Bob Barker, TVs prototype emcee
By Vernon Scott
Television host Bob Barker reckons he’s interviewed 50,000 persons on the air, and concludes very few Americans are smart alecks.
“When people are picked from a studio audience, they invariably display good taste,” said Barker, the prototype for all the clean-cut game- show emcees on the air.
“After 18 years and more than 4,000 ‘Truth or Consequences’ shows, plus 1,000 ‘Price is Right’ segments, I find it’s difficult to make generalities about human behavior in front of the television camera except that people put their best foot forward.”
For a man who finds it difficult to generalize, Barker had no trouble reeling off a list of predictable patterns.
“There are certain things you can count on. Texans are more proud of their state than most. And people from Brooklyn are more apt to mention where they’re from.
“It’s rare anyone tries to top me with a ‘gag. And I can remember only two occasions when a participant tried to slip by a double entendre.
“Women are more relaxed on television than men. At least they’re less inhibited. And they react more emotionally when they win a big prize.
“I’ve noticed exceptionally pretty girls rarely make good contestants. They’re accustomed to relying on their beauty to carry them along. But it takes more than a gorgeous face to be a good television subject.”
The Price is Right and sizing up contestants
Barker thinks of himself as an instant psychoanalyst. He has but a few seconds to size up a contestant, put him at ease, and come up with an observation or a quip to provoke an interesting response.
If the participant’s knees are quaking, he unobtrusively puts a steadying hand on a shoulder and the nervousness subsides.
“I have a choice of directions on how to go with each contestant,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s current events, sports, marital relationships or a joke.
“I warm up the audiences on ‘T or C’ and pick the contestants before we go on the air, which makes it easier for me. On ‘Price is Right,’ I see them for the first time on camera and have to make quick decisions.
“The audience has to be taken into consideration too. Each crowd has a personality of its own. I lay a few lines on them to see what they respond to. Some audiences will howl over a joke on booze, others don’t react at all.
“It helps a contestant to know a little bit about me in the minute or so that we chat before starting the game. If they figure I’m on their side, they immediately feel secure.
“It’s important that contestants know I’m there to help and not to make fun of them. And I steer them away from coming on too strong.
“Audiences in the studio and at home don’t appreciate parlor comics. But they like it if the contestant makes me a fall guy. I earn a living making other people funny.”
Barker makes an exceptional living at what he does. According to his agent, he is the highest salaried master of ceremonies on the air.
His take for “The Price is Right” brings him $3.5 million for six years. On top of that is the “Truth or Consequences” salary, plus playing host on beauty pageants, parades and other special events.
Barker is a low-key man. His personality is precisely the same on camera and off. Unlike many an emcee, he doesn’t shift from his easy-going self into a glib gagster.
“I couldn’t do that,” he said. “It would be unnatural for me. I think a forced attitude makes the contestants uneasy.
“There’s enough pressure on them when they stand a chance of winning $15,000 in prizes.”