Friday, November 03, 2006

Come on down

I think we're all a little bit saddened by Bob Barker's announcement that he'll be leaving The Price Is Right this summer. It's hard to argue with a guy - 35 years at the same place and half a century in the biz? He's earned it, surely.

I've watched the show on and off for the better part of my life (and I realize that there are people out there who have been longer or more hardcore fans - or maybe both - than me). As a kid, it was a special treat when we had a weekday off from school. Later on, it was something to tune into if I was tired of listening to CNN.

But after my sophomore year of college, the show meant more to me. I was fortunate enough to attend a taping. Their schedule happened to coincide with my cousin's wedding in Ventura, Calif., and I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. My parents were cool with it, so we ventured south to Burbank early one day to CBS' Television City.

I can't remember why or when, but I took a quick walk around the neighborhood. I was struck by the fairly normal apartment buildings, which weren't too large - four stories maybe - and had architecture and colors that I would have expected to find in Miami. I wondered what it was like to live so close to Television City, but then I figured those people were like the folks who live within a few blocks of the Capitol or near old Boston or within spitting distance of the St. Louis Arch.

This is over a decade ago, so bear with me - my memory of the more important details is far better.

We arrived around 8 or so, if I remember right, and the line to get in was already quite long. The lines were in two long columns, with seats on one side. We got in line and waited and waited and waited – the first taping wasn’t until 1 p.m.

In the meantime, some network folks asked us to come preview a pilot for them. They promised we would keep our spots in line if we came, so we decided to do just that – anything to make the time pass. We walked into a screening room and were handed a little remote control-type device with a red button and a green button. If we saw or heard something funny, we were told to push the green button; if we didn’t like it, we were to push the red button.

Moreover, the people in charge told us, we shouldn’t worry about offending them or anyone in the room. And that was a good thing – the show pretty much sucked. It was some lame sitcom with a family of one type or another living in a sweaty, blue-collar apartment in New York. Ho-hum. My remote didn’t get much of a workout because there was hardly anything exceptional about the pilot – a few funny lines here and there, but eh. (And I never remembered seeing the show in the lineup, so I guess I wasn’t the only one that thought that way.)

Once the lights came up, we headed back outside and resumed our spots in line. It looked a lot like the queue to a roller coaster, and in a way, it felt like that too.

Around noon, the line finally started moving. There were a lot of people that made it in before us; in fact, we were one of the last groups of people in the door for the first taping. I think the final group was a fairly large group of girls from Cal-Santa Barbara, who stood near us in line and sat right behind us in the studio. And no, that didn’t suck.

We made our way out of the queue, around the building and to the entrance. Just before the entrance, we had a brief interview with one of the producers and – I can only assume – his secretary. They both looked very Hollywood, and I can see the secretary to this day: dark hair, 50-ish, a woman who was once hot and still fancied herself to be hot (and may have taken, uh, unnatural steps to ensure it).

My interview was short and sweet. I’m sure I mumbled my way through it, ensuring I’d never make it out of the audience. (Apparently, we’d heard later, it helps to kiss a LOT of ass. Supposedly one of the UCSB girls said she watched the show since she was little and back in her home country, which was somewhere along the Pacific Rim.) Just before going in, we met with a page who wrote our names on the customary price-tag name tags.

Once inside, we sat pretty close to the back in the rightmost of the three seating sections, with the only two rows behind us occupied by the UCSB co-eds (which still didn’t suck). When the doors closed, again it felt like a roller coaster ride. We were going to see Bob Barker and the beauties and prizes and money – tell me that isn’t a ride. There was a sign near the stage telling us the planned airdate for this show, which was about a month from that day.

She stood on the lip of the stage, which looks huge on TV but in reality is maybe 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep. At least one of the cameras sit right onstage, front and center.

After some time getting settled in, announcer Rod Roddy (RIP, Rod) made his way onto the stage to warm us up. He got us cheering for what seemed like an eternity – so much so my hands started to hurt from clapping for so long. We obeyed the “APPLAUSE” sign and eventually, the opening music began (you know it; if not, click here). We tried to keep clapping and listen to the names being announced; a woman held cue cards at the front with the names on them because it was pretty loud.

Then, it was time for the grand entrance.

Rod: “And here is the star of The Price is Right ... BOB BARKER!”

The left-most stage door opened, and out walked the MC. The cheers got as loud as ever – no surprise there – and went on for another eternity. Even when he tried to start the show, the applause were just too loud and he had to wait another moment, thanking us all the while.

And just like that, we were off and away. The ride had begun.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the show per se. I remember one of the games was Penny Ante, and I remembered seeing it on TV numerous times. I thought the board resembled a ski-ball game, but in truth, it was mostly flat. None of the supergames were played – Golden Road or Plinko.

One of the co-eds from behind us – the one who had made the claim about watching from another country – made it to contestants row and even made it onstage. She was an Asian girl and won her pricing game, but it wasn’t for a car. (Though someone did win a car and used one of the payphones outside to call home and tell them the good news.) Her friends screamed like hell behind us, which isn’t difficult to imagine.

The reason I remember she was Asian was because, honestly, she looked nothing like us. My mom and dad and I are all hearty Germans from the east coast, in no way resembling any person of Asian descent on the west coast.

I make this point for a reason: When the show was broadcast a month later, we re-lived our friend’s success. Then, as she’s celebrating, the camera flashes to our section. Very much to my surprise, the girls are nowhere to be seen. Instead, virtually all you see is me and my mom. So, for a second, we were on network television. (I guess my sweet Moravian football windbreaker was too awesome to pass up.)

Barker was pretty cool. After each segment ended, there was a set amount of time he had off air; I don’t know anything about television, but I’m guessing they taped for a full hour and laid in the commercials when the show actually aired.

I remember the timing well because it was the week after Greg Norman’s sad collapse at The Masters. Barker, also a golfer, said he felt so bad that Norman wasn’t able to win a title that had (and still has) eluded him: a major on U.S. soil. Barker said all the right things about working with Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, though it’s not a secret that and Sandler did not become best buddies after filming it.

You’ll often hear him reference something happening during the break, and that’s pretty accurate. He struck up a conversation with an elderly lady in the audience during the second half of the show; sure enough, she was the next person called to contestants row.

We made it through the entire show without incident and heard the now-famous ‘make sure your pets are spayed or neutered’ line. We left and marveled at what we had seen; that sense of wonder is why, truly, it felt like a roller coaster ride.

On we went with our day, a lifetime of memories in tow.

1 comment:

ME said...

Thanks for sharing that pal. Very cool story.

And yes, please spay & neuter your pets.