the mid-1950s. In the next four decades, he masterminded some of the most popular game shows in TV history.
To critics, game shows are crass manifestations of American consumerism and even greed. To fans, who number in the millions, the shows are raw pleasure — a sort of sedentary sport in which Anyman (or woman) is always the star player.
“Bob had the pulse on America,” Fred Wostbrock, co-author of “The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows,” said Saturday in an interview. “He had that skill to come up with a game that . . . anybody can play — word association, how much is the price of an object or who’s telling the truth. They’re actually simple games, if you analyze it.”
In 2010, Mr. Stewart was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’s Hall of Fame. The award recognized his work on Goodson-Todman programs including “To Tell the Truth” and “Password” and — later in his career, as the head of his own production company — “The $10,000 Pyramid.” The “Pyramid” programs alone racked up nine Emmy Awards, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Mr. Stewart’s success stemmed largely from his powers of observation. In New York, where he worked in his youth as an all-purpose television writer, producer and director, he noticed a certain pattern shared by window shoppers. They would peer into donut shops and delicatessens, point to the item that struck their fancy, then turn to their companions and say: “What do you think it goes for?”
That ritual became the basis for “The Price Is Right.” Mr. Stewart pitched the idea to Goodson-Todman — a titan among game-show production companies — and the show debuted in 1956. It became perhaps Mr. Stewart’s most enduring success, with both daytime and prime-time episodes running for much of the next decade. A revival version hosted by Bob Barker aired from 1972 until Barker’s retirement in 2007, making it the longest-running game show in American history.
“The Price Is Right” exemplified the early years of American game shows. It was an era before flashiness took over television, and when studio audiences were riled into a lather by housewives’ ability to divine the price of Ajax foaming cleanser. More important, in Mr. Stewart’s estimation, were the TV viewers at home.
“Once you cause somebody at home to talk to the set aloud, even by himself or herself, then you’ve got a good game show,” he said in an interview for the Archive of American Television. “Make that person at home yell something. . . . You want them to say ‘It’s number 2! It’s number 2! It’s number 2!’ before the moment of truth comes out.”