Hello again, hello. We’ve got another part of my interview with Roger Dobkowitz, the man, the myth, the legend. This part deals with the long hunt for the next host of The Price is Right. Once again, here’s Roger.
GP: After Bob made his announcement that he was retiring what was it like looking for a new host?
RD: The search for a new host didn’t really begin until after Bob announced his retirement on October 31, 2007. However, there had been some rumors going on before that. One that turned out to be true was that CBS was interested in having David Price take over as host. But there was not an overt or active search for a replacement until after Bob announced that he was leaving.
After Bob’s announcement, we soon learned that Price is Right was CBS’s football. And it seemed to me that it was the football of the executives in the upper CBS echelon. They were calling most of the shots. In my opinion, it seemed like the CBS daytime executives were just following orders.
CBS talked with the heads at Fremantlemedia but there were only minimal conversations with Bob or me about what was to happen. It was quite sudden and a surprise that a plan was made to have David Price host three full hour test episodes of TPIR. The word went around the studio later that David (the weatherman at that time on the CBS Morning Show) was a close friend of Julie Chen and Les Moonves (head of CBS)!
Fortunately, the feat of creating three full hour episodes on extremely short notice was not that difficult for our staff to do. It was hard work but all of us in the office (there were only 11 of us) were super efficient and we all knew how to get the job done well and knew how to do it quickly. I was very proud of our group…I don’t think there is any TV production team around that could do what we did…create and tape 6 high quality hour-long shows in a four day work week (and because of that efficiency we were about to enjoy 15 weeks of out-of-the-office hiatus every year!). And all of this while keeping the production and prize budget in line! They were a remarkable group!
However, despite the efficiency that we provided CBS, this was to be an expensive proposition for CBS. There would have to be a couple of days of rehearsals plus the actual taping of three full shows (that would never be broadcast and, thus, no revenue would be received from them)) complete with cameramen, stage hands, audio people, lighting technicians, director, models, and many many others.. Spending that kind of money for an audition meant they were really serious about David Price.
We used actual prizes for the three shows and had a real audience made up of potential contestants. They were to play the games with David for real except they would not win any prizes…instead they would win nominal cash amounts. I do not remember the exact amounts except it was in the range of $100 if you got on stage and an extra $500 if you won the game (and even more if you won the showcase!). This provided a motive for the contestants to play the game for real so we could see how David would interact with them. (Don’t worry…any contestants on these test shows were still eligible to become a contestant on Bob’s show!).
The test shows went quite well. David was a quick learner of the games and a gentleman to work with. I felt he did quite well with these test shows…he had a spring in his step and what appeared to me an honest interest in the contestant as a person. He could interview quite well. He was also quite able to do the show on time, a very important aspect in preserving one of our most important attributes…that the show seems “live” and unedited.
Despite the fact that I thought he did well, (and so did Bob), Fremantle disliked him intensely. I also had a feeling (mainly from their body language and what they said) that the CBS daytime executives did not like him either…however, because David was perhaps a friend of Les Moonves they had to keep a low profile with their dislike. It seemed that upper management at CBS pushed for him quite earnestly.. However, this time Fremantle won the argument and CBS agreed to look at other candidates.
I believe that David suffered this dislike because he was the first one to try out and everyone was comparing him to Bob…he definitely was no Bob but he was good. I believe Price is Right would have done quite well with him. I am certain he would have evolved into quite a likable host.
The show remained CBS’s football. They never really came to Bob to ask him if he had any suggestions for a host. Later, after we had tested a few, they didn’t even ask him what he thought of the people we tried out. They would occasionally give him a tape to look at of a try-out, but they seem to be doing that out of protocol. They never gave him all the tapes, and no one, as far as I know, from CBS or Fremantle ever really sat down with him to discuss their performances.
I found it amazing that they didn’t involve Bob more in this process. He certainly knew what it would take in a person to entertainingly host our show. Bob could have really helped in finding the host with the perfect fit.
For the rest of the potential hosts, we held mini test shows. After taping a show with Bob we would hold the audience (voluntarily, of course) and ask them to stay to see a pilot. Most of the audience stayed. The test show consisted of three games and a wheel.
One of the first that we tested was Todd Newton. Todd is a great guy and one of the nicest people I know. He has a special charm about him in person. I wanted that charm to come out during his test. Unfortunately, and I think it was because of the Price Is Right Live-On-Stage shows that he was doing at that time, he came across a little mechanical and, as some people described him, as slick. The grind of doing Live-On-Stage shows to a new audience each night might have caused him to be more mechanical. A TV show has basically the same audience each day and the host is forced to find different ways of playing the same game to keep it interesting. Doing a road show is different. The audience is not the same each day. The performer learns the best way to do something and because the audience is different each night, he can perform it nearly the exact same way each time. There is no urgent need to change it.
