One of the highlights for me in the summer of 2022 involved traveling to Los Angeles on behalf of the National Archives of Game Show History, The Strong’s initiative to preserve the story of that significant piece of American popular culture. Through the incredible connections of Bob Boden, one of the co-founders of the archives, while I was in L.A. I had the opportunity to attend the filming of an episode of The Price Is Right. While I didn’t get a chance to “come on down” as one of the on-air contestants, I still had a great time and learned a lot in the process.
To begin with, I quickly appreciated why The Price Is Right stands among the elite game shows on television, having successfully endured and evolved for an amazing half century since its premiere in September 1972. If you’re of my generation, you probably remember days home sick from school watching longtime host Bob Barker lead contestants through the series of games-within-the-game that winnow the group down to a final pair who compete for the Showcase part of the program. The studio audience always exhibited incredible enthusiasm, something that remains a feature of the show, even if the size of the audience this summer was substantially diminished by COVID protocols. The upside is that, with fewer people in the audience, the odds of being selected as a contestant are dramatically improved.
Because I was with a Hollywood insider, prior to seeing the show, I had the chance to tour the vast backstage areas of Television City Studios, the former home of CBS and the Bob Barker studio, where The Price Is Right has taped for more than five decades. The studios have also housed scripted programs, from All in the Family in the 1970s to current soaps like The Young and the Restless. I’m used to impressing behind-the-scenes visitors to The Strong with the museum’s sizable collection storage areas, but they can’t compare to the sheer acreage of indoor space that I saw across multiple floors of the studio. Beyond the generic set elements and props staged for future use, I found myself in the storage area for past and present Price Is Right games, a veritable forest of painted plywood structures. Games like Pay the Rent and One Away stood with dozens of others, waiting in the wings to be called back into duty on an upcoming episode.
My backstage tour also included glimpses of the slew of skilled specialists required to put together a game show, from the builders who fabricate set elements to the technological wizards and electrical experts who craft onscreen effects, be they analog or digital. I even got to see prize packages waiting to be rolled onto the Price Is Right set and more than one NEW CAR! that a lucky contestant might win.
After all our wanderings around the studio, it was suddenly time to get into our seats and let the show begin. Talented warm-up guy George Gray skillfully engaged the audience and boosted the already high energy level to something just a little south of a frenzy (in a fun way). With the audience suitably warmed up and excited, the cameras started rolling, host Drew Carey made his entrance, and the real fun was underway. I admired the equanimity with which the contestants faced the ups and downs of the game, retaining their enthusiasm and exhibiting good sportsmanship even when they weren’t big winners.
Each of them seemed to feel that, whatever else happened, they had already won just to have the chance to appear onstage and compete. And I understood that feeling when I had the chance to get my photo snapped with Drew (who was utterly gracious, by the way).
Since that visit, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to collect two Price Is Right games—Any Number and Buy or Sell—for The Strong’s collection. Those games will now be preserved as part of the National Archives of Game Show History and will wait for their turn in the spotlight when the museum opens a major exhibit about game shows in 2025. I may not have gone away with cash and prizes from my Los Angeles trip, but I came back to Rochester with a renewed appreciation for why The Price Is Right fandom bridges generations and more thrilled than ever about The Strong’s part in preserving game show history.