The Price Is Right (1956 game show)

The Price Is Right (1956 game show)

Dablink|This article is about the original Bill Cullen version of the current U.S. game show. For the latest version currently hosted by Drew Carey, see The Price Is Right (U.S. game show)infobox television
show_name = "The Price Is Right"

caption =
format = Game Show
runtime = 30 minutes
creator = Bob Stewart
original packager = Mark Goodson-Bill Todman
starring = Bill Cullen
Don Pardo
Johnny Gilbert
country = USA
network = NBC (1956-1963)
ABC (1963-1965)
first_aired = November 26, 1956
last_aired = September 3, 1965
num_episodes = 2263
website =
imdb_id = 0048894
tv_com_id =5406
The original version of "The Price Is Right" was an American television game show where the contestants won prizes by giving the closest bid to merchandise items and other products.

This original version — hosted by Bill Cullen — aired from 1956-1963 on NBC, and from 1963-1965 on ABC. Versions aired in both daytime and (from 1957-1964) prime-time. It was the precursor to the current and most well known version of "The Price Is Right", which has been running on CBS since 1972, with Bob Barker as host from 1972-2007 and Drew Carey as host beginning in 2007.

Bill Cullen hosted both the daytime and nighttime versions of the show. For two seasons (1959-1961), the nighttime version of the show was eighth in the prime time Nielsen ratings, making it by far the most watched game show on television at the time. Critics cited Cullen's easygoing personality as a key part of the show's success.


On the original version of "The Price Is Right", four contestants – one a returning champion, the other three chosen from the studio audience – bid on items or ensembles of items in an auction-style format.

A prize was presented for the contestants to bid on. After a minimum bid was specified, the contestants gave a bid on the item, one at a time; usually, each successive bid had to be a certain amount higher than the previous bid. At any time when it was his or her turn to bid, if he/she believed his/her bid was close enough to win, he/she could "freeze" (and thus, was not allowed to give further bids). A rule added part way into the run allowed contestants, on the first go around only, to "underbid" the other bids, but this meant that they would be automatically frozen.

The bidding process continued until one of two things happened:

* A "time's up" buzzer sounded. Each contestant who had not yet "frozen" was given one final bid.
* At least three of the contestants had "frozen." The fourth contestant was allowed one final bid, unless he/she already had the high bid.

Cullen then read the actual retail price of the prize; the contestant whose bid was closest without going over won the item. If everyone overbid, the prize was not won; however, Cullen would sometimes have the overbids "wiped out" and instruct everyone to give a lower bid. (A "group overbid" on the current CBS version results in re-bidding until there is a winner.)

Frequently, a bell would ring after the winner was revealed, indicating a bonus prize was awarded along with the item up for bids. While this was frequently just an additional prize, there was often a bonus game (e.g., a tune-matching game, where a clip of a well-known song was played and the contestant matched it with a face for a cash bonus). This concept would later evolve into the "pricing games" on the current version (although the pricing games were actually inspired by "Let's Make a Deal"). In addition, one of the pricing games in the current lineup is called Bonus Game.

Some rounds were one-bid rounds, which were like today's Contestants' Row bidding. Usually, the minimum bid and "bid higher" restrictions were waived. These prizes often had bonus surprises tied to them as well. The One-Bid round is the only aspect of the current version of "The Price Is Right" that is taken directly from this version.

After a set number of rounds (four on the nighttime version; six on the daytime), the contestant who accumulated the most value in cash and prizes was the returning champion on the next show.

Home Viewer "Showcases"

Frequently, "The Price is Right" featured a home viewer "Showcase," a multi-prize package for which home viewers were invited to submit their bids via postcard. The viewer who was closest to the actual retail price won everything in the Showcase, but one item was sometimes handmade so the viewer could not check the price of all the items up for bids. Very often, home viewers were stunningly accurate with their bids, including several viewers who guessed the price correct down to the penny. The term "Showcase" would, in time, be replaced by the word, "sweepstakes."

The Showcases remain in today's CBS version, as does the announcer phrase, "This Showcase can be yours "if" the price is right."


While many of the prizes on the original "The Price Is Right" were normal, standard game show fare (e.g., furniture, appliances, home electronics, furs, trips and cars), there were many instances of outlandish prizes being offered. This was particularly true of the prime-time version, which had a larger prize budget.

Some examples:

* A 1926 Rolls-Royce with chauffeur
* A Ferris wheel
* Shares of corporate stock
* An island in the St. Lawrence Seaway. Sometimes, large amounts of food – such as a mile of hot dogs along with buns and enough condiments (perhaps to go with a barbecue pit) – were offered as the bonus.

Some other examples of outlandish or "exceptionally unique" bonus prizes:

* Accompanying a color TV, a live peacock (a play on the NBC logo) to serve as a "color guide."
* Accompanying a barbecue pit and the usual accessories, a live Angus steer.
* Accompanying a prize package of items needed to throw a backyard party, big band legend Woody Herman & His Orchestra.
* Accompanying a raccoon coat worth $29.95, a sable coat valued at $23,000.

In the early 1960s, the dynamic of the national economy was such that the nighttime show could offer homes in new subdivisions (sometimes fully furnished) as prizes, sometimes with truly suspenseful bidding among the contestants.

Towards the end of the show's run on NBC, the nighttime version gave away small business franchises (like a take-out fried chicken establishment or a mobile drycleaning operation).

In some events, the outlandish prizes were merely for show; for instance, contestants may bid on the original retail price for a 1920's car, and would instead win a more contemporary model.

