Bob Barker wasn’t nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award last week, but he probably doesn’t care. He has won a dozen of them as the host of The Price Is Right and two more as its executive producer. He has also received Emmy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Emmy-snub aside, at the moment, he’s in negotiations for a new five-year deal with CBS. That’s astounding, because the energetic and affable Barker is 82 years old.
Television often wallows in clichés, but it can also dispel them, and no old saw has been more thoroughly discredited by the medium than “familiarity breeds contempt.” Evidence: Price is midway through its 35th year, having long since broken the daytime-game-show longevity record set by What’s My Line (18 years). Barker has been the face of the show since day one.
He has also far surpassed Johnny Carson’s mark for longest continuous tenure with one show. His track record is a remarkable achievement, especially considering that, before he began Price, he had already made history with his 3,524 consecutive shows as host of the daytime edition of Truth or Consequences.
“He’s really remarkable because he never stops engaging the studio audience until the taping is done, and the audience and viewers feeds off his enthusiasm,” says Barbara Bloom, senior VP of CBS daytime. “Bob is the master of that universe.”
The show has held up in part, Barker says, because it always had a modern feel, with lots of brief, fast-paced segments that change each day; there are six kinds of games in each show (out of a total of 80 rotated in and out) so Price is not the same show every day. The viewer doesn’t know what to expect, he says, and Barker has picked up the pace of the show over the years to keep up with contemporary tastes.
Barker stumbled into the field when he returned to college after taking time to train as a Naval ensign during World War II; he got a writing job at a local radio station, then did some announcing but one day got to substitute as a host. “My wife heard it and told me, 'You did that better than you’ve ever done anything else,’” he recalls, adding, “She didn’t say I was good, however.” But he obviously had staying power.
Barker keeps fit with a vegetarian diet and regular workouts. He has given considerable time and energy over the past 12 years to animal-rights causes—he resigned hosting the Miss USA contest to protest its use of furs—and uses his DJ&T Foundation (named for his wife Dorothy Jo and mother Tilly) to provide grants to help spay and neuter dogs to prevent overpopulation.
He knows most gigs come to an end sooner or later. In his case, it will be later. “I considered retiring 14 years ago,” he says. “And I consider it again every year. But then I realize I enjoy the show and I still feel good, so why not do one more year?”
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Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.