Interview with Roger Dobkowitz, Part 7: “Everything You Wanted to Know About Price: Roger’s Year with Drew”

Hi, everyone. Sorry I haven’t regularly been updating this blog. This is the first official post of 2013, and we’re going to start it off with a bang. It’s the conclusion of my interview with Roger Dobkowitz. It’s 19 pages, but we’re going to see how many we can fit in one post.

 

My Year with Drew Carey

by Roger Dobkowitz

 

Bob Barker retired from the Price is Right in 2007, and after working with him for 35 years, and some other great hosts (e.g., Gene Rayburn, Dennis James, Tom Kennedy, Jack Narz, Richard Dawson), I was about to produce a show with a performer who was not really known for doing traditional gameshows. All of us at The Price Is Right did our best to ease the transition from Bob to Drew. We all wanted the show to succeed and have our viewers accept Drew Carey as the new host of The Price Is Right.

Since leaving the show I have been asked many, many times, “What was it like working with Drew Carey that first year?” “How was he different from Bob?” “Was it hard teaching Drew those all those games?” “After 35 years with Bob how did you adjust to a new host?”

Well, life on the set was quite different after Bob Barker left. As we all expected, things were about to change…

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Meeting Drew Carey

The first time I met Drew was when he came to our offices at CBS to meet the staff and to sit down with me for an orientation meeting. My objective on that first meeting was to brief him on The Price Is Right. I planned to give him a quick run-down of the history of the show, the basic logistics of taping the show, and, of course, the philosophy behind the show and describe the iconic position that the show held in American television culture.

I felt it was very important to explain the show to Drew. He had admitted on a television interview that he was not familiar with the show nor did he watch it! He went on to explain that he took the job for the money…CBS had offered him so much that he could not refuse. And, despite the fact that all the other candidates for the show (Todd Newton, David Price, George Hamilton, Mario Lopez, and others) had to audition, Drew was appointed host by CBS without any audition!

To my surprise, he came to the offices bearing gifts! He presented each staffer, including me, a brand new Apple iPhone, which at that time was relatively new, quite a hot item, and quite expensive (around $500). Some staffers were overwhelmed by his apparent generosity while others felt, cynically, that it might have been an attempt to “buy” acceptance—he had met none of us before this day and knew nothing about us.

After introducing him to everyone on the staff, I invited him into my office to talk to him.. I sat behind my desk while he pulled up a chair and sat in front of the desk. With a big smile I expressed my thrill at meeting him. I relayed how I used to enjoy watching his sitcom. However, as he sat in my office while I explained the show to him (I could detect that he was, indeed, not very familiar with the show) he sat there like a little boy, almost sheepishly, listening quietly to everything I had to say. To my recollection, he didn’t ask many questions…he mostly just nodded and listened to me. I was surprised by this behavior…I didn’t expect this from someone I perceived as a big primetime sitcom star. He came across as being rather humble.

I explained the show’s mechanics to him (taping schedules, hiatus weeks, office routines, etc.) I was extremely proud of our amazing operations and our amazing staff. We were just 11 people and we were able to produce 6 outstanding hours of first-class programming every week in just four days. None of us had more than 8-10 hour days (including studio hours). Our production was always nominated each year for multiple Emmy awards and we won quite a few of them (Price is Right won 5 Emmys for Outstanding Game Show and dozens of others for technical excellence— one of our wins can be viewed at: http://dobkowitz.com/rogers_pages/emmy.html). Our operations were so efficient that we had three-day weekends every week and we enjoyed 20 weeks off each year! Needless to say, we were quite a contented staff!

I also felt it was very important to explain the philosophy of the show to him. One of the things that worried me about CBS’s choice of Drew Carey as host was the negative personal baggage that he brought with him. At that time, he had the persona of a man that dated strippers. I was a little concerned about his reputation. Thus, I was careful to explain to him how our show was completely family-friendly… we never did anything that was in questionable taste. I relayed to him one of our special underlying test criteria for anything we did on our show—that no generation should be embarrassed by anything we did…the whole family, from grandmother down to toddler, should be able to watch our show void of feeling any embarrassment.

Another thing I explained was that we would never humiliate a contestant. We would always appear fair, well meaning, and upstanding to our viewers. Under no circumstances would we would ever do anything that seemed underhanded. These were important things to me and I was hoping to engage in a conversation with him about all these matters. However, he remained rather quiet, and did not respond very much to any of these points.

After that initial meeting, I didn’t see him until our first rehearsal.

The Big Worry

There was always a “Big Worry” hanging over our heads about the transition to a new host after Bob left. We had this worry for years…long before Bob even announced his retirement. The “Big Worry” was how the new host was going to learn all the games that Bob knew! Bob knew all the 70+ games because he learned a few each year as they were created. How could a new host be expected to learn all of those games quickly? No one could figure it out. The only idea that was ever discussed was the most simple and obvious…the new host would only play a few games the first few weeks…then learn a few new ones each week thereafter. I felt that solution would have been rather deadly to our show…much of our show’s excitement is based on playing an assortment of games each week with none being repeated. Playing just 10 games over and over again for a while would work but it would certainly lower our entertainment level. This would not be a good thing during a period where we are also having viewers trying to adjust to a new host.

