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The Price Is Right Experience

I have been a game show contestant on two programs, both of them very different experiences. And I have applied to be a contestant on five others (six if you want to count “Jeopardy!”), which were all very unique and memorable events.

But because of the timing and because of the history of the program, I had to attend a taping of “The Price Is Right” while I was in Los Angeles this past fall. Yesterday, they ran the episode I appeared on, and, spoiler alert: I wasn’t asked by George Gray to “Come On Down!” But I think the experience is worth noting, for the sheer elements of the mechanics.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

When you attend a taping at CBS Television City, like pretty much everything in Los Angeles, you more or less have to drive there. Yes a bus does stop right by there, but, where is it coming from? How many buses do you have to ride to connect with that one?

The paradox is: there’s no convenient parking when you arrive. CBS has its own sprawling lot but that’s for their employees and celebrities that are invited by the productions that are produced there: CBS' own “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” HBO's “Real Time with Bill Maher” and ABC's “Dancing With The Stars” being likely series where that would happen. And the Farmers Market on Fairfax, located just a block from the complex, absolutely does not want game show audience members parking in their lot and they post signs to that effect, especially if you are arriving for an 8am scheduled taping, as I was.

But I didn’t feel like driving around to locate a better place to park the jalopy, and even though the market wasn’t actually open when I arrived (employees were showing up to open their businesses when I came in) I still chose to park there, hoping to validate my ticket later and that if there was a fine, I could cover it with my winnings on the show! Still, it felt like people were giving me a staredown since I had out of state plates and even the diner hadn't yet opened for breakfast as I got out of the car.

There are no bags allowed in the CBS complex so I had to stow my backpack in the trunk and strolled down to the line of people already on the burning hot sidewalk of a mid-80s day, just outside the guardhouse where a security person checks your parking credential to enter the CBS lot.

When you are admitted onto the grounds, you get to walk over to benches in an area, still outside the edifice of the building, but thankfully with shade and ceiling fans, and fill out the boilerplate paperwork: all your personal information, acknowledgement that you understand if you win a prize you are responsible for paying taxes on that prize, and all of the other elements that are required for being on a televised game. Read through that ream of paper, sign and initial in at least five spots apiece and you're done!

Also, there was a little CBS Gift Shop selling T shirts of various shows: “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Late Late Show” and of course “The Price Is Right” being prominently displayed. A captive audience and people hopeful of winning cash or cars definitely made that a popular purchase place, not to mention the kiosk was air-conditioned, so you were compelled to at least enter the shop. And if you enter, you just might buy!

Also air conditioned were the rest rooms with an entrance just beyond the Gift Shop. I really would have been happy to have waited for the show to start, right in the toilet. That’s how hot it was. Of course, I was overdressed. I had on a long sleeved Ralph Lauren deep blue with white polka dot collared shirt, while most everyone else was wearing a t shirt with some clever saying or catch phrase on it.

Next came the name tags. Every audience member wears a tag, written by a CBS page who looks at your paperwork and writes your first name on the pricetag looking sticker, which you then affix to your shirt.

After submitting your paperwork to some other staffer, you get to know your fellow wannabe contestants. I met Paul and Cynthia, a couple who had traveled down from the Pacific Northwest – He was an Oregon Duck and his wife also wore the Yellow and Green though she attended a different university. He even had a Duck wristwatch and an Oregon tattoo on his upper left arm. Very hardcore!

They told me if they didn’t get on this taping, they arranged to come back tomorrow and try again!

And a guy named Anthony became something of a team leader, belting out information for the rest of the group as we slowly creeped towards the building entrance. His T shirt was a still frame of Bob Barker punching Adam Sandler in the stomach from that famed scene in “Happy Gilmore.”

There were two other elements for money making (not for the contestants, but for CBS). First there was a snack bar selling all the typical bar type food and snacks including hot dogs and nachos and a variety of items you would typically see in a vending machine for about half the price. But more personal, a photo shoot occurred with every audience member and you could purchase prints of your shot for 20 bucks apiece. This was especially great for families or class reunions who came to the show together because everybody wanted a picture. I swear, they could pay for the prizes they offer with the money they’re making from these concessions!

There's one born ev'ry minute.

As we scooted down the long benches that surround the exterior of Television City (which they don’t use as the name of this complex on broadcasts anymore, after decades of that famed announcer call: "From Television City in Hollywood!" – Now, it’s simply referenced as “CBS Hollywood”) we were given instruction: stay silent. A producer was starting to interview groups of people, basically 30 at a time, and would call out our name, ask us what we did for a living, and do a question or two back and forth. It all happened so quickly, it was over before it started. It really was mass interview.

I realized I should have said I was a juggling instructor once the two questions I got asked were done. That probably would have gotten more attention from the producer. So, remember kids, if you go on The Price Is Right, make yourself as unique as you possibly can.

We’ve been there since 8 and now it’s about Noon but we’ve moved from the west side of the building around to the south side. We had more sun, more heat and the opportunity to buy snacks from the food kiosk. Those hot dogs smelled pretty rude, so I was not enthused. Then, some dining entertainment for those that sprung for "food." They showed us an episode of the program (as if we hadn’t seen it before). The particular show they ran was one where every contestant wins their pricing game. I guess it was supposed to be inspiration. But the show was from two years earlier, so I suspect that it hadn’t happened since then.