Todd was later given a second chance to do another test show. I talked to him during rehearsals and I told him that he should loosen up a little. I wanted that charming personality of his to come through. I didn’t want him to appear mechanical or slick as he played a game. Although he did a little better, it was not enough for CBS to change their minds. Nevertheless, I felt that if Todd had been given more time and adapted to a more lose performance, he would have been great as our host.
There was a good description going around the stage when John O’Hurley did the test shows…it was Shakespeare’s version of The Price Is Right! John was very dignified doing the games. His deep resonating voice used perfect English with faultless enunciation. Needless to say, all of this was not a good match for our show.
Doug Davidson was far better this time hosting the show than he was hosting the syndicated 1990’s version. He came across rather charming this time. He displayed a joy and playfulness when doing the games. I offered him a multitude of hints about the games and how to execute them (this is something I don’t think he received during the other version). However, CBS and Fremantle said no to him also. Unfortunately, I think his baggage of being part of a failed version of TPIR probably played into their decision.
Mark Steines, from Entertainment Tonight, also did a test show. He was extremely good. He was good looking and had a good presence about him that gave him stature as a host. He came off as being in charge of the show, yet he felt approachable and quite likable by the audience. He took his performance very seriously and wanted to do his best. His test show was smooth and came off extremely well. There was lots of talk going around the studio that signaled me that he was turning into one of the favorites. If he had been chosen by CBS I had full confidence that the show would be in good hands. However, for whatever reason, CBS turned down Mark.
The audience loved Mario Lopez. He had a special glimmer in his eye and a sense of happiness about doing the test show. He was able to put some fun in the playing of games. Like David Price, he too had a special spring in his step as he scurried over the stage. Part of his success was not only his personality but that he took his performance quite seriously. He listened to me and wanted to do each game the best that he could. He sought out and wanted all the advice that I could give. He did quite well with his pilot. I do not know the reason why CBS turned him down.
I was surprised when they said that Michael Richards would also do a test show. Of all the people we were trying out, he had the least professional experience of them all. I think he was given the chance because he was host of a show called Beauty and the Geek and, perhaps. CBS though he could attract young 20-25 year old females (a desired demographic for networks) with him as host. However, I felt he looked way too young and felt he needed much more professional seasoning. He knew all the right words to say (he did his homework), but he did not bring anything special, personality or performance-wise, to the test show. His performance was compared to that of an eager student performing in a college show and putting on his best impersonation of what he thinks a gameshow host is.
The best performer of the test shows and the one that the audience went nuts over was George Hamilton. His test show was the most entertaining and funniest of them all. George’s charm came right through and any errors that he did on stage were instantly forgiven by the audience. As far as the audience was concerned, he could no wrong. He truly came off as happy to be there and you could see from his performance that he was having the best time of his life hosting the show.
However, once again, like with David Price, Fremantle intensely disliked him. George had a problem…he was not really a TV performer and he needed all the rules of the games written out on cue cards that were to be held during the performance of a game. He was unable to memorize the rules and spit them out like a gameshow host needs to do. Clock game was especially difficult for him. Because he had to read the rules off cue cards, he would often read them wrong and we had to stop and redo the game from the beginning. Fremantle and CBS didn’t like this at all. George assured me and CBS that he would eventually get it right and he would no longer need cards. He only needed time…and I believed him. He desperately wanted to do the show. I told Fremantle that even though this would mean a lot of work (rehearsals, cue cards, and retakes), I felt that it would eventually be worth it. However, they missed the far bigger picture that he was the best one for the show and said no to him also.
After the test shows, we started a major search for a host. We rented a small studio outside of CBS where we started to hold small run-throughs with potential hosts. We would play It’s in the Bag twice with each of them and see if there was any potential with trying them out with a studio pilot. There were about 9 of us that sat through these run-throughs…My dedicated and hard working assistant, Scott Robinson, two representatives from Fremantle (one was an executive who we didn’t really know what his job was plus a bright young man who was in charge of finding talent for Fremantle), two executives from CBS (if they felt like showing up) and me. We also had three stand-ins that were there to play the role of contestants.
We saw many, many candidates. Some were OK while some were absolutely horrible. Some people came in to do a run-through not because they had potential or were particularly talented, but because they were friends of somebody that worked at CBS or Fremantle. We auditioned up to six people in one daytime session. These sessions were held about three times a month. Many of the candidates they sent were completely unknown to me and some were totally untalented. These run-thrus were fun to do, but still a lot of work. The only time I grumbled (to myself, of course) was when we had to try out people that were so obviously unsuited for the position and were sent over just to pay back a favor that someone owed. I didn’t like wasting our time.
