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.”
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.