Before entering, we had to have our smartphones confiscated. Apparently, there was a situation that occurred several years ago where a couple of people who figured out the prizes, memorized prices and managed to get exact to the dollar bids on the program. Basically they had managed to figure out how the system worked. Obviously, if you had a phone on you, anyone could google and shout or signal exact prices, too. They put all our phones into a strongbox and we finally entered the studio.

Murals of Red Skelton and Lucille Ball prominently featured as we entered, then walked up flights of stairs to the studio entrance. A glowing pink CBS logo neon sign greeted us, just outside of the Bob Barker Studio.

“Conjunctivitis,” I said aloud, and it got a couple of laughs.

High tempo music blasting from every speaker in the studio as we were directed by pages to our seats. Mine was towards the back but near a large pricetag platform where the models frequently would stand to present a trip to somewhere.

Paul and Cynthia, my Oregon couple, got sent to a different part of the audience, so I wished them luck and we parted ways.

The studio, of course, is much smaller than it appears on TV, with an audience of about 300 or so people. Only nine people are selected to play, per game, so the odds of even getting selected were about 33 to 1, just from a statistical standpoint. But of course the producers were selecting based on who they thought would be most entertaining on the show, so throw those stats out the window!

On stage, camera operators and stagehands were getting things ready, and George Gray, the former host of the syndicated version of “The Weakest Link” (a game I accidentally auditioned for when it was in its NBC Network incarnation with original host, Anne Robinson), appeared and started warming up the audience, asking the typical where are you from, what are you doing here, what do you hope to win if you get on stage, questions.

George, who serves as the show's announcer, went on to explain that someone on stage would hold up a sign with the name of the next contestant because he would butcher the pronunciation and you wouldn’t be able to understand it! And George was basically being Hype Man for Drew Carey, who had still not made an appearance.

Finally, we were ready to start. After George called out the VTR show number and date and slated the program for the network, there was a pause. But then, the crowd was instructed to get loud, get louder! And at our loudest, the program began taping.

“Here it comes! From the Bob Barker Studio in CBS in Hollywood… It’s the Price Is Right!” yelled George into his microphone, then calling out the names of four people in the crowd to “Come On Down!” (a phrase I got to say on a game show myself, once upon a time.) Finally, Drew made his first appearance, walking out of door number three and starting the show.

The thing about this program is that the audience is more visible here than on any other game, so I got to see myself pretty frequently throughout the episode.

Where's Penpusher?

My Oregon couple missed out, just like I did, but Anthony who was being fun before we got inside was indeed selected to Contestant’s Row and won himself on stage.

Anthony and his "Happy Gilmore" shirt... and I'm even in this shot!

We learned that contestants that get called to play but don’t get on stage got a whopping $4000 bucks in cash, which I think was more than a couple of people who did get to play a game won.

In the interim, Drew would converse with interesting people in the audience during the commercial breaks and game set ups making references to the music the DJ played that were so obscure, I felt I was the only person in the studio who understood what he was talking about. But generally everyone was laughing and in a great mood. Drew doesn’t get to use enough of his funny stuff during the program! He comes off sort of dry when you see the televised version of the show, and he's anything but.

Then, just sixty minutes later, the hour was up. A few people won some nice swag, one person took home over $60K in merch, and then there was the small matter of getting out of the studio. Row by row, it was an ordeal.

We were told that they were taping another episode that afternoon and that if some of us wanted to stick around and try our luck to get on that show, we could just double back, no need to fill out more paperwork, just co-mingle on the line and re-enter with the next crowd. But I had an appointment to view “Jimmy Kimmel Live” with the wonderful Kristin Chenoweth, and I had already tweeted her that I was going to be in attendance, so, TPIR was going to have to fall by the wayside.

Still it was neat to see how it all came together, to have participated and to, albeit briefly, be a part of the history of that legendary game.

Of course, by the time I got to escape the building, I was ready to have a meal, so I scrambled over to the Farmer's Market and grabbed a plate of pasta from Buca di Beppo, making sure I got my parking receipt validated, then dashed back to the auto-mobile for my drive up to Hollywood Boulevard and rendezvous with Jimmy Kimmel. As I was exiting the parking lot, instead of sticking the receipt into a machine which would tell me what I owed, there was a parking attendant standing there taking tickets by hand. I gave him the card, he saw it was validated and waved me out! I parked for over six hours there for free! It turned out I was a winner, after all!


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 29th, 2016 05:59 pm (UTC)
This is so awesome. A great post.
Dec. 29th, 2016 06:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading along and commenting! I tried to capture the elements of what being there was like. I know that not many people would want to or would be able to go there. It's a very different and lesser known part of the American Experience.
Dec. 29th, 2016 06:34 pm (UTC)
That's awesome.
Dec. 29th, 2016 06:43 pm (UTC)
Even in not getting on the show, it was a fun ride!
Dec. 30th, 2016 01:29 am (UTC)
I didn't realize they aired TPIR on such a delay.
Dec. 30th, 2016 04:52 am (UTC)
It actually depends on varying factors. For example, they were doing an Halloween episode which they were filming just a couple of days after the episode I attended, so there were only a couple of weeks between taping and airing, in that case.

But most game shows film fairly far in advance depending on when they have a studio free and/or when the host of the show is available. Early in the season is usually the shortest lag time, while the end of a season could be a few months wait time.

Dec. 31st, 2016 05:39 am (UTC)
Today I learned!
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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