After much thinking, the solution finally came to me. After laying the plans out on paper it seemed like the perfect way to handle the situation. We would teach the new host just six games the first taping week (we tape six shows a week). Each one of those six individual shows would have the same games in them but in different order. We would schedule to air each of those six shows in a different week. Then, during the following week of studio tapings, we would teach him another six games. Once again, those games would be scrambled in each show. And, once again, we would plan to air each show in a different week. We would continue this process for five weeks, with Drew learning a different set of six games in each of those five weeks. When the five-week taping cycle was over and we had 30 shows in the can, we would then begin to air the shows. Because we scrambled the airing of the shows, each week would appear to have a total of 30 different games being played. This method resulted with our viewers seeing a week of new shows, with no games repeated during the week.

Then, when we started the second 5-week cycle of shows, we would continue to scramble the games and the shows. However, during this second cycle, each week would contain three or four of the games Drew already knew plus a few new ones that he would learn.

Because this schedule required us to get at least a 5-week lead before any show could be aired, our premiere airdate was pushed back into October (our new season usually began in September). It eventually turned out to be quite a successful method and I don’t think the average viewer felt anything was amiss.

The First Rehearsals

The first weeks of rehearsals with Drew went fine. He showed up on time and did his homework. His “homework” consisted of reading a copy of a script of the game’s language and watching a DVD of Bob’s performance of the game. The main reason for the Bob Barker DVD was to get Drew into the “zone” of what the game was like…we had absolutely no intention of having Drew perform like a substitute Bob. What we wanted was to have Drew totally understand the game, inside and out, so he could easily and effortlessly explain it clearly while being himself.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Drew had trouble at the beginning. He seemed a little stiff and unsure of himself. This was understandable since he was doing something new. My main concern was that he was going to leave out or mangle an important element when explaining a game to a contestant.

Each game has certain elements of rules that are extremely important—leaving something out or saying something wrong could lead to a contestant losing. If a contestant loses a game because he or she was given wrong or misleading instructions, CBS and FremantleMedia would be held responsible and they would be obligated to award the prize anyway. This could be costly in the case of a car, expensive trip or a prize-filled showcase.

I was in the position of having to correct him during rehearsal. I knew the games backward and forward and I was fully prepared to fulfill my responsibility to help and guide him through the learning process. However, it seemed like he was a little resistant to getting help. Many times when I approached him after a mistake he would mumble, “I know, I know,” and acknowledged under his breathe that he knew what he did wrong. It seemed like he didn’t want to hear that he made a mistake. Thus, it was extremely hard to get a real sharp performance out of him…he was a little resistant to getting pointers, tips, or help.

As the weeks progressed, another change took place…Drew began to arrive at the studio later and later. There were times we had to wait for him to start rehearsal of new games that he was scheduled to learn that day. This would result in a truncated rehearsal. There were times he walked into the studio late and, after I reminded him that we had a lot to learn with a new game, he would use his typical reply “I know, I know” and add, “Don’t worry, I understand the game.” We would then go through a really quick run-through of the game and then he would retire to his dressing room until the show. One thing I learned from working with performers…you can’t make them do what they simply don’t want to do.

Drew’s Dressing Room

During the first weeks of rehearsal, construction continued on his personal dressing room. Apparently, part of his CBS contract was for him to get a brand new dressing room. The current main dressing room in our studio, the one that Bob used, consisted of a make-up room, bathroom, shower, and a sitting room. This was also the dressing room that Carol Burnett used when she did her shows all those many years at CBS. To placate Drew’s contract, CBS had to tear up two smaller rooms to create what seemed to me to be a rather palatial dressing room. Extreme and elaborate hi-tech audio equipment, including a large TV, was installed along one wall, a beautiful writing desk was put in, high-end furniture was purchased to create a sitting area, and a roomy custom bathroom was built for him.

As I remember, only two people were known to have keys to this room. The word went out that no one was to disturb him while he was in his dressing room unless it was extremely important. Papers and schedules had to be slipped under his door. He usually went into his room directly after his performance and would not come out again until rehearsal or the show (makeup was done 10 minutes before the show in Bob’s old dressing room). Even if he wasn’t in his dressing room, no one was allowed to enter it, unless, once again, it was extremely important.

This whole arrangement was quite different to what we had been used to and it took time for us to get accustomed to it. Bob’s dressing room was always open to anyone…a slight knock on his door, and a welcoming “come in” from Bob allowed unlimited access to Bob. He was willing to talk to anyone in his dressing room. He was happy to greet a visitor to the set or talk to a stagehand about sports. Staffers would meet with Bob and discuss the show with him throughout the day. The only time we couldn’t go into Bob’s dressing room was when he took a nap…and for that he would always hang a small “Please do not disturb” sign on the doorknob. Thus, it was a new experience to adjust to a host who made a habit of secluding himself on the set.

