What makes a good contestant? How do they determine the actual retail prices? And just how many cars do they have on hand, anyway?
For 42 years, generations of daytime TV watchers — the ill and house-bound, the college students, the unemployed, the stay-at-home parents, the lucky so-and-sos who can watch TV at their job — have enjoyed countless hours watching The Price is Right. CBS’s perennial game show is a television institution, but it also still holds a host of nagging mysteries, like, where do all those cars come from, how do they determine the “actual retail price,” and what are the producers looking for in a contestant?
With the show’s 42nd season premiering this week — including an unprecedented all-Plinko episode on Friday — BuzzFeed spoke with executive producer Mark Richards about how he puts the show on the air everyday. (For one thing, they shoot the show twice a day, Monday through Wednesday, three weeks out of every month, and they spend the rest of their time preparing each episode.)
Here is what we learned:
Contestants should be excited to be there, but they shouldn’t force it.
One of the questions Richards says he gets most often is what qualities decide who gets to “Come on down!” to be a contestant on the show. “The real answer is we’re looking for people that are being themselves, and not pretending to be more excited or more odd or whatever it is,” he says. “We’re looking for people who are authentically excited to be there, are naturally gregarious, are interested in having a good time, and who we think will enjoy the prizes that we’re giving away.”
Before loading into the Price is Right soundstage at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, audience producers interview each contestant, but they don’t have a great deal of time. “We have roughly 20 seconds with each person,” Richards says. “So are we able to really ascertain all that? No. We’re looking for any kind of cue that makes us think they’re going to like our prizes. Most people who come to the show like the types of things The Price is Right gives away.”
If it has seemed like contestants that arrive in a large group of people all wearing the same outfits have a better chance of getting on the show, Richards says that is only thanks to math. “If you come in a big group of 15 people all in the same shirt, just statistically, one of you is probably going to get chosen, just because there is 300 people in the audience, and we have to pick nine of them,” he says. “We almost have to pick you, because we need enough people to come down.”
Cliff Lipson / CBS
They have the finding-contestants-in-the-audience thing down cold.
And when the contestants do come on down, the camera crew is remarkably quick in finding them in the audience. “We are expert Where’s Waldo players,” Richards says. “We’ve seen the pictures of [the contestants], and they each have numbers on them, so sometimes, that dictates where they’re sitting. And then we have a grid of the audience that we hand to the cameramen, so they know where they’re going.”
The show’s producers begin planning each episode months in advance, and they start at the end, with the showcases.
The reason is simple: The showcases should have the biggest prizes, and nothing else in the show should overshadow it. “You don’t want to repeat prizes that you’ve seen in the showcase,” says Richards. After the production team decides upon the showcase theme and main prizes, a lucky person called the “prize producer” begins to build out the rest of the show, planning each game and the prizes within that game. Which is perhaps not quite as fun as it sounds, since…
Monty Brinton / CBS