Hello again. I’m back with another part of my interview with Roger Dobkowitz.
“For the premiere of season 30, CBS wanted to do a special primetime show. However, they asked that we also add a gimmick or a twist to make it truly special. I came up with the suggestion of taking the show on the road for the first time in its history. I suggested Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It seemed that everyone liked the idea. We scouted the Music Hall and discovered there were a few problems. First and foremost…it was expensive to rent (networks don’t like spending money). It would have also been very costly to to house all the key people we needed for the production. However, what really halted the whole process, was the fact, believe it or not, that the stage at the Music Hall wasn’t big enough for us! The stage is not very deep, and, because of our extensive use of cars and big prizes, we needed a lot of room. It was also discovered that their loading dock to the street was incapable of loading cars easily…we would have to provide a special lift to get the cars into the backstage area. Thus, plans for a most spectacular edition of the TPIR was scrapped.
Hotels in Las Vegas were eager to have us. In our location scouting we examined several hotels that wanted us. The Rio was the only one that had a type of stage that we liked.
Rehearsal of the show at the Rio turned out to be quite trying. We didn’t have enough rehearsal time (it was a money problem again…rehearsal time is expensive!). We had a big opening planned where Bob would arise from the center of the stage through a floor elevator. However, it broke while we were there. They tried to fix it, and that really slowed us down. After we concluded that they were not going to be able to fix it, we had to create and rehearse a brand new opening.
We had a few disagreements with the hotel management. They were in control of security and crowd control. They told us that during the day of taping, they were not going to have security there until 7 AM to line people up. We told them quite emphatically that people would arrive much earlier than that…we told them that people will start lining up at midnight. They did not seem too concerned about that and insisted everything would be fine! Well, I remember waking up early at around 6AM and being told there were thousands of people outside and they were having trouble controlling them. Well, we told them!
If I had to do it over again, I would insist on Radio City Music Hall…that was the appropriate place for the most iconic of all American game shows. All the problems that the Music Hall presented to us could have been surmounted (with a little bit of money). We would have received so much publicity from that and it would have been a super show.. I would have loved to have the opportunity to interview New Yorkers for the nine spots on our show.
One of the problems with Las Vegas was the pool of contestants we had to choose from. As I predicted before we arrived in Las Vegas, we got a lot of retired people, out-of-work people, and a little too many people with tattoos. Phil Wayne and I split the duties between us in interviewing people. It was extremely difficult to find 9 interesting personalities from the pool of 900. Bob was only happy (and I agree with him) with about 2 of the contestants that made it up on stage. During the showcases, we had a woman that took forever with her bid (it was edited down quite a bit for the broadcast show)…Bob tired to coax her to make a bid and she just hemmed and hawed for what seemed to be forever,. Bob finally got disgusted and walked off the stage…we thought he was joking. However, when I realized he wasn’t coming back immediately and stayed off stage for quite awhile, I got worried. He was not happy…he likes to do the TPIR on time as if it was [a] live show (an important feel and aspect of our show). He finally came back on stage and the contestant (finally!) made her bid.
The whole Las Vegas experience was great and I regretted that we never took the show on the road again.
For many years we stayed away from bigger prizes because of two simple restrictions…we had a budget that we couldn’t go over and CBS had a rule (due to the quiz scandals of years ago) that no one could win over $100,000 in cash and/or prizes. It was only in the later years that CBS finally rescinded that rule and we could, if our budget allowed it, to do bigger prizes.
In 2003, CBS offered us the opportunity to do a series of primetime specials. However, they required that we do something extra to the show to make them “special.” They did not just want to do a bigger budget version of the daytime show. That is when the “million dollar” gimmick was introduced. However, we had a tough time figuring out how to incorporate the idea. The idea of using the wheel to win a million dollars was not perfect but was the way that was finally agreed to. I would have preferred the million dollar gimmick be tied somehow to the showcase and the end of the show rather than the wheel. The problem with tying it into the wheel was that if the money was won in the middle of the show, would not the rest of the show, including the showcases, seem anti-climatic?
Because of Bob, the show did not suffer too much from change of management. Bob was very happy with the way things were going and the way the show was being produced. Thus, Fremantle left the show alone. The rule seemed to be, if Bob is happy, Bob will continue to do the show.
The reason that we saw less of Rod on camera was because of a request by Fremantle. Apparently, Rod caused quite a few contract headaches for them in negotiations. Twice, we didn’t know if he was going to show up for tapings because of an inability to sign contract papers…I had to have back-up announcers on call in case in didn’t.
We all took the loss of Rod quite badly. We knew he was ill for a long time and we always made accommodations for him to take sick leave. We knew that announcing the show was important for him and we knew that it would help him keep his health as long as possible. There was never a question…we accommodated the announcing schedule to fit his needs.
During Rod’s absence we tried out several people. Burton Richardson and Randy West were given the most auditions. Both have very good voices, however, I always felt that Randy West fit our needs the best. His personality was quite likable and his announcing style perfect for our show. And as producer, I enjoyed working with him…he would take direction and he would understand what I needed from him. The biggest problem I always had with stand-in announcers was to make them understand that they are not SELLING the product…they are only describing the product. Randy understood this and he made, what I felt, a perfect match for the show.
With a decision as important as selecting the next announcer for our show, it was discussed with many people. Bob, of course, was executive producer and had the final say. However, he is not one of those people that just issue edicts…he, as Mark Goodson would have always done, asked for feedback. Everyone seemed to have had a different favorite and a different opinion. After much discussion with Bob, the director, our associate producer, and a representative from Fremantle, the decision was made to hire Rich Fields. I had campaigned for Randy, but I was out voted.. I still think to this day, that Randy would have been the best choice for the show.
Working with Rich Fields was fine, except he did have the tendency to “sell” the item he was describing. Many times I had to go over to his announcing podium and tell him to “tone it down”.
When Bob announced he was retiring, it was the moment we all feared. We all knew it was going to happen someday. It was the morning of Oct 31, 2006 that he phoned me and told me his plans to retire. My heart really did sink…our show would never be the same without Bob!
I had always planned to make the final show as good as any show…I didn’t feel that it should be different…there should be no speakers, no commemorative plaques, no retrospective moment, no super gigantic prize.. What was going to be special about the last show was plain and simple…it was special because it was Bob’s last show.
The one thing that I wanted to do was to have the last three games on the show to be the same three games that Bob played on the very first show, but in reverse order…Double Prices (act 4), Bonus Game (act 5), and Any Number (act 6). However, Bob did not want to play Double Prices on the last show. However, he was fine with Bonus Game and Any Number. Thus, the very last game Bob played was also the very first game he played.
When the cameras faded to black, there were many tears, including mine. Fortunately, a party was planned where we could forget our sadness and celebrate a remarkable 35-year run.
During the last week of tapings, before I went home for the evening, I made a point of going out and talking to the people that were already waiting in line for the show that was taping the following day. There was easily 200 hundred people willing to wait in line overnight to see Bob’s last shows. I tried to talk to everyone individually and to thank them for their loyalty to Bob and the show.
The most important thing I gathered from talking to those people was that although they totally loved Bob and what he brought to the show, they were concerned about the future of the show. Most were still going to watch it but their main question was “who will replace Bob?. This showed that the show had a future with its fans…but it depended upon getting the RIGHT host.”
Hope you liked this one. I want to thank Roger for his participation, and I’m looking forward to our next visit as much as I know you are.