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The Price Is Right (1956)

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The Price Is Right (1956)
Premiere November 26, 1956
Finale September 3, 1965
Creator Bob Stewart
Host Bill Cullen
Network/Provider NBC (seasons 1–6)
ABC (seasons 7–9)
Style 30-minute game show
Company Goodson-Todman Productions
(Marbil Productions)
Seasons 9
Episodes 2,263
Origin USA

The Price Is Right is the original incarnation of the popular game show The Price Is Right. This version, which featured Bill Cullen as host, aired on NBC with announcer Don Pardo from 1956 to 1963, and on ABC with announcer Johnny Gilbert from 1963 to 1965. In addition to a daily daytime episode throughout its run, it also featured a weekly nighttime version from 1957 to 1964. It was cancelled in 1965 after losing too many viewers to Jeopardy! and not having enough market clearances when it moved to ABC (as many markets did not have an ABC affiliate in the early-to-mid 1960s).

The original version of The Price Is Right pitted four contestants (called "the bargain hunters") in what is a variation of an auction. They sat at a panel desk fronted by tote readouts by the American Totalizator Company. They were shown items of merchandise which were described in detail by the announcer (Don Pardo on NBC, Johnny Gilbert on ABC). Bidding started with the first player and the bids started low. Each ensuing player made a bid above the previous in turn. Bidding as such continued until a player, thought he/she may exceed the item's price, stopped, or "freezes," or a buzzer told all remaining players to make a final bid. After all bids were frozen, Bill Cullen read the actual retail price. Whoever was closest to the price without going over won the item. If all players went over, nobody won it (with the exception noted below).

Minimums: Early on, players could bid anywhere above the previous top bid, but as time went on and prizes became more valuable, players had to bid at least a certain amount above the previous high. This was referred to as "minimum" bids. Minimums on daytime ranged from $5 to $50, while nighttime minimums ranged from $10 to $100. Smaller items required no minimums. On certain occasions, especially at night, the opening bidder was asked to start at least at a pre-determined bid.

One-Bid Items: Some bidding games were one-bids, similar to the one used on the current CBS show. The minimum bid rule is waived, and players could bid anywhere.

Bonus: At least twice a show, a loud clanging bell sounded to alert the winner of certain prizes that he/she has won a bonus prize or is to participate in separate contests to win bonus prizes.

Underbid: During the first round of bidding in a game, if a player thinks any of his/her opponents has bid too high, he/she may bid anywhere under any of the others. It is automatically frozen.

Overbid second chance: Once in a while, if all players have overbid, Bill Cullen would not read the price out loud. He would instruct the bids to be erased from the tote screens and each player may make one bid, with each required to be below the lowest original frozen bid. The minimum bid rule is waived.

Home Showcase: Both daytime and nighttime editions featured contests in which viewers sent postcards with their bid on a showcase of prizes. At first, all postcards with the exact price (or closest without going over) were subject to runoffs, if more than one entry had the price, with the winner receiving the prizes. Later, cards were drawn from five rotating drums and posted on a board with the closest without going over winning. In this second version, the winner was flown to New York to be a contestant on the show.

Very briefly in 1957, the daytime show tested a new format. Bill Cullen would read an item's price but it was the wrong price. The contestants had to determine if the correct price was higher or lower than the wrong price. (This would become the basis of the current CBS show's Bonus Game).

The contestant with the largest total in winnings was the champion and returned to play until defeated. When the show moved to ABC, a celebrity was employed to play for members of the studio audience on the nighttime show (the daytime show started employing celebrity players in March 1964). On the ABC show, the returning champ was determined from the highest total of the three civilian players.

Logo upon moving to ABC in 1963.

Bob Stewart, creator of the show, would create two more hits for Goodson-Todman: To Tell the Truth and Password. Contrary to popular belief, The Price Is Right was not a Goodson-Todman creation. Stewart developed it independently as early as 1955 while he was overseeing a show on local New York television called The Sky's The Limit. He developed the premise for Price after watching an auction house vendor apply this contest to potential customers (according to Stewart, the person who was closest to the actual price of an item without going over got to buy the item at the bid price). In 1956, Monty Hall brokered a meeting for Stewart with Goodson-Todman, making a pilot titled Three of a Kind, which in turn became To Tell the Truth. When asked if he had anything else, Stewart developed Auction-Aire. It became The Price Is Right upon its premiere.

Two home versions of The Price Is Right were made. In 1958, Lowell Games made an edition that maintains most of the flavor of the show. In 1964, Milton-Bradley made an edition with the supplementary name "Bid It Right" and scales it down to two quick card games.

Seven years and one day after its final telecast on ABC, The Price Is Right would be revived for syndication and CBS daytime.

As a result of a 2008 revision to the contestant eligibility rule for the current CBS show dating back to Bob Barker's hosting stint (which originally made contestants appearing during the Barker era - also believed to be retroactive to the original version - ineligible to be contestants on the show ever again), on rare occasions, contestants who originally appeared on the Cullen-hosted version of the show have appeared as contestants on the current version now hosted by Drew Carey.

In Depth

DVD Releases

Four episodes of this version appear on disc 1 of the four-disc DVD set The Best of The Price Is Right. The episodes featured are a daytime show from February 21, 1957 (erroneously listed on the liner notes as March 10, 1957), a nighttime show from January 13, 1960, nighttime show from January 27, 1960, and the final nighttime show from ABC from September 11, 1964 (erroneously listed on the liner notes as September 4, 1964). Three NBC daytime shows from 1957 (May 31, July 5, July 12), the final NBC nighttime show (Sept. 6, 1963) and an ABC daytime show from 1965 (January 4--widely listed erroneously as from 1964) are featured on compilation videos from Shokus Video. Five other nighttime shows (NBC, December 25, 1961; NBC, January 1, 1962; NBC, January 8, 1962; NBC, Nov. 26, 1962; and ABC, Aug. 27, 1964) and two ABC daytime shows from 1965 with Jack Clark guest hosting (week of March 22)--all not screened on Game Show Network during the series' replay run--are on the trading circuit. The very second show from November 27, 1956 and a test episode from November 19, 1956 (a week before its debut) are now on YouTube.

External Sites