The Show Premieres

Needless to say, we were all a little nervous about the premiere of the show with Drew Carey. Would viewers embrace or reject our show with the new host?

I made sure that the first shows were as good as we could make them. We salted the first shows with big and glamorous prizes. All the shows were done in our famous “live to tape” method which has always been a sure fire way to create energy. Drew seemed genuinely happy about doing the show, and I made sure, through the careful selection of games and prizes, for the show to have plenty (and I mean plenty) of winners.

 

Part of my philosophy for the transition from Bob to Drew was to make it as easy as possible for Bob’s fans to accept Drew. I felt too much change (having a new host was change enough!) could turn off the millions of true and loyal fans that the show had. Thus, we kept the same iconic language in the opening and body of the show…we kept Barker’s Bargain Bar with the original title as homage to Bob…we kept much of the same music.

 

I also felt it was extremely important for the first couple of months of the show to have plenty of winners. Such a situation would maintain a real positive and upbeat feel to the show and help viewers, hopefully, to accept Drew as the new host. I completely ignored the prize budget for the first couple of months. I scheduled easy games with obvious right and wrong price combinations so that more contestants could go home as winners.

 

This seemed to work. Even though our ratings were lower than Bob’s (which everyone expected), our shows were excellent…write-ups in various media magazines said we were doing OK without Bob and we were headed in the right direction.

However, my plan to give away plenty of prizes went a little too well. By January, 2008, I was about $700,000 over budget! (The worst I had ever been with Bob’s shows was about $500,000 at mid season) I was fortunate that CBS was behind me and that they supported my plan to give away more prizes. CBS agreed that this was a good decision to help people accept Drew as the new host. It felt good that I was vindicated with my plan. Except, unfortunately, a little problem was developing. Although CBS believed in me, they were unable to get any more money for the prize budget. (In previous years, CBS had been rough with our show…due to falling network revenues they were in the regular habit of cutting our budget). Thus, to my horror, with no extra money coming to cover the overage, FremantleMedia and CBS still expected me to cut back to make up the $700,000! Yikes!

Thus, we went into a period where we were forced to use tougher games and smaller cars (but, at least I am proud to say, I never degraded myself to use that gawdawful Smart Car!). Miracles of miracles, by the very last show I produced, we were within $3000 of our prize budget!

Initial Viewer Response

The initial response to Drew was not good. After all, people were used to Bob. Our e-mail count was barely 1/3 third favorable, and more than 2/3 unfavorable. This ratio did not change much during the first six months of the season. The complaints in the negative e-mails were mostly the same…Drew didn’t explain the games clearly…he did not treat contestants very nice…he was sometimes rude to contestants…. A major complaint was that he mumbled and was hard to understand. A little thing that bothered viewers quite a bit was Drew’s habit of fiddling with his coat pocket flap during the show. (We talked to him about this and he admitted he realized he did that…but he found it extremely hard to stop)

As the season progressed, the negative mail did slow down a bit…I assumed many of the viewers that did not like him simply stopped watching the show. However, the negative mail that came in still mentioned the same things the earlier letters did…he mumbled, he talked too fast, he was unfair to contestants, he didn’t know the rules of the games, etc. The positive mail talked about how they thought he was funny and how they enjoyed his sarcastic remarks. However, the ratio of “I like him” vs. “I dislike him” never went very much over 50%.

Doubts about his performance led to the first of two focus groups that CBS and FremantleMedia held to analyze the show.

Personally, to be on the record, I do not believe in focus groups…most of the great producers and network executives of the past never relied on focus groups. As far as I know, Mark Goodson never voluntarily submitted any of his shows to a focus group…it was Mark Goodson, and his top-notch staff, that created all of his shows…not the consciousness of a focus group.

TV executives are paid big money to be insightful and to be able to make the right decisions. If one wants to pass the responsibility to a group of regular people in a focus group then that person has no business being a TV executive who makes all that money. TV executives today enjoy using focus groups because, if a show that they put on bombs, they can put the blame on the focus group…“I don’t know why it bombed…the focus group loved it!”

CBS and FremantleMedia felt that a focus group was necessary in order to figure out what needed to be fixed. Perhaps the focus group would reveal other problems that the e-mails did not.

The focus group was not kind to Drew…they did not like how he was hosting the show…Most of the points that the group made were the exact same points I received in e-mails… However, the most interesting and most important observation made by the focus group was that they felt he didn’t “connect” with the contestant…they felt he remained distant when he was attempting to interact with them. This was a point that was not mentioned in the e-mails.

The focus group results gave us sort of a blueprint to what had to be done. He was talked to about his mumbling. He was talked to about learning the games better. He was told not to play with his pocket.. He was told to try to connect more with the contestant. Unfortunately, I did not see much of a change in his performance after all these matters were discussed with him.

