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“Come on down!”: 50 years of “The Price Is Right”

To this day, there are few places on TV, or anywhere else, where people can express such public displays of affection

If you don’t watch your back backstage at “The Price is Right,” with everything on the move – games, prizes, especially cars – and pushed into place, the price you pay just might be a limb. But despite the controlled chaos of CBS’ oldest game show, “Sunday Morning” correspondent Lee Cowan found host Drew Carey just minutes before air as calm as he can be.

The Big Wheel goes for a spin, in preparation for “The Price Is Right.” CBS NEWS

“What kind of prep do you do?” Cowan asked,

“None!” he laughed. “I don’t do any prep. There’s no prep. As soon as the door opens, I know just what to do, and I’m ready to go.”

Carey has made the show his own, despite the fact it had been on TV for 50 seasons. Bob Barker was the first host, starting back in 1972. Think about that: Richard Nixon was President, Jane Fonda was taking home her first Oscar, and Barker was giving away brand-new cars that cost less than $3,000

To this day, there are few places on TV, or anywhere else, where people can express such public displays of affection.

Game show winners’ public displays of affection for hosts Bob Barker (left) and Drew Carey. CBS NEWS

Carey said, “I don’t take it for granted.”

“Even after all this time?” asked Cowan.

“No, are you kidding me? It’s playing games all day!”

The show’s fans are some of the most loyal in the galaxy of game shows in our orbit. Energy and persistence is the key. Take Rosendo Alvarez. He’s been to 180 tapings of “The Price is Right.” That’s a record.

Cowan asked him, “What kept you coming back?”

“Just for the fun of it,” Alvarez replied.

He’s made it onto stage twice. The last time, winning big. 

His dedication was enough to break “The Price Is Right”‘s attendance record … and when he was FINALLY picked to “come on down,” Alvarez won – big!

Rosendo Alvarez wins a car! CBS NEWS

That’s part of “The Price Is Right”‘s charm: unlike reality TV, few here really root for anyone to lose, especially the cast.

Rachel Reynolds and Manuela Arbelaez are two of the show’s models: “One thing Drew always says is, it’s not our money!” Reynolds laughed. “But he’s right! He’ll say it on TV, ‘It’s not my money, I hope you win it all,’ you know?”

The show’s male models represent one of the big updates in the last 50 years. “We have a lot of viewers that like Devon and James right now, yeah!” Reynolds laughed.

But the biggest change, of course, was the host.  Bob Barker had been at the helm of “The Price Is Right” for 35 years when he finally decided to retire, in 2007. 

“I never met anybody who had a job that long,” laughed Carey. “It’s, like, unheard of anymore.”

Carey remembers meeting Barker at the legendary old Hollywood haunt Musso & Frank to discuss the very real fear that when Barker left, “The Price Is Right” might feel all wrong.

Cowan asked, “Does that all seem like ancient history to you now? That big transition and everyone talking about it?”

Drew Carey, host of “The Price Is Right” for the last 15 years. CBS NEWS

“Yeah, it does,” Carey replied. “But at the same time, every day, it’s ‘From the Bob Barker Studio,’ and people still show up with Bob Barker, his pictures on their shirts.”

At the time, Barker was practically Hollywood royalty. Carey was a blue-collar comic from Cleveland. Getting paid to give away prizes that, growing up, he could never imagine affording is still a little surreal: “When you’re a guy in Cleveland that’s just a regular guy, you can only dream of so much, realistically. Nobody in my neighbourhood had a lot of money. If anybody ever said they got a new car, you would say, ‘Oh yeah? What year is it?'”

Carey has always been funny on the outside, ever since he was a kid. “When I was younger, I would memorize joke books ‘2000 Insults For All Occasions’ was one of the big ones that I had!”

But he was struggling on the inside. A self-described nerd as a teen, he said he was plagued with self-doubt and unworthiness.

“I had two suicide attempts when I was younger, when I was like, 18,” Carey said. “I was, like, really depressed and lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. Even in junior high, I would walk through the hall and instead of saying ‘Excuse me,’ I would say, ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘Sorry, sorry,’ like, I was sorry for existing.”

He dropped out of college and joined the Marine Reserves. “When I was in boot camp, I was so excited to be part of a thing, you know, I got a lot of pride back into myself. They could yell all they wanted, I didn’t care! I was just so happy to be part of this, like, I was part of this big thing, and I was doing it.”

His later successes are well-documented. Johnny Carson made him a standup standout:

“I’m the only one that still looks like his graduation picture, though, so I’m pretty happy. I know it’s funny and everything, I just don’t think looking like this was worth that one joke …”

Nine seasons of “The Drew Carey Show” made him a sitcom sensation. Cowan asked, “Why do you think that show lasted as long as it did?”

“Oh man, management at ABC?” Carey laughed. 

And then, the game show “Whose Line Is It Anyway” made him realize just being himself was all it took. “I didn’t start out doing standup and think, I’m gonna have my own sitcom someday. I couldn’t even dream of it. I couldn’t even think of that, much less ‘The Price Is Right.'”

Cowan asked, “Do you ever pinch yourself that all this has happened?”

“All the time! It’s crazy, all the time!” Carey replied. 

So, here’s to another 50 years for a TV time capsule, and to Average Joes everywhere who, on “The Price Is Right,” can win big … including the host.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd ….. YES! CBS NEWS

Don’t miss the 50th season celebration of “The Price Is Right” with a special primetime episode Thursday, September 30 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

images: CBS