"Come on down!"

This famous line, used by Rod Roddy when introducing a new contestant on The Price Is Right, is well known by all fans of American game shows. The Price Is Right is the king of that genre, entering its 30th season in 2001 and taping its 5,000th episode in 1998. The show has not changed very much during its whole run. Throughout its history, it has always offered price guessing games that make the audiences in the studio and at home holler suggestions to the players at the top of their lungs.

Bob Barker is the host of The Price Is Right, while the equally alliterative Rod Roddy is the show's announcer. Barker's Beauties, a group of particularly attractive young women, introduce the show's prizes. Because the show runs during the daytime, it does not have the huge budget found in shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The set does not look very modern, and Barker still holds a skinny microphone in his hands. Regardless, the show offers very lucrative prizes and the studio audience is always packed.

This show's innovative style is one of the greatest reasons for its continual success. The contestants are selected at random from the members of the audience and are told to "Come on down". Each contestant must then "bid" on an item introduced by Barker and whoever comes closest to its actual retail price without going over is the winner. They go on to play another game in addition to winning the item they guessed the price of. It's not uncommon to see the last contestant to bid one dollar if they think that the other contestants have gone over. This assures that they don't overshoot, and if everyone else does go over, they automatically win. If a contestant guesses the exact retail price, they are given an extra cash bonus.

After winning the preliminary bidding game, the contestant goes on to a game where they can win more money and prizes. These games are perhaps the most famous part of The Price Is Right. In the various types of games, people will have to guess prices, sink golf shots, and display good shopping abilities in order to succeed. In Plinko, for instance, players drop chips into a huge pachinko-style machine and are rewarded for high scores. In other games, people are given a certain amount of money to spend and must buy as many items as they can. They cannot, of course, see the prices of the items before they buy them. There are six such rounds during a show, and contestants who don't win the bidding session keep trying until they win or the show ends. When a player wins and is taken out, another contestant from the audience takes their place.

Once all six winners have been determined and they have played their bonus games, it's time for more fun: the big wheel. A huge wheel with numbers in between 1 and 100 is put up on the set. Each number represents an amount of money in cents. The object is to use two spins to make it to one dollar without going over. If a contestant's first spin is high, they can elect to stop or risk spinning again and going over one dollar. The group of winners is divided into the first three and the last three, and the winner of each smaller group goes into the final round, known as the showcase showdown. Players who get one dollar exactly are rewarded with cash and more spins, giving them the opportunity to add even more to their fortunes.

The showcase showdown has great prizes. One typical prize might be a trip for two to the Bahamas, your own fishing boat, and luggage or various other smaller prizes. There are only two contestants left at this point. Whoever did better in the big wheel game is shown the first showcase and can decide to bid on that one or pass it on to their opponent. There is a second showcase that is completely different from the first. Both contestants will then guess at the total price of their respective showcases, and whoever gets the closest without going over wins theirs. If a contestant's guess is extremely close to the actual value, they win both showcases.

At the conclusion of each show, Barker reminds his viewers to have their pets spayed or neutered. He's been reminding audiences of this for years, and will probably be reminding them for years to come. The Price Is Right has enjoyed more success than any other game show in American history. Though it doesn't have the huge prizes of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and its variants, The Price Is Right and its huge fan base are sure to be around well after the prime time game show fad has disappeared.

Very few of the screaming college students in the audience for today's "Price Is Right" remember the original version. A half-hour game show starring Bill Cullen with announcer Don Pardo, it premiered on NBC's daytime schedule on November 26, 1956 and moved to ABC in 1963, where it ran until September 3, 1965. It also ran in prime time from 1957 to 1964.

This version was essentially the Contestants' Row portion of the modern "Price Is Right," repeated several times with the same four contestants bidding on several different prizes or prize packages during the half hour, with the winner of each bidding round being, as today, the contestant who came closest to the actual retail price without going over. While some items were "one-bids," most involved going through the contestants in turn while they either bid higher than all previous bids or said "freeze" to lock in a bid as their final guess. After Bill announced which contestant had won, a bell would often go off, meaning that there was a surprise bonus prize included, usually cuing the contestant to go into hysterics.

Many of the items up for bid were fairly expensive, especially on the nighttime version, where they gave away Cadillacs, Cessnas, and even real estate and stocks ("the price of these shares is based on today's closing price on the New York Stock Exchange").

Another popular feature was the occasional Home Viewer Showcase, in which a group of seven or eight prizes was shown and described. Viewers were invited to send in their bid for the total price to the nearest penny, and the viewer who was closest without going over won the showcase. If more than one viewer was correct, the winner was determined by random drawing. That apparently happened more often than not, since it was obviously possible for the viewers to research the prices of the showcase prizes.

If any of the aforementioned college students have heard of this version, it's probably because they accidentally ran across a rerun on Game Show Network. Although it ran in color for many years, only about 70 black-and-white kinescopes are known to exist, and only one of those is a daytime episode.

The revival with its new format and new host Bob Barker premiered on CBS on September 4, 1972 (same day as "The Joker's Wild"), and was titled "The New Price Is Right" for the first couple of years. At first, it was a half hour, with only three contestants playing the on-stage pricing games, and with the two top winners competing for the showcases.

The hour-long format debuted on December 1, 1975, to compete against the new hour-long format of NBC's "Wheel of Fortune." "Wheel" soon went back to the standard half hour, but "The Price Is Right" thrived at twice the length. Since then, the only changes to the show were when it moved into the 11:00 A.M. Eastern time slot on April 23, 1979, when original announcer Johnny Olson died in 1985, and various replacements of various Barker's Beauties for various reasons, only some of which were lawsuit-related. It has been the only network daytime game show airing in the United States since "Caesars Challenge" last aired on NBC on January 14, 1994.

This version also ended up briefly in prime time, on Thursday nights at 8:00 P.M. in the late summer of 1986, when CBS was desperately trying to counter the juggernaut of NBC's "The Cosby Show."

There have been several half-hour syndicated versions of "The (New) Price Is Right" airing concurrently with the CBS version. Dennis James hosted one from 1972 to 1976, replaced by Bob Barker, who did double duty until 1979. Tom Kennedy hosted another version in the 1985-86 season, and soap opera actor Doug Davidson was host of yet another version that aired in the 1994-95 season.

Game Show Network has rerun old Bob Barker episodes, but because of Barker's current animal rights beliefs, is prohibited from airing episodes in which fur coats were offered as prizes. (As of this writing, they don't own the rights to rerun any version of "The Price Is Right," despite having the rights to every other Goodson-Todman show. Apparently, there were two separate contracts and the one covering "Price Is Right" was not renewed.)

CBS airs reruns of the 1972-75 half-hour episodes on rare occasions.

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