A Deathknell Sounds at the Show

Shortly after the results of the focus group was made known, a horrible edict by top Fremantle executives was handed to me to execute. I knew this edict was going to change Price Is Right forever. The show was about to lose quite a bit of its excitement and it would never be quite the same.

Fremantle said they no longer wanted the show be recorded “live to tape.” Their feeling was that it would serve the show better if Carey could be free of time restraints. They felt that he would do and say more funny things if he didn’t feel constrained about the time and, perhaps, he might be able to connect with the contestants better (they were eventually proved quite wrong in that regard…in my observation, he didn’t say or do anything more humorous nor did he connect with the contestants any better).

Up until this edict was made, Price Is Right had always been taped with a method usually called “live to tape.” This meant that the show was performed and timed in the studio as if it was a live show being broadcast. Our 60 minute show was taped in 60 minutes (sometimes 61 or 62 minutes). We had very little editing to do (and, believe it or not, sometimes none!).

All of Mark Goodson’s classic gameshows, if not done “live” (as they were in the 1950’s), were done “live to tape.” Nowadays, producers, being spoiled by the ease of digital editing, have mostly lost the skill of producing a show in this manner. It is much easier for them to just let the show run over and then let editors do all the work…it takes far less thinking and far less planning on the producer’s part. This allows them the luxury of being careless in their work…if something goes wrong they can easily edit it out or do it over with a retake. When producing a show “live to tape,” there is very little room for errors and much need for proper preparation.

And, just as important (if not more so), great amounts of money can be saved when a producer does a show “live-to-tape.” Editors and editing rooms are not cheap. Bob Barker, with his 35 years as a host, saved CBS untold millions of dollars in production costs because the editing room was minimally used.

Under the new edict, each episode of The Price is Right would now run 5 to 10 minutes over in the studio. Drew would not be pressured to move the show along due to time restraints. Each of those extra minutes would eventually be edited out. I protested this and didn’t want this to happen to the show. Price is Right was about to lose much of its excitement…the feeling of watching a live broadcast.

The first impact of this change was rather negative…Drew began to take forever playing a game since there were no longer any time restraints. There was no need for Drew to push a contestant to make a decision. Drew would let contestants take as long as they wanted. Now, since there was no need to make a fast or speedy choice, the contestants would be less frantic and, if they so wished, consult with every single living person in the audience (and some certainly seemed like they did!).

The result of all of this was diminished excitement. For years, classic Price Is Right was a showcase in the study of people acting under the demands and pressure that only a gameshow could create.

Having no time restraints works against the whole concept of gameshows being an exciting form of entertainment. All gameshows have time restraints…that’s one of the reasons why gameshows are so exciting. All the individual pricing games at Price is Right have time restraints. Some of the games, like Race Game and Bonkers, have official time limits with sound effects to signify that time is up. Other games, like Any Number, Grocery Game, and It’s in the Bag, have time limits that are unofficial, but, fortunately, they had Bob to hurry the contestant along in making a decision.

An additional problem that an edited show creates is the pace will no longer ebb and flow…it becomes static and very even. Because editors are able to cut out what only seems like wasted time, the show becomes evenly paced throughout the entire hour…everything moves along at the same pace. Because Bob did the show “live to tape,” parts of the show went fast, while other parts slowed done (usually due to an extremely entertaining contestant). To produce a show that is evenly paced across the whole hour leaves a lot to be desired in the excitement column.

Discovering Drew’s Focus

With FremantleMedia giving Drew Carey free reign in the timing department, another realization came to me that was also spelling the slow death of excitement on a once exciting show. In my personal observation, I came to the conclusion that Drew Carey was playing to the studio audience rather than the home audience. This was probably the result of his years doing standup comedy in a roomful of people…he was concerned about the people in the room…the people he could see.

Bob always played to the home audience. When Bob looked into the camera, viewers all across the country felt as if he was looking right at them. Nevertheless, Bob also paid close attention to the reactions of the studio audience—he used the studio audience like a gauge of what people might be feeling at home…if the studio audience got bored with something…well, most likely people at home were too.. But at no time did he do something solely for the benefit of studio audience that would jeopardize the entertainment of millions of people who were watching at home.

I concluded that Drew cared more about the studio audience than about the people watching the show at home.

There were three incidents that supported my feeling:

The first time occurred when I asked him to try to make the game loses more exciting (CBS, Fremantle, and I, were all in agreement on how we all felt that he created no excitement when there was a loss). When a contestant loses on a gameshow, we all feel bad, and the host should express that same feeling and react like it is a big deal (after all, the contestant considers it a big deal that they lost). Drew brushed losses away and dismissed the contestant quickly. I told him that when someone loses, it would be more interesting to viewers if he showed more sympathy and be more dramatic about the loss.. I suggested he could say something as simple as “oh…you were so close…if only you listened to your wife!” He refused to do anything like that. He defended himself by proclaiming that the contestant already feels bad enough and he doesn’t want the contestant to feel any worse.