1963 ABC Version

When "The Price Is Right" moved to ABC in 1963, three studio contestants — including the returning champion — played. The fourth chair was filled by a guest celebrity, who played for either a studio audience member or home viewer. If the celebrity was the big winner of the day, the contestant who had the most winnings was considered the champion. Also, when it switched networks, it switched announcers. Since Don Pardo was on staff at NBC and he did not want to give up his seniority there, he resigned from the show and Johnny Gilbert became the new announcer.

Also when the show moved to ABC, several CBS affiliates took up ABC secondary affiliation to show "The Price is Right" (especially if the market at the time had no full ABC affiliation), in part because of the still high ratings the show enjoyed in daytime.

Goodson-Todman wanted to have this be ABC's first non-cartoon color show, but ABC could not afford to convert to color at the time. So the show went back to black-and-white.

Programming History


"The Price Is Right" was created and produced by Bob Stewart for Mark GoodsonBill Todman Productions. Stewart already had created one hit series for Goodson-Todman, "To Tell the Truth", and he would later create the enormously successful "Password". After 1964, Stewart left "Password" and Goodson-Todman to strike out on his own. (Frank Wayne, who later produced the Barker version of "Price," took over Stewart's "Password" spot.)

Bob Stewart attributes the creation of "The Price Is Right" to watching an auctioneer from his office window selling off various merchandise in New York City.

After the success of "Price", "To Tell the Truth", and "Password", producer Stewart left Goodson-Todman in 1965. Stewart's follow-up to "The Price Is Right", his first independent production, was "Eye Guess", a sight-and-memory game with Bill Cullen as host (it was loosely based on a "Price Is Right" bonus game). Later, Stewart hit the jackpot with the popular "The $10,000 Pyramid" and its successors.

Mark Goodson's gameshow empire also grew in the 1970s and 1980s, starting with "The New Price is Right", and continuing with "Match Game" and its spin-off "Family Feud", "Card Sharks", and others.

Bloopers and other memorable moments

*On one show, the prize was a trip to the circus. The producers placed a live elephant in front of the circus backdrop. The camera cut to the elephant – which was moving its bowels. Cullen quipped: "Join us again on Monday when we'll have equal time for the Democratic Party!"

*In another episode, an elephant was offered as a "bonus prize" for a contestant who had won a grand piano (hence, for "extra ivory"). The real prize was $4,000; however, the contestant wanted the elephant and persisted with his demand. Eventually, the contestant got his wish, and a live elephant from Kenya was delivered to him. This incident was spoofed in "The Simpsons" episode "Bart Gets an Elephant" [] .

*On a 1957 daytime episode, an elk's head was offered (it was connected to a bonus prize of a trip to a hunting lodge in Vermont). One camera angle had the elk head, which was suspended from the ceiling, looking like Bill Cullen was wearing it. Apparently seeing the camera shot from an offstage monitor, Cullen seized the moment as only he could, by appearing to duck from under the head, and in deadpan fashion, saying "hello, there," before standing up straight, his head once again appearing to disappear into the neck cavity of the elk's head.

*On occasion, the contestants' tote boards (furnished by The American Totalizator Company, "A Division of Universal Control, Inc.") would break down. When this happened, a chalkboard was wheeled out and placed behind the contestants. One of the models would then act as "official scorekeeper" for that day's show.

Other Facts


The show originated from the Hudson Theater in New York City, converted for television. A year later it used NBC's Colonial Theater at 66th and Broadway as its main origination. The Ziegfeld Theater was used for a few shows as well. When the show moved to ABC, the Ritz Theater became the show's broadcast origination.

In addition to his hosting duties on The Price Is Right and his weekly appearances as a panelist on I've Got A Secret, Bill Cullen also hosted a weekday morning radio show for WNBC in New York.

ubstitute Hosts

Over the nine-year run, various people sat in Bill's place while he took a well-deserved vacation:


*Sonny Fox (June 10, 1957 - the first substitute host)
*Merv Griffin (July 28/August 5, 1959 primetime)
*Arlene Francis (February 1, 1961 primetime; At this point, she was a rare occurrence of a woman hosting a game show)
*Don Pardo (December 31, 1959/December 28, 1962)


*Robert Q. Lewis (December 27, 1963 - Bill himself was the celebrity guest)
*Johnny Gilbert (specific date unknown)
*Jack Clark (March 12, 1965 - Dorothy Lamour was the celebrity guest)


*Bob Kennedy
*Sam Levenson
*Jack Narz (Bill's brother-in-law; Believed to be during the ABC era since he was hosting "Seven Keys" on that network at the time - likely some point between September 1963 and March 27, 1964)

Episode Status

Although no color kinescopes or videotapes are known to exist from the NBC primetime run (ABC did not air the show in color), "The Price is Right" became the first regularly airing game show series to be aired in color in 1957. Monochrome copies aired on Game Show Network from 1996-2000, at which time GSN's contract to air the show ended; as of now, it has not been renewed.

There are also a few "public domain" episodes, complete with commercials, which are seemingly not part of the catalogue held by GSN; These have been released on home video or in the trading circuit. Four episodes of this version (including the 1964 primetime Finale) were released on "The Best of The Price is Right" DVD set (released March 25, 2008) - although none were of the 1963-1965 daytime run, instead giving the NBC primetime run a second episode.

Theme Songs

The first theme song used from 1956 to 1961 was an arrangement of Charles Strouse's "Sixth Finger Tune," originally written for Milton Scott Michel's 1956 play "Sixth Finger in a Five Finger Glove". The second theme song, used from 1961 to 1965, was called "Window Shopping" and was composed by Bob Cobert. This theme was later used on another Goodson-Todman game, "Snap Judgment". The theme later found its way back to Bob Stewart's stable with the short-lived Bill Leydon/Larry Blyden-hosted "You're Putting Me On".

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