I (and so did Bob) really wanted Marc Summers to do a test show, or at the very least to come in and do a run-through in our small studio. Bob and I both knew him and both of us felt he could do the show. I was shocked to be told by CBS that they did not want to see him under any circumstances. Since they were sending us so many terrible unknown people to try out, I really couldn’t understand why they didn’t even let him have a chance.…but they said no. The only excuse they gave me was that he was too short! I often wonder if there was another reason they weren’t telling us..
Another person that CBS denied was Rich Fields. He desperately wanted to try out as host. In a normal situation, the network would at least allow the announcer the courtesy of a try out (after all, the network was sending us friends of theirs to audition that were obviously unsuitable for the position). However, CBS was quite adamant in not allowing Rich to have an audition.
As the months rolled by all of us at the small run-through studio were getting mighty disillusioned about our chore of finding a host. They were all lacking something. None of them had that special quality we were looking for. Most importantly, we didn’t want to settle. We wanted to find someone that would take Price is Right another 35 years! However, we finally had a breakthrough when Mark L. Walberg came in to do a run-through (the CBS executives were not there that day…neither was the executive from Fremantle). He did It’s in the Bag twice and then left. As soon as he was out of the door, we all looked at each other and without saying a word we all knew what each of us were thinking…we had found our host!!…and it was unanimous!. Mark was able to do It’s in the Bag quite entertainingly. He did it differently both times. He demonstrated that he had a likable personality and he was quite playful with our stand-in contestants. Most importantly, he showed us that he that he knew how to get something out of a contestant’s personality. In this case, he was a little like Bob and exactly what we needed. I desperately wanted him to do a test show.
Upon reporting back, CBS said they didn’t want Mark. Why? They said [he] was not good looking enough! They didn’t seem to care about quality of performance! And there was no way CBS would change their mind!
At one point, Rosie O’Donnell was considered. Apparently she really wanted to do the show and Fremantle supported the idea. When the news media picked up on this, CBS was inundated with hate mail. I was told by a person in charge of the mail at CBS that they received more bad mail with this announcement that with anything else. The emails and letters basically said, “If Rosie does the show, I will never watch it again!” Nevertheless, Fremantle went ahead with plans to put together a pilot show with her. However, CBS stepped in and put an end to it.
I was told by Fremantle that she had designs for the show. She wanted to cut the show down to three games and add musical elements!
We continued with our run-throughs until one day the mention was made that CBS was looking into Drew Carey. My first reaction was “Oh no! not Drew Carey.” I thought, “if they want someone handsome, Drew Carey is not it…why him?” At that time, his name was also associated with strippers and a wild party life. I did not feel his questionable celebrity status was going to bring anything to the show…and no one else did either. The entire staff of TPIR was mystified, as was almost everyone at CBS Television City (and perhaps the entire universe!) Apparently, he had been chosen because of his recent stint that he did on “Power of Ten.” and somebody upstairs at CBS liked him.
What was even more shocking then (and even today, for that matter) CBS hired him without an audition. In my opinion, unless, you are a superstar like Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, or Dustin Hoffman, everyone should go through an audition…especially for a gameshow. Drew Carey certainly wasn’t a superstar, and there was part of a whole younger generation that really didn’t know who he was (my teenage kids, for instance, who said upon hearing the news, “Who’s Drew Carey?”). During an interview on TV, Drew seemed almost proud to announce that he wasn’t even really familiar with The Price is Right, but that CBS wanted him so badly, that after he turned them down, they offered him more money to do it.. It was not comforting to know that our next host didn’t really want to do the show out of love but was only doing it for a huge paycheck!
If Drew had been given a studio audition like the other performers had been given, it would have provided us and CBS with the opportunity to see whatever problems might lay ahead. We could have then made a better decision if he was right for the show. Maybe they wouldn’t have offered him so much money! The audition process worked with the other performers and it would have worked with Drew Carey.
Skipping the audition and choosing Drew as the new host was mainly CBS’s idea. Somebody upstairs in the CBS executive offices loved him and felt that he was best thing ever for the show (shades of Katie Couric and the CBS Evening News fiasco—it was obvious Katie wasn’t right for the news, but CBS did not want to admit their error and kept her on for years). Fremantle did tell me that they did not really want him and they certainly didn’t want to hire him without an audition (give them credit)…however, when push comes to shove, and a powerful network executive wants something, the network usually wins and the production company goes along.. Thus, Drew Carey became our new host!
Yes, it’s sad isn’t it? The moral of this story: It’s not what you know, but who you know. Our thanks again to the Dob. In his next part, we’ll find out what happened between the man from San Francisco and the man from Cleveland.