The second incident involved him allowing the contestant to take forever in making a decision. I suggested that it would make the show more exciting if he helped speed the game along when the contestant has a hard time deciding what number to pick. I suggested saying something like “you know this is only an hour show and The Young and the Restless wants to go on soon!” Once again, he refused. He said it would be wrong of him to hurry a contestant along and have the contestant make a mistake…he felt the contestant should take as long as he/she wants! YIKES!

Finally, everyone working at the studio, executives at CBS, and viewers (we knew by the letters we were getting) hated it when Drew repeatedly and consistently had people say hello to family and friends at the Big Wheel. It always sounded the same…they would spin the wheel, and then Drew would always ask them “Is there anyone you want to say hello to? The contestant would then proceed to say hello to “my wife,” “my mother,” “my husband,” “my fiancé,” etc. Even though I understand that all these people are really important in the contestants’ lives, the home viewer would just be hearing the same faceless pronouns (“husband”, “wife”, “sister”, “brother”, etc.) over and over and over again. IT WAS ALWAYS THE SAME!

I approached him about this (CBS really wanted him to stop doing that) and suggested as they spun the wheel he could ask them different questions each time…(who got your tickets?, who’s the leader of your group?, what are you going to do with the money you might win?) I also added that he could actually pay attention to the wheel and talk about what numbers they needed and what numbers they had to beat.

Once again he refused completely and defended himself by claiming that this was the only time these contestants had a chance to say hello to anybody and he didn’t want them to lose that opportunity. I agreed with him that this was a very nice thought but I tried to explain to him what people at home were feeling. However, he was not going to stop.

All of these things only confirmed my theory that as a former standup comedian he was playing to the immediate audience in the studio rather than the millions at home.

Life On Stage

Working with Drew Carey in the studio was quite different from all the other experiences I have had working with other hosts. He had a lot going on in his brain and he was anxious to share it with everyone and anyone. Most of the other hosts I worked with were not so forthcoming with their dislikes and likes. Drew was not shy to express himself. He was always ready to let people know what he was thinking about.

He loved to talk about soccer. Although soccer is a great sport and is the most popular sport in the world (as Drew constantly reminded us), most of the people I knew at Price were really not that interested in it.. However, he would love to talk soccer with the staff, stagehands, and audience, all of which, politely, had to show interest. He even invited me to soccer games. He had a special box at the stadium filled with food, hotdogs, and drinks, It was quite luxurious and it was quite exciting to experience a private box. However, despite the pleasantries of the box and being a guest of Drew, I still found soccer hard to follow, even after buying myself a book “Soccer for Dummies” so I could understand the game.

Another love he had was the Internet world of “Second Life.” There was a period where he seemed to be really absorbed by that game. He would occasionally bring his laptop to the studio and proceed to show members of the staff and crew what the game was about. He could easily spend 15-20 minutes talking about the game to someone. We were always very respectful of his interest in it and listen to what he had to say. But there were times that if we saw him coming on stage with his computer, we would suddenly remember that we had to make an important phone call in the Green Room!

During commercials he would talk to the audience. He never really seemed to engage in genuine conversation with them, but, instead, he seemed to do parts of his stand-up routine. He liked telling all types of jokes (including ones of questionable taste, and occasionally, like a true standup comedian, insulted people in the audience for the sake of a laugh.)

A good example of Drew’s need to talk about what interests him rather than what might interest others, took place during taping of one of our Christmas shows. Our studio was decked out in beautiful Christmas decorations. We played Christmas music during the show, and had prizes that reflected the holiday season. We were all in the Christmas spirit. We were all feeling good. However, during one of the commercial breaks, Drew started talking on how he hated Christmas! Apparently, he did not have a good Christmas experience as a boy. He talked about how he does not celebrate Christmas. He decried the fact that Christmas is not mentioned in the Bible, and he didn’t understand why we were celebrating it!

 

I looked out into the audience and they were all quiet with no smiles on their faces. The energy and good feeling of the audience was lost at that moment. It was hard to believe that he didn’t realize that he was zapping the energy of the audience with his monologue.

A similar situation occurred later in another show. I was backstage during a commercial break. A stagehand in the studio alerted me that I should quickly run out to the stage to hear what Drew was talking about. I ran out to the studio and heard Drew talk to the audience about the Korean demilitarized zone. He was explaining to the audience that this zone was a no-mans land where anyone who steps into it was shot immediately by North Korea. Matter of fact, he said, the North Koreans machine guns only point one way—at the zone—and that they will automatically shoot down anyone who steps one foot in it—no questions asked!. He described it as a truly hellish place and as a true “no-man’s land.”

I looked at the audience…this time they were silent and many were just staring ahead with their mouths open!

Another divisive, and very uncomfortable, subject that he liked to talk to the audience about was the War on Drugs. Apparently, he would like to see all drugs legalized. He would get a spattering of applause, but I could see by looking out in the audience, that more than half were quiet and many looked unhappy. I am sure that those applauding were very fortunate people whose lives were never touched by the horrors of drug abuse. The others probably knew people and members of their families whose lives were destroyed by access to cocaine, crack, meth, and other drugs..

