We interrupt Danny Miller’s obsessive ravings about his family and his blog for this important announcement: there are people in this town who are more insane than he is.
I’m writing this from my usual perch at Farmer’s Market in L.A., right next door to CBS studios, or Television City as it has been called with great fanfare since it opened in 1952. For weeks now, people have been lining up on Fairfax, camping out in front of the building in sleeping bags and tents, hoping to snag a seat for Bob Barker’s final episode of “The Price Is Right” which is taping this afternoon. I’ve been watching this village emerge outside of CBS with disbelief. The corner of Fairfax and Beverly is starting to look like the area around Woodstock in 1969. There are cots and folding chairs, posters, memorabilia, and Bob Barker shrines as far as the eye can see. This morning I even saw a couple on a queen-sized mattress they somehow shlepped to the line (what are they going to do with it if they get into the taping?). At the moment I am surrounded by “Price Is Right” hopefuls who have been dispatched to Farmer’s Market to pick up coffee and donuts and other forms of sustenance. Everyone is wearing a homemade t-shirt that pays homage to their hero. “Bob Barker is Da Man,” “Canada Hearts Bob Barker,” “Come on Down!” and the ever popular “Bob Barker for President!” Hey, why not? His vigilant animal rights activism might scare off some voters but he’s got the looks, the hair, the suits, the name recognition, and even a few sexual harassment lawsuits going for him. I say he’s the perfect candidate.
I haven’t watched “The Price Is Right” since I was in high school, but I wouldn’t begrudge Bob Barker any of the accolades he’ll be getting this afternoon. He’s won 17 Emmy Awards and is the longest-running host of a game show in TV history. Bob Barker began his reign on my thirteenth birthday, September 4, 1972, the same day that Mark Spitz won his 7th Gold Medal in the Munich Olympics. Elsewhere that day, the Vietnam War was raging, the Washington Post was reporting about a $25,000 cashier’s check earmarked for the Nixon campaign that somehow landed in the bank account of the one of the Watergate burglars, and a jubilant Richard Nixon was trouncing George McGovern in the polls. In an ever-changing and increasingly dangerous world, Bob Barker has remained a comforting constant.
If you could see the roving bands of Bob Barker groupies I’m looking at right now, you might think they were members of a cult. They don’t look all that different from the glassy-eyed Scientologists who troll the streets of nearby Hollywood looking for new marks. Not that the Barker fans are proselytizing, I’m sure they’re very nice people who simply want to pay homage to their God before he disappears from their daily lives. Believe it or not, people have come from all over the world for today’s taping (the show will air on June 15th). “If they offered me $10,000 for my ticket, I’d say take a hike,” said 24-year-old Philip Barrett of Tampa, Florida. “This is the chance of a lifetime!” Melanie Zepeda Velez, 32, came all the way from Alberta, Canada, to attend the last show. “I'm here because I need to kiss Bob,” she said. I feel sorry for the fans that won’t get into the taping after all this trouble. There are only 325 seats in the studio so there are plenty of people who won’t get one of the coveted spots. I hope that doesn’t produce rioting in the streets. Bob Barker ends every “Price Is Right” broadcast with the phrase, “Have your pets spayed and neutered,” referring to one of his favorite causes. “I want to hear when Bob Barker says it for the last time,” said Barrett. “The audience is going to lose it. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.” Oy. I admit I’m surprised to see that so many of the uber-fans camped out in their sleeping bags are so young—I assumed most of the show’s viewers were middle-aged housewives.
I used to be a big fan of game shows. I remember walking home for lunch every day during grammar school. We’d watch 20 minutes of “Bozo’s Circus” on WGN and then switch to ABC for 20 minutes of “Let’s Make a Deal” before we had to head back to school. (God forbid we should spend five minutes at home without the TV on.) Other favorites during those years included “I’ve Got a Secret,” “To Tell the Truth,” “The Newlywed Game,” “Concentration,” “Password,” “Hollywood Squares,” “Family Feud,” and “The Gong Show.” I think the best game show of all time was the long-running “What’s My Line” with the brilliant Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, and Dorothy Kilgallen, and the most intelligent host on TV, John Charles Daly. I know I’ll write more one day about that show. And I recently mentioned my love of “Match Game,” starring our wonderful Charles Nelson Reilly, Brett Somers, and a bunch of witty panelists, most of whom I’ve met in Kendall’s mother’s living room. I just taped 23 episodes (!) of “Match Game” this weekend as part of the Game Show Network’s tribute to Charles.
Watching the crowds turn Television City into what looks like a refugee camp, I can’t help but think of my first trip into those hallowed halls. When my parents’ marriage was breaking apart in the early 1970s we were shuttled off to Los Angeles one summer to stay with my dad’s best friend, TV writer Sam Bobrick. Sam’s show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” also shot here, had just been cancelled because of one too many flare-ups with the CBS censors. Sam arranged for us to go to a taping at Television City starring a pal from his previous show, “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” Not many people remember “The Jim Nabors Hour” which ran from 1969 to 1971 but in the kind of sidebar that I find interesting even if no one else does, we just spent an evening with one of the regulars on that show, singer/actress Karen Morrow, at an impromptu gathering at my mother-in-law’s house after Charles died. The two were good friends. I described the Jim Nabors show that we were at (Juliet Prowse was the guest star) and Karen remembered it well. That was my first time in a TV studio and I was thrilled. I remember accosting even members of the audience for their autographs, including a man we thought was actor Ken Berry but was really a dancer from “The Carol Burnett Show” on a break from filming. I walked through the halls of the studio peeking in at the sets for iconic shows of the era such as “All in the Family” (featuring alumni from the Smothers Brothers show, Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner), “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour,” and “The Merv Griffin Show” which we also attended. “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “One Day at a Time,” and of course, “Match Game” were all shot in the very studio where Bob Barker will be making his last appearance this afternoon.
I still don’t fully understand all the hoopla over Barker leaving “The Price Is Right.” “I’d rather win a couch from Bob Barker than a million dollars from Howie Mandel,” said Mark Dub, a NASA engineer who flew from Houston for the final show. “He's part of American culture.”
Good luck in retirement, Bob. I might consider voting for you for President, but, um…I'll take the million bucks over the couch.