In Bob Barker's Shoes, Carey Doesn't Stumble

Drew Carey's best move as
Drew Carey's best move as "Price Is Right" host: Staying out of contestants' way. (By Kevork Djansezian -- Associated Press)
By Tom Shales
Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Drew Carey got through his first morning as new host of CBS's "The Price Is Right" without, as they say, "incident." Actually, a little incident might have helped. For all the hype surrounding Carey's selection as host, his debut in the role yesterday was conspicuously lacking a sense of event.

It could have been any old day's edition of the popular game show, replete with the same old tacky graphics at the outset; many an American 12-year-old could do a more sophisticated and artful job on their home computers. The big difference on this day of days was, of course, that Carey occupied the spot owned for 35 years by the likable and oddly dignified Bob Barker, the James Bond of game show hosts. Barker brought a suave, urbane authority to the job. He always seemed a little too good for the gig, whereas Carey, even though he previously starred in his own prime-time sitcom, comes across as being just good enough.

Rocket science, it is not. Essentially all Carey had to do on his first sailing was get the rules straight on the various carnival-midway games that make up the show ("One Away," "Cliffhangers") without fumbling or having a meltdown. He must also be careful not to get between a contestant and a prize and risk, despite his ample girth, being mowed down as winners rush to embrace their booty.

He must, in short, keep in mind that it's the contestants and fabulous prizes -- and not the host -- that are the show. They're what viewers tune in to see.

The contestants on Carey's first day comported themselves in time-tested, hysterical "Price Is Right" style, stopping just short of frothing at the mouth or rending their garments when scoring a victory. The first competitor, a hefty man named Bernard, charged over to the Jeep Wrangler on which he was bidding and left Carey standing alone without so much as a Plinko board to keep him company. And when Bernard won the Jeep, he plopped right into it as if about to drive it off the stage.

Moments later, a spunky little spitfire named Aura was so overcome at being onstage that she did a cartwheel in front of an amused Carey. The tacky motif was carried through when giant, green, glittery numbers -- "$16,000" -- were dropped down from the rafters, Aura's take if she could guess the prices of an Aspercreme patch and a package of Little Debbie Snack Cakes. She did, and that sent her into another fit, collapsing in a heap on the floor -- not unconscious but just stupefied at the thrill of it all.

Carey was as much spectator as performer. He lacks, at least so far, the ability to control the contestants and keep them from wandering out of camera range during their euphoric conniptions, leaving what might be considered the host's sphere of influence. Carey is something of a sphere himself; when he first came out from the wings at the start of the show, he brought to mind the giant mechanical peacekeeper that went haywire in the first minutes of the movie "RoboCop."

At least Carey isn't as intrusively chatty as he is when hosting "Power of 10," his prime-time game show on CBS. On that show, Carey's duties seem to include giving away as little prize money as possible, something he accomplishes by yammering on about himself and making the occasional slight joke.

"I used to have a Jeep Wrangler," Carey told first contestant Bernard. "Real fun car." That was an unpleasantly ominous sign that Carey would be trying to force his autobiography, in driblets, on the audience. But he pulled back and did little gratuitous babbling as the show went on. He actually should have talked more about the rules of the games-within-the-game for the contestants and us folks at home (for the record, and sadly enough, the Plinko board never did make an appearance).

The announcer said in his opening ballyhoo that the show originates "from the Bob Barker Theater" at CBS's Television City in Los Angeles -- and during the show, Carey said that one of the games was a Barker invention -- so the iconic former host still hovers over "The Price Is Right" and its various "showcases" of fabulous prizes.

Meanwhile, the commercials that interrupted the prize-giving offered a fairly clear picture of the typical "Price Is Right" viewer: There were two ads for competing brands of motorized wheelchairs (one offering "a free home test-drive"), as well as commercials for Medicare supplemental insurance, a drug to treat chronic bronchitis, a new hearing-aid wonder and medicated goo "for skin that looks too young for menopause."

Carey made few joking remarks during the show, but when he did, they were always followed by his loud, girlish giggle, which could get annoying after the first five or 10 years. For now, despite a strangely subdued start, "The Price Is Right" appears to be in respectful, capable and worthy hands.

The Price Is Right airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on Channel 9.

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