The Price is Right audience was there to have a good time, have a few laughs, and maybe win a prize. They weren’t there to hear him make a speech about serious problems. However, Drew never understood that (or, perhaps, he didn’t care).

(No) Help from FremantleMedia.

One of the most surreal moments I experienced producing the show was during Clock Game. As Drew was playing the Clock Game and calling out “higher” or “lower” as the contestant named prices, he mistakenly gave the contestant the wrong direction. This resulted in a loss for the contestant. I immediately stopped tape and ran to the director’s booth to have them replay the segment for me to determine for certain if he did indeed make a mistake. The tape did reveal that Drew gave the wrong direction during the game. It was hard to hear but the mistake was definitely made. I turned to the Fremantle representative sitting in the booth and said that the only course we could take was to announce the mistake on the air and award the prize to the contestant.

To my amazement, the Fremantle representative thought I was crazy! He suggested we just ignore the mistake and go on with the show. He said he thought it happened so fast that he didn’t think anybody would notice the mistake! I had to explain to him that there would be thousands of people replaying the game on their VCR or DVR machines and they would definitely hear the mistake. My intention was to inform Drew of his error and to have him award the prize to the losing contestant. The Fremantle executive turned to me and said in disbelief, “You are really going to tell Drew that he made a mistake?” I said “Of course!” I could not believe that this man, the person Fremantle chose to monitor the show for them, could even think of ignoring the problem as if it didn’t happen!

I could over-rule the Fremantle executive because, fortunately, it was made clear to me by the head of Fremantle at the beginning of the season that I had creative control of the show. Thus, I could go down and tell Drew what to do if I thought it was in the best interests of the show. Unlike the Fremantle executive who seemed to be afraid of Drew, I was not afraid of him, especially when it came to the integrity of Price Is Right.

The Season Progresses

As the season progressed and things began to settle down, Drew began to come to the studio later and later. Once he arrived only five minutes before we were scheduled to tape. We were actually worried that he wasn’t going to show up!

He also stopped doing his homework. He often came to the studio unprepared to rehearse the last new games he still had to learn. He no longer watched the tapes of Bob doing the games. He didn’t read the scripts of the game. He would arrive in the studio planning to spend five minutes learning the rules from me and then rehearsing the game once. And once again, as I explained to him the important points of the game and tried to give him tips during this truncated rehearsal, he would mumble “I know, I know…don’t worry…I’ll do the game just fine when I do the show.”

I always remained a little puzzled by this “I’ll do it fine when I do the show” attitude. I could only attribute it to his improv experience where performers make it up as they go along.

During the final four months of the first season with Drew, Fremantle and CBS both felt something more should be done to get people to accept Drew as host.

There a small ruckus about Drew’s wardrobe. Fremantle and CBS wanted to have him dress more “hip.” They thought he should stop wearing suits and ties and do the show in an open collar shirt and sportcoat (did they really believe that clothes would increase the ratings?). They went as far as rolling into the studio a couple of racks of clothing for him to choose from…clothes that CBS and Fremantle executives thought were “hip.” (The clothes were nothing special). Drew looked at the clothes and thought they were crazy to try to change how he dressed. He was totally against an open collar look with no tie. He told them he had ALWAYS worn a coat and tie on TV and was going to continue to do that. I threw him my full support on this issue. While I was there, Drew always wore a coat and tie.

Fremantle also decided to hold another focus group, and this one revealed some very interesting points.

As an exercise, the focus group was ask to list one-word descriptions of The Price Is Right. As each single word was shouted out, the leader of the group would list them on a board. 15 or 20 words popped up on the list including “prizes,” “luxury,” “excitement,” “glamour,” “games,” “Plinko,” “fast-moving”, “cars,” “boats,” “trips, and many others. However, two words did not show up….no one shouted out “Drew” or “Carey.” This implied that he was not yet thought of as part of Price Is Right.

Similarly, as discussed in the earlier focus group, when the participants started to talk about Drew they mentioned Drew’s inability to explain games clearly and his tendency to mumble and be hard to understand.

Fortunately, however, this group did save the show from a fate that would have nearly destroyed it. For a long time before this focus group was held, executives at FremantleMedia felt, that because of time restraints being put on the show due to added commercials, the number of games on the show should be cut back from six to three. (When Rosie O’Donnell considered doing the show, she also wanted to cut back the games to three) Thank goodness the focus group HATED that idea. They HATED it with so much feeling and passion and made it perfectly clear to the leader of the group that they did not want that to happen. They went on to say how it wouldn’t be the same show anymore. They HATED the fact that fewer contestants would have a chance to win prizes. This group was so adamantly opposed to this change, that Fremantle, thankfully, got the message and finally dropped the idea of playing only three games per hour. I am eternally grateful to the focus group for their adamant rejection of that idea!

