The Price Is Right was an American game show hosted by Bill Cullen which aired on NBC from 1956–1963 and on ABC from 1963-1965 in both daytime and prime time. Four contestants made successive bids on merchandise prizes with the goal of bidding closest to the actual retail price of the prize without going over.
Bill Cullen hosted both the daytime and nighttime versions of the show. For two seasons (1959–1961), the nighttime version was eighth in the prime-time Nielsen ratings, making it the most-watched game show on television at the time. Cullen's easygoing personality was cited as a key part of the show's success. The show gained popularity during the years following the quiz show scandal, becoming the most-watched prime-time game show from 1959 to 1961.
The show was a precursor to the current and best-known version of the show, premiering in 1972 on CBS and in syndication.
On the original version of The Price Is Right, four contestants (one a returning champion, the other three chosen from the studio audience) bid on items or ensembles of items in an auction-style format.
A prize was presented for the contestants to bid on with a minimum bid specified. After the opening bid was made, contestants bid on the item in turn with each successive bid a certain amount higher than the previous bid. Instead of increasing their bid, a contestant could freeze their current bid on their turn if he/she believed his/her bid was close enough to win. A later rule added allowed contestants, on their opening bid only, to "underbid" the other bids, but this automatically froze their bid and prevented them from later increasing the original bid. Also, some rounds were one-bid rounds, where only one round of bidding was held, and sometimes the minimum bid and higher bid threshold rules were also waived.
The bidding process continued until a time's up buzzer sounded, at which point each contestant who had not yet "frozen" was given one final bid, or at least three of the contestants had frozen. The fourth contestant was allowed one final bid, unless he/she already had the high bid. Cullen then read the actual retail price of the prize; the contestant whose bid was closest without going over won the item. If everyone overbid, the prize was not won; however, Cullen sometimes had the overbids erased and instructed everyone to give lower bids prior to reading the actual price.
Frequently, a bell rang after the winner was revealed, indicating a bonus prize accompanied the item up for bids. While this was frequently simply an additional prize, a bonus game often accompanied the prize (e.g., a tune-matching game, where a clip of a well-known song was played and the contestant matched it with a face for a cash bonus).
After a set number of rounds (four on the nighttime version, six on the daytime), the contestant who accumulated the most money in cash and prizes became the champion and returned on the next show.
During the ABC run of the show, Celebrities came on as contestants and played against the three civilian contestants (one a returning champion) while trying to win prizes for a home viewer or studio audience member.
Even if they win the game, celebrities can only play for one day/night although they can come back for a future appearance. So if the celebrity did manage to win the most, then the contestant with the highest total of all the civilians came back as the champion.
Home Viewer "Showcases"Edit
The Price Is Right frequently featured a home viewer "Showcase", a multi-prize package for which home viewers were invited to submit their bids via postcard. The viewer who was closest to the actual retail price without going over won everything in the Showcase, but one item was sometimes handmade so the viewer could not check the price of all the items. The term "Showcase" would, in time, be replaced by "sweepstakes".
Very often, home viewers were stunningly accurate with their bids, including several viewers who guessed the price correct down to the penny. In such a case, the tied contestants were informed and asked to give the price of a stated item; this continued until one of the contestants broke the tie (re-ties and all-overbids were thrown out).
The Showcases remain in today's CBS version (including the phrase "This Showcase can be yours if The Price Is Right"), while Home Viewer Showcases were done for a time in the 1980s (including to-the-penny guesses).
While many of the prizes on the original Price Is Right were normal, standard game show fare (e.g., furniture, appliances, home electronics, furs, trips, and cars), there were many instances of outlandish prizes being offered. This was particularly true of the nighttime version, which had a larger prize budget.
- A 1926 Rolls-Royce with chauffeur
- A Ferris wheel
- Shares of corporate stock
- An island in the St. Lawrence Seaway
Sometimes, large amounts of food (such as a mile of hot dogs along with buns and enough condiments (perhaps to go with a barbecue pit)) were offered as the bonus.
Some other examples of outlandish or "exceptionally unique" bonus prizes:
- Accompanying a color TV, a live peacock (a play on the NBC logo) to serve as a "color guide".
- Accompanying a barbecue pit and the usual accessories, a live Angus steer.
- Accompanying a prize package of items needed to throw a backyard party, big band legend Woody Herman and His Orchestra.
- Accompanying a raccoon coat worth $29.95, a sable coat valued at $23,000.
- A bonus prize of a 16x32' in-ground swimming pool, installed in the winner's back yard in one day's time.
- A bonus prize of a trip to Israel to appear as an extra in the 1960 film Exodus. (Both offered on the January 13, 1960 airing.)
In the early 1960s, the dynamic of the national economy was such that the nighttime show could offer homes in new subdivisions (sometimes fully furnished) as prizes, sometimes with truly suspenseful bidding among the contestants.
In the last two seasons of the nighttime run, the series gave away small business franchises (like a take-out fried chicken establishment or a mobile dry-cleaning operation).
In some events, the outlandish prizes were merely for show; for instance, contestants may bid on the original retail price for a 1920's car, but would instead win a more contemporary model.