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.