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Can Price Continue After Barker?

       Say what you will. It has arguably the worst demographics in television. The show has made only subtle changes in 28 years. Its emcee will soon be the oldest ever to helm an episode of a network game show (remember, Mark Goodson did two episodes of To Tell the Truth at 76). Yet, The Price Is Right will be with us through September 2002.
       For years, I've been convinced when Bob Barker decides to open his price tag envelope the last time, that's the end of the show. Putting someone else in the emcee's role would be akin to having someone other than Raymond Burr play Perry Mason (and CBS miserably tried that once in the '70s).
       However, let's think outside-the-box for a moment. Every reason has been offered online and internally as to why The Price Is Right ought to quietly expire if Barker decides this is his last contract and some speculation is surfacing this may be. The show draws far too many over-50s (though the huge resurgence of popularity with college students is underreported because college dormitories are not surveyed by Nielsen). The advertising predominantly emphasizes everything from bulk laxatives to funeral insurance to 800-number law firms. Then, there's the prize warehouse. Supposedly, the facility is so huge no other network would put up the bucks to build a similar one.
       So why hasn't CBS already given the old warhorse the boot and given Barker a huge retirement sendoff, rather than guaranteeing Price a 29th and 30th season? Why, when the babbling babes on ABC opposite are the darling of the media, draw a younger crowd and sell more exciting, youthful brands----such as feminine hygiene products?
       The answer is plain: CBS research year after year has clearly shown the network would not be able to develop a new show to bring in the total number of viewers Price does as daytime's number two show, which has historically been a huge boost as a lead-in, along with the younger tune-ins, to keep The Young and the Restless number one. Plus, the show is in the same syndrome as Gunsmoke was when CBS made an abortive attempt to boot Jim Arness in 1967. Said Robert Metz in his book "CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye," "It had the worst demographics in television but it has so many viewers, CBS couldn't afford to lose it."
       So, if you're CBS, how do you project to keep The Franchise if you lose The Emperor (and, mind you, Barker has not said he's retiring in 2002 but the odds with each passing year are increasing)? The only way I could see it is with something which is highly unlikely to happen but does have precedence.
       To continue the show A.B. (After Bob for you in Fargo, Ga.---and I can say that because I used to live 60 miles from Fargo) would require something delicate, gutsy---and, yet, classy. Bob Barker would, for all intents and purposes, have to tell CBS and the audience of his intentions nine months to a year early. Stay with me, now.
       Further, Barker would have to make an extremely gutsy move to give up his Friday shows in his final months. Why? The move has clear precedence. In the 1950s, when Arthur Godfrey saw he was on the verge of giving up daytime television, Arthur began ceding Fridays to guest hosts. In 1964, when Garry Moore announced his retirement from I've Got a Secret, CBS became so concerned about protecting its valuable Monday night powerhouse, the network made an early decision (with the approval of Garry---who co-owned the show with Goodson-Todman) to bring Steve Allen aboard. The week before the transition, Steve sat in with Garry at the emcee chair in a symbolic pass-the-baton act which was exceedingly classy. Johnny Carson gave up Monday nights to Jay Leno for several years before his departure. The reason Jay had such a rocky road in his first year was because of some massive mistakes by his late manager Helen Kushnick to make too many drastic changes in The Tonight Show to distance Leno from Carson's image.
       Figure the scenario---we've already had one example of how not to redo The Price Is Right with that disastrous effort by Jay Wolpert in 1994 in syndication. The show was too drastically changed from viewers' comfort zones and an unfortunate choice of emcees in Doug Davidson ensured failured.
       However, if---say---six to nine months before he stepped aside, Barker were to bring on a young successor of his choice on a Friday and present the image of teaching the kid the ropes, then turn over the Friday episodes to the protege and allow him to have a chance to shake out the mistakes, it might have a fighting chance of working.
       The protege would have a solid period of work under the established Price production team. The audience would have a chance to adjust to the new face, all the while giving Bob a virtual retirement tour.
       This scenario would hinge on several factors which may, in fact, be moot. First, Barker's willingness and Bob could not be faulted if he chose not to enter into a handoff. He has made the game the greatest franchise in network television daytime history and does not owe CBS or the audience such. Second, CBS would have to buy into Price having life after Bob under such a proposal. Third, if points one and two were met, the audience would have to buy into the new face.
       I do have the idea on that new face. I've watched his work this year. I've seen his sincerity. I've watched him do the one thing first-class emcees have to do to succeed: listen to what the contestants have to say. I've seen him develop a repartee with his announcer, which audiences have enjoyed in the Cullen-Pardo, Art Fleming-Pardo, Carson-McMahon, Hall-Stewart, Barker-Olsen, Rayburn-Olsen traditions. Finally, I've seen him work in a fashion which requires great subordination of ego: he never takes a closeup.
       My choice to ultimately take over The Price Is Right, if my extreme longshot scenario were to reach fruition-----Todd Newton. Not a lot of viewers have seen Newton because his Hollywood Showdown languishes in the small audiences of PAX and Game Show Network. Mark my word---if Barker decided to make this contract his last and was willing to subordinate his territory to "teach the kid the ropes," Newton is the fresh face who has the confidence and skills to be television's next breakthrough game show emcee. He has the skills of a young Bob Barker, while injecting his own style and personality.
       Agreed, this is a possibility which is meager and I run the risk of your wrath because many of you may have your own favorites for the role. However, without some outside-the-box thinking---something CBS has done with Survivor and Big Brother despite my distaste for the former and skepticism of the latter---and risk-taking, the audience doesn't see franchises preserved and new stars developed.

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