Leaving the Show

We taped the last show of our 36th year on July 2, 2008. We were all feeling good about the first year with our new host. Not only did we get Drew through the year, we got ourselves through it. It was not easy to work with someone like Drew. I was also feeling good for another reason…I had done what many thought was an impossible task…I erased the $700,000 overage in the prize budget.

The next morning a Fremantle executive came to our offices and he called me into another room. He explained to me that Fremantle was dismissing me. He said the show needed “a change” and that the company wanted the show to go in a “new direction.” They dismissed me that very day. It came as quite a surprise to me and others.

I was also told that the company wanted the show to become more “Drew’s show.” I disagreed with them…I felt the show was bigger than Drew. Rather than have the show conform to Drew, I felt that Drew should conform more to the needs of the show. Bob always understood this and he knew how to host the show properly. He always knew what the show needed. He knew the strengths of the show and how to build upon them. I felt that Drew would have been a stronger host if he had done the same thing.

Contrary to what the executive at Fremantle told me, a short while later, Nina Tassler, President of Entertainment, CBS, said that my dismissal was necessary in order to make room for “Drew’s guys.”

Nevertheless, whatever the reason was, with a heavy heart, I cleared out my office that night and carefully took home 36 years of memorabilia and personal materials.

Replacing television show producers happens all the time…it is quite common in the TV industry to assign a new producer at the beginning of a new season. I was quite fortunate to have been able to stay with The Price Is Right for 36 years…quite an unusual feat for someone that works in television.

I worked on a happy, well-run show. Due to our schedule and our efficiency, I was able to enjoy my family and actually watch my kids grow up. Very few other TV producers can say that. I worked with the greatest host ever…Bob Barker, and, I also worked for the best gameshow company that ever existed, Mark Goodson Productions.

I learned much from Mark Goodson as an executive and as a person. I learned that if one is smart, clever, and talented, like Mark Goodson was, one doesn’t have to yell or act like a tyrant to get his employees to do their jobs.

Executives who yell, act tyrannical, and bully others do so in order to hide their inadequacies. They attempt to intimidate others into submission. Talented, confident pople never have to resort to such abusive and abhorrent behavior.

Mark Goodson treated everyone that worked for him with respect. I did my best to emulate that behavior. When you treat people nicely and with respect, they will always give more than 100%.

Life After Price

After leaving the show, I would watch it occasionally to see what was going on and see what the current caretakers were up to.

The last show that I ever watched in its entirety was the famous one during which the contestant made an exact bid in the showcase.

When the exact bid happened, the current caretakers of the show, in my opinion, made some seriously erroneous decisions, which I feel might have harmed the perception of the show by the public. Rather than embrace the situation and rejoice in the exact showcase bid, they stopped tape for approximately 45 minutes (as was reported to me), and, apparently, they suspected cheating. When they finally resumed taping, Drew, with a rather dour look on his face, brushed aside the exact bid and ended the show without saying anything about it. He completely ignored a monumental moment for The Price Is Right!

 

The media picked up on this event and started asking questions on why such a big moment was treated so lightly. The show said they suspected some type of “cheating” had taken place…somebody in the audience had memorized prices and shouted out the correct showcase bid to the onstage contestant. The onstage contestant repeated it and won the showcase!

Contrary to what the current caretakers think, this was exactly the type of behavior that Bob and the show cultivated for 35 years…we WANTED the audience to know the prices and we WANTED them to call them out!

It was their handling of this event that many viewers may have created the perception of the show as being a cynical program that demonizes their most faithful viewers.

Bob and I have discussed this event and we would have handled it quite differently. There would have been no initial suspicion of cheating or anything underhanded. There would have been no stop-tape. Bob would have proceeded to drum up excitement leading up to the reveal of the showcase amount and would have turned it into a riveting moment. He would have totally embraced the event and the audience would have rejoiced in it. The celebration of the momentous event with our studio audience would have been over-whelming. Price Is Right would have received invaluable press coverage resulting with Bob doing dozens of interviews and getting great PR for the show. Bob’s message during these interviews would have been, “See, if you watch everyday and learn the prices, you too can be a big winner on The Price Is Right!”

A genuine act of “cheating” during a bid, could only be accomplished if a contestant had contact with someone who worked on the show that knew all the prices. This apparently did not happen. Even if a later investigation showed that a form of real cheating had happened and that someone at CBS tipped the contestant off about the showcase price, we would have announced it, fired the staffer who leaked the information and retracted the prizes from the winner. This, in itself, would also have received good press coverage…it would have assured the public that we were an honest show that investigates itself and has no tolerance for those that cheat.

If a list is ever compiled about the greatest gameshow producing blunders of all time I think the handling of the exact showcase bid on The Price Is Right will make it to the top. It certainly tops Press Your Luck’s blunder of having only 5 light patterns on their light board that could be memorized (and was successfully memorized by Mike Larsen, a contestant on that show).

