Long before anyone knew who Drew Carey was, there was a fella named Bob who hosted a little game show called, “The Price Is Right.”
My grandmother loved and never missed Bob Barker and his game show. Full disclosure, I was a closet fan of the program.
In the 1970s, it wasn’t very manly to admit that during the summer months and on sick days, I looked forward to playing “The Price Is Right” from the long, green velour couch in my parent’s living room.
It was just as uncool to be a Barry Manilow fan — but that’s another newspaper column.
My grandmother likely had something to do with my affection for that game show. During the time the show aired, she would get on the phone with her twin sister and they would discuss the contestant’s guesses and what they thought the correct price for the Showcase Showdown really was.
By my teens, I’d gotten a job at the local Piggly Wiggly and would do everything there from sacking groceries, to running a register, unloading a truck at 3 a.m., or stamping prices on the cans and other products.
That was my favorite thing to do — stamp prices. Before there were bar codes and digital code readers at the registers, there were stock boys like me who walked around with a price stamper putting the correct amount on each and every item. The clerk at the register then had to manually punch in the amount on a mechanical cash register.
With that stamp gun, I felt like someone with authority. I would walk around the store with it in a holster on my hip, ready at a moment’s notice to save a damsel in distress.
Customer: “Excuse me, young man. How much is this can of peas?”
Me: “Ma’am, I’ll take it from here.”
(Whips out price stamper; adjusts dials to read .19 cents; stamps price dead center of top of can; returns can to waiting damsel.)
Me: “Here you go, ma’am. You’ll be fine now.”
Customer: “My hero!”
Well, it didn’t go exactly like that, but that’s how it felt.
My knowledge of product pricing tied in perfectly with “The Price Is Right.” From that long green couch, I would play “The Price Is Right” with the same intellectual precision that smart people play “Jeopardy.”
I was determined that one day I would be on “The Price Is Right” so that my grandmother could see me win a car, an Amana Radar Range, a set of World Book Encyclopedias, or the entire Showcase Showdown.
Flash forward from the 1970s to 1988.
My spouse announced that she was being sent to Irvine, California, to a class that was required for her job. I went to the bookshelf in our home and pulled the latest Rand McNally Road Atlas.
I opened it to California and began searching for Irvine.
Bingo. Just as I had thought. Irvine wasn’t far at all from Studio City, California, where they taped Bob Barker and his show.
I announced that I would tag along on her trip. I was determined to be on “The Price Is Right.”
I made a phone call to CBS Television and asked how it worked. The lady informed me that tickets to the show were free, but that there were only a couple of hundred seats available for each taping, and they were available first-come-first-served.
I asked what time I needed to show up to get in line. She recommended 3:30 a.m.
Just to be sure, I asked her to repeat that. She confirmed 3:30 a.m.
So, after arriving at the airport in Irvine, we rented a car so that I’d have a way to get to Bob Barker’s studio. The next morning, the alarm went off at 2:30. I dressed, put on my favorite shirt, and, with the Rand McNally in the passenger’s seat by my side, I headed into the darkness toward Studio City.
After parking the car and walking three or four blocks to the studio, my heart sank. There were already a lot of people in line for tickets. But, when they opened the ticket window five hours later, I made it. I got my ticket with only a few more people behind me able to secure there’s, too.
They told us to return at 1:30 p.m.
I visited the farmer’s market and other Hollywood landmarks and returned at the appointed time.
Now, here’s what’s interesting about game shows — they don’t work anything like you think they do.
I assumed they drew names out of a hat to determine who got to “Come on down!” But, no. They herded us through a line where we had to go before a sleazy-looking Hollywood producer, who said, “What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you do for a living?” and then he says, “Next!”
If you’re a good-looking woman, a person in your military uniform, or a jovial person of girth, you had a chance to get picked to play the game. If you weighed 145, had a mullet, and weren’t a good-looking woman, a person in the military, or a jovial person of girth, you didn’t.
I obviously didn’t.
However, when it came time to seat us all in the studio (which is incredibly small, by the way), someone came up to me and said, “Please come with me.”
They had a single extra seat on the front row and needed someone to sit in it. Since I was alone, I was put there, right behind all of the contestant spots.
Game shows don’t tape the way you think they do and how they achieve the camera shots and angles is completely different than you expect. You know “The Price Is Right” logo that has the marquee lights that blink in sequence around the name of the show? That whole thing is about 3x5 inches with tiny light bulbs. They just put the camera right on top of it to make it look huge.
They also don’t have three or four stages. They had one. So, when Bob says, “How’d you like to win this?!” The director then yells, “Cut!” and they spend 45 minutes to an hour moving the old items from the stage and then bringing in the new ones. When they’re finished, the director says, “Action!” and they pick right back up.
It looks seamless on TV, but a one-hour show takes about four hours to tape.
I had a great view of the action, and watched one lady win a ton of things, including a new Corvette. But, I didn’t get on the show.
But, that was fine. Because my grandmother got to see her grandson on “The Price Is Right.”
And I still have that Piggly Wiggly price stamper. If I have to whip it out to help a damsel on aisle five with her can of peas, I’m not afraid to use it.
John’s book, “Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now,” is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can reach John through his website at www.TheCountryWriter.com.