In 33 smooch-filled seasons of giving away everything from toasters to Toyotas, Bob Barker has seen more than his share of priceless moments as host of "The Price Is Right."
A contestant once lost her tube top en route to the stage, eliciting thunderous applause. Another sprinted directly from the ladies' room to take her place on Contestant's Row. A model even walked a car straight into the wall -- and that's happened more than once. In each case, taping continued and the show went on as scheduled.
And so the show goes on for the 81-year-old Barker, whose record television longevity continues to grow along with the awards on his mantel: He won his 17th Emmy in April, and last year he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. Barker recently spoke to TV Week from his home near Los Angeles.
"The Price Is Right" is one of the few shows that's pretty evenly popular across all age groups, from students to seniors. What do you think it gets younger people interested?
I can tell you this: It started about 10 years ago with just a group or two coming in from the colleges and universities around Los Angeles. . . . I started mentioning them on the air, and it seemed to give others the idea of making a trek to Los Angeles. Now, when I say "making a trek," I mean we had people come from the Southeast, the Midwest, and now today we have groups coming from the far corners of the United States. . . . It gives the show such energy . . . and the older people in the audience enjoy them as much as the viewers do.
We just started our 34th year, and it's not unusual for us to have in our audience a grandmother, a mother and a child. Sometimes we'll have four generations.
And over the years, you've gotten countless thousands of kisses. Any of them stand out?
Well, I've had a few men kiss me; I remember one who was about 6-3, 6-4, built up -- broad shouldered, big hips, a U.S. marshal, a real man's man -- he just came up there and grabbed me and gave me a kiss. I told him, "If you want to give me a kiss, you go right ahead."
Do you have a personal favorite pricing game, past or present?
I enjoy them all, but Plinko is probably the most popular. The ones that I personally enjoy the most are the games in which I can have fun with the contestants. . . . I like the golf games if I make the putt. But I've been in a slump -- some miserable person absconded with my putter years ago.
So where should contestants place the Plinko chip to maximize their chances of winning cash?
If you drop it in the center, it seems to me -- and I don't know; I'm not an authority on this -- but it seems like you'd have better luck there.
A fan site mentions an incident that happened years ago with a car getting damaged in "Lucky $even" . . .
On "Lucky $even," they push the car on, and the model comes on the air smiling, and she looked at the camera smiling and ran the car right into the wall. . . . We didn't stop tape; I simply asked, "What do you bid on the car with the rumpled fender over there?"
So did the contestant win the car?
If they won, they got a car with a proper fender.
What's the strangest item you can remember having gone up for bids?
Well, I once said, "Why do we give away so many jukeboxes? How many people want a jukebox?" I was the only one in the room that didn't want to have one; the contestants love them. . . . We give away gazebos. I have a nice big lawn, but I don't particularly want a gazebo.
Suppose someone has a ticket to be in the studio audience. Any insider tips on how to make it onto Contestant's Row?
We have our contestant coordinator go out and interview everyone in the line. He isn't looking for any list of qualifications; he's looking primarily for someone with whom he thinks I can have fun. Beyond that, he wants someone who acts as if he or she would be able to play the game well.
Anyone who's watched the show knows about "Barker's Beauties." But has there ever been any thought to using guys as models? "Barker's Beaus," perhaps?
People in the audience will sometimes ask me that, and I tell them, "Are you out of your mind? Do you think I'm stupid enough to have some good-looking guy in a Speedo back here behind me when I want people looking at me?"
What's the secret to your longevity?
For any of us, staying alive begins with your genes . . . and if you're blessed with the right genes, you have a pretty good chance. As you get older, there's no substitute for exercise and nutrition. If you eat the right things and exercise, you keep your mind and body functioning.
You've been a game show host for almost five full decades now. How much longer do you think you'll stay at it?
For the last 10 or 12 years, every year I've thought, "Well, I better hang it up" . . . but then I think, "One more year." I've been doing it one more year for 12 years.
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The vitals on Bob Barker:
Date of birth: Dec. 12, 1923
Hometown: Darrington, Wash.
Family: Wife of 36 years, Dorothy Jo, died of lung cancer in 1981. No children.
Pets: A dog, Jesse, and two rabbits: Mr. Rabbit and Honey Bunny.
Television: In 1956, took over hosting the game show "Truth or Consequences." Has hosted "The Price Is Right" since 1972. Show's 34th season begins Sept. 19.
Movies: Barker played himself in the 1996 Adam Sandler movie "Happy Gilmore."