 

After this incident I could no longer watch an episode in its entirety. Now I only observe the show in segments…usually when someone has alerted me that there’s something unusual or if there’s a new game on the show

New games are extremely important to the show. To me, fresh games are more important than fresh paint. They keep the show new, exciting, and interesting. During the Barker years, our aim was to add two new games each season, although occasionally, due to budget restraints, we only added one.

It’s nice to know that the current caretakers are still adding games, although at a much reduced pace. Not counting Gas Money (which was devised and built in Season 36) the show has added only three games in these last five seasons.

For the record, I had intended for the 37th premiere week of The Price Is Right to introduce a new game each day…for a total of five. It was going to be a very exciting and special week. The games that were devised were good, solid ones. However, circumstances came up and that became the premiere week that never was.

Even though the show is wisely adding at least a few games, I regret to say, that there is one new pricing game that really bothers me and, as a gameshow person, it is hard for me to ignore it and the game’s basic problem. Forgive me, but I must give it a short review…

The show has devised a game called “Pay the Rent,” in which the top prize is $100,000. The game is really not that noteworthy except for the huge cash prize. However, unbeknownst to most contestants and viewers, the game is designed in such a manner that it will likely be lost each time it is played. It plays against the player’s intuitive feeling to put the cheapest item on the bottom of the stack. If the player goes with his intuition and places the cheapest item at the bottom, the player will (almost) always lose. The game does not have to be set up this way, but it appears that’s the way the show chooses to set it up. In other words, it almost appears like the show wants to fool the contestant into losing. I hope I am wrong with that assumption…perhaps the show doesn’t realize what it is doing. As it is currently played, the game appears, in my personal opinion, to be a little mean-spirited. It feels wrong that a game should be designed that consciously and consistently lead players to lose every time. (as of this writing, the game has been played 23 times and the top prize of $100,000 has never been won!)

I will continue to catch Price Is Right every now and then to see what’s up. I am very proud to have been part of the show and had the opportunity to work with Bob Barker. Whenever I mention that I produced the show to people I meet, it always brings a smile to their faces. They loved Bob and they loved the show. They have many, many, fond memories of watching Bob. It truly makes me happy to see that joy in them and I appreciate when they relay those feelings to me.

The show is an American television classic and, hopefully, television viewers will embrace it for many, many, more years. I am certainly proud that I can say that I was a part of a piece of true Americana—the “Fabulous 60 minute Price Is Right!”

Thank you, Roger. Apparently, there are a few things to be learned here. First, if you’re a big enough star, the network will do anything for you. Second, some people just cannot understand or appreciate tradition. And third, well, newer is not always better.

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About gameking77

I'm an average guy who loves game shows and interviewing people.
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5 Responses to Interview with Roger Dobkowitz, Part 7: “Everything You Wanted to Know About Price: Roger’s Year with Drew”

  1. HD says:

    WOW! I think we learned ALOT from this part 7!

  2. Galen Clark says:

    Roger! You were always the best! You are missed!

  3. I simply want to say I am all new to blogging and really loved your blog. Most likely I’m planning to bookmark your blog . You actually have tremendous posts. Regards for revealing your blog site.

  4. Darla says:

    This was a great article. My son e-mailed it to me and I enjoyed reading it immensely as I and my son who is soon to be 30 years old are faithful followers of The Price Is Right and especially when Bob was the host.

  5. Johnathon says:

    What an honor it must have been to have worked with some of television’s greatest hosts. Gene Rayburn, Bob Barker, Tom Kennedy, Jack Narz, Dennis James and Richard Dawson! I grew up watching these stars beginning at a very early age. If I could go back in time and actually meet these legends it would be the ultimate human experience! Game shows reached their peak in superiority in the ’70s until about the mid ’80s. I had the opportunity to see a live taping of TPIR in the Summer of ’85. It was one of TPIR’s announcer, Johnny Olson’s, last shows before his death. I’m so glad that I was able to see Johnny Olsen in real life. He sure was a fun-loving spirited man! There really has never been an announcer as fine as Johnny Olsen. I grew up watching TPIR. I was 4 years old when the show premiered and was hooked on it until 2007. When I was home sick, or on Summer vacation I would never miss an episode of the show. I remember the night time versions with Dennis James and Tom Kennedy. I remember when TPIR had just two models, the beautiful Janis and Anitra. It was a very sad day when Bob Barker announced his retiring in television. I missed his last show when it originally aired in June, ’07 because of remodeling work going on in my home. I was extremely skeptical when I found out that Drew Carey would be the new host. I’ve never been a fan of Drew Carey. I watched a couple of episodes when he first started on TPIR. Drew was dismal. I felt betrayed that my favorite daytime treat was now taken away from me. I tried and tried to find some reason to feel that TPIR was still a worthwhile program to view, but the inferior changes to the show have dropped the curtain down to the point of no retraction. I no longer watch TPIR. Thankfully there are numerous classic episodes of TPIR on YouTube. Some of them are original studio masters with the slate and clapper board! May Bob Barker continue to enjoy his retirement for many years to come. Thank you Bob for your contribution to television for making it fun!

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