Friday, June 8, 2007

Retiring while still young, Bob Barker says key to TV longevity is listening

Legendary game show host Bob Barker, 83, blows a kiss goodby to fans, as he tapes his final episode of "The Price Is Right" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 6th, 2007.

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

(CP) - Bob Barker remembers the exact moment he became a TV star. It was Dec. 21, 1956, at five minutes past noon.
The Washington state native was working an audience participation show at an L.A. radio station when Ralph Edwards, then best known as host of the popular series "This Is Your Life," happened to catch Barker's act. Impressed by what he heard, he tracked Barker down and offered him a job hosting a new TV game show called "Truth or Consequences."
"It changed my life," Barker told TV critics in Los Angeles earlier this year at a CBS press conference.
Barker hosted "Truth or Consequences" for 18 years, until 1975. Every Dec. 21, until Edwards died in 2005, the two would drink a toast at exactly 12:05 p.m.
Even that "Truth or Consequences" run, however, pales compared to Barker's best-known gig. On Wednesday, at 83, he taped his final episode of "The Price Is Right," a job he's held for 35 consecutive years - making it the longest-running game show of all time in North America. Only "The Tonight Show," at over 50 years, surpasses it in terms of five-days-a-week American entertainment programming. (Barker's final "Price Is Right" episode will air June 15 on CBS.)
Which makes Barker, who has outlived two of the show's three announcers, the Eveready Bunny of TV hosts. Still spry and full of pep, he played the room full of critics like they were "Price Is Right" contestants.
"In December I became 83 years old and I want to retire while I'm still young," he explained. He wanted to do "Happy Gilmore 2," he added, but "Adam Sandler's doctors told him he can't take another beating like I gave him" - a reference to Barker's pugilistic cameo on Sandler's 1996 comedy.
That movie appearance, Barker figures, helped make "The Price Is Right" a favourite with college-age audiences. Despite (or maybe because of) the show's old-fashioned, '70s-era set, students dressed in school colours often crammed into CBS's Television City studios for "Price Is Right" tapings. Barker says they've featured choirs from Harvard, Yale, Duke and West Point on the show. "It's a cult thing now," he says.
The key to longevity in television, says Barker, is being a good listener. "When a young host asks me my advice, I tell them, 'Listen, because those people are giving you little gems with which you can create laughter and have a great time.' "
Despite a few recent heart and stroke scares, Barker says he's generally been blessed with good health and genes. He has had one knee scoped, has a torn rotator cuff, there's that tilted disc in his back, but he has still got game. He credits being a vegetarian - a move he made out of respect for animals - with extending his career at least five years.
Twenty years ago, in 1987, he startled his audience by seeming to go grey overnight. He actually had been dyeing his hair for years and simply decided to let his grey hair show during a two-week taping break. The move appeared more sudden when Barker's switch to grey came in a mid-week telecast.
Despite hosting for 35 years, Barker insists he'd make a lousy contestant. I know nothing about prices," he claims. Whenever a reporter tries to test him at his own game, "I make a damn fool of myself every time," he says.
Barker acknowledged his tabloid dustups, including sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal suits brought against him by former "Barker's Beauties" Dian Parkinson and Holly Hallstrom. He said he wanted to fight them all in court but it was cheaper to settle.
"These were frivolous lawsuits based on distortions, exaggerations or outright falsehoods," he said. Still, six women have sued Barker since 1996, with all but one coming to an out-of-court settlement.
Barker swore he had no idea who might "come on down" to take his place when the show resumes taping next September. Likely candidates have ranged from well-tanned contemporary George Hamilton to former "Dancing With the Stars" contestant John O'Hurley to talk show terminator "Rosie O'Donnell."
Or maybe no one will take his place. "You haven't been told?" Barker told critics. "When I leave, not only is 'The Price is Right' ending, all television is ending."
BILL BRIOUX is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.
Published: Thursday June 7th, 2007

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