Hello again. If you’ve been watching a certain daytime game show on CBS lately, you’ll notice this man is missing.
I think that’s a very nice picture. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Roger Dobkowitz, considered by many to be one of the greatest producers in the history of The Price is Right. (Just ask the people at Golden-Road.net.) I’m honored to have the privilege of presenting this first part of our interview. But first, here’s something to give you some idea of his history.
Greg Palmer: Hello, Roger. I understand you were really into game shows. I read on your website how you wrote your Master’s Thesis on game shows and sent out about 40-50 copies of it to various producers. What struck me was the fact you traveled all the way across the country living off of hard-boiled eggs. Not only did you get an interview at Television City, but you got two with Mark Goodson himself. I’m so glad you have a copy of it online. I downloaded the PDF file to my computer. Anyway, what happened after Goodson gave you the job?
Roger Dobkowitz: After Goodson gave me that job, I immediately went to Radio City Music Hall to celebrate by seeing a movie! (it was The Hot Rock with Robert Redford.) I had about a month to get ready for the job so I went back home and got ready for my move to Los Angeles. I arrived a the office with a sportcoat and tie in order to look neat. I was told in a very friendly way that I was overdressed and made some other people look bad! I really had nothing to do in the office. Goodson had hired me for an “idea” man to think up new games for the show. However, I mainly sat in my office for a couple of weeks with nothing to do. However, as I have said to others seeking jobs in television, that “nothing to do” can be a really good thing.
GP: You started off as a member of “Program Staff” on Price in 1972. Erin Perry mentioned in her interview that she “started off answering phones at $5 per hour” and ran errands. Is that essentially what you did?
RD: Because I had little to do other than to think, others on the staff started to give me extra work. What happens is that one gets bits and pieces of everyone’s job. Before you know it, after a while one knows everything about a show and how it is done. This fact really helped me later when I spoke to Goodson about becoming the producer.
GP: You also collaborated on a number of “Showcase Skits” with Jay Wolpert, at that time the producer. I’m currently doing an online version of Price. How much work actually goes into matching prizes with this storyline and keeping it under 5 minutes?
RD: Writing showcases were a lot of fun…and a lot of hard work. Jay never wanted to repeat a showcase…each one had to be new. That was a great policy. I see too many shows that repeat stuff and that usually signals laziness and a decline in quality. (Match Game suffered from that syndrome). Usually, I would think up crazy concepts that I thought Jay would like such as “Paws, the great white dog that terrorizes a neighborhood with its fleas.” We would think try to think up prizes that would go along with a situation like that. Johnny Olsen would usually be figured into the skit. In the early years of the show, especially after we went to an hour, the showcase could be as long as we wanted them…other parts of the show would be shortened if the showcase was long. (This was not true during the last 20 years of the show).
GP: One of my favorite showcases from the 70s is the “Dr. John Barrett Clapinger” showcase, from April Fools Day 1976. You were in that one, and I think I can identify the first Mrs. Clapinger as Julie Harris, pre-Knots Landing. Of course,
I’m probably wrong. I do know that you were in it, and boy was it funny. You looked like Bronson Pinchot in that one.
RD: The two women that played in Dr. Clappinger was Pam Freeman (the first Mrs. Clappinger) and Barbara Hunter (she starred in the movie Where Angels Go Trouble Follows.)
GP: You also worked on the syndicated version of Price with Dennis James and later Barker. I saw a few episodes of the James version, and I think he did a great job. For the first few years, aside from the different host and the higher budget, the format was nearly identical. I would think there would be a sort of different energy working with James than
with Barker. Also, this seems to be what Goodson wanted all along, as he hinted in his demo film. Do you have any thoughts on this version?
RD: Originally, the show was brought back for syndication only. CBS heard about it and wanted it for the daytime schedule…however, they insisted on using Bob Barker. This is why there were two different hosts. The Dennis James version felt the same as Bob Barker’s version at the beginning…both MC’s were doing the job of hosting. It was not
until later that Bob hit his stride and the two shows felt different. Bob became so much better than Dennis that they replaced him on the syndicated version with Bob. The nighttime version was really produced by Frank Wayne and not Jay
Wolpert…which is another reason they seem different. Frank had a different attitude than Jay…Jay was flamboyant and ready to try new and different ideas. Frank was a producer that was far more conservative.
GP: In 1975, there was a lot of hoopla over Price going to an hour after a 1-week trial period. Bert Convy and Charles Nelson Reilly showed up and exchanged T-shirts. I’m just curious, whose idea was it to go to an hour? I mean, no other show had done it before (at least not to my knowledge) and the two that had tried it at the time (Wheel of Fortune and
Let’s Make a Deal) weren’t successful as an hour long.
RD: The show went to an hour after the soaps did it. They were successful, so CBS wanted to try it with us. (it also save the network tons of money to have a single hour show rather than two 30-minute shows). I have to be honest…when I heard our show was going to be 60 minutes, I was sure the show was doomed. Being used to 30 minute game shows I thought nobody would sit through an hour! Fortunately I was wrong!!! By the way, the idea of using a wheel was inspired by the huge success at that time of Wheel of Fortune. They had a wheel and we also had to have one!
Well, that’s all for this first part of our interview. I hope you’ll stick around because as soon as he sends me another part, I’ll put it up for you. I’d like to thank Roger for what he’s contributed so far.