Host With the Most: The Cult of Bob Barker

By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 9, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- "The Price Is Right" without Bob Barker could mean something profound to a lard-butt nation. Either he gets a life or you do. Maybe both.

Barker is 83 now. He's essentially the longest, oldest, most continuous anything on the air. At a recent taping of the game show in the spangly-sparkly CBS studio long ago named in his honor, he is wearing one of his perfectly fitted navy blue suits and a periwinkle blue tie. His face, neck and hands are layered in stage makeup the hue of pulverized Nevada, so much that you're not sure where it ends and the man begins. His hair (hair?) is snow white; he stopped dyeing it many seasons ago in a nod to the inevitable. "What are you going to do after [you retire]?" an audience member shouts out during a commercial break.

"Well, I plan to do a little more drinking," Barker deadpans.

* * *

Rich, what's the next item up for bid?

"Bob, it's this lovely floor clock!"

Wooooo, goes the audience, and then shouts bids to the lucky four on contestants' row.

Nobody wants a grandfather clock, not really. They want the grandfather figure, who keeps five $100 bills in his left coat pocket.

Winning the stuff is not necessarily winning: A 36-year-old woman in Phoenix, according to the Arizona Republic, is trying to sell a baby grand piano she won on a February episode, because she owes between $6,000 and $12,000 in taxes on her total take (which included six nights in Puerto Vallarta and a dinette set), when really what she most wanted was to kiss Barker on the cheek before he's gone (which she did). A Lee's Summit, Mo., couple, both public school teachers, tried in vain to raise $44,000 to pay the income and sales taxes on an $86,743 Dodge Viper the wife won on the show. "It's something you love and you can't keep," she told the Kansas City Star. "It's just one of those things that came from Bob."

In the first week of June, Barker will tape his last episode of "The Price Is Right," turning over the hosting job, which has been his for 35 seasons since the show's relaunch in 1972, to an as-yet-unchosen successor. (And then what? How do you feel about Mario Lopez in the job? John O'Hurley? What about George Hamilton? Ambivalent, right?)

The network will air two nights of a prime-time Barker retrospective and fete on May 16 and 17, and is asking fans to post 15-second farewell greetings on YouTube for possible broadcast.

About 5 1/2 million viewers tune in on an average day. People wait outside for as long as 18 hours for one of 325 seats in the audience; nine of them will be picked to play. In some deviation from the science of television demographics, the most devoted fans are not merely the busloads of church-permed, AARP-aged minxes, but, more intensely, legions of college kids in flip-flops.

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