Carey puts ‘Price’ contestants at ease

Barker's replacement gets high marks in first year

Drew Carey has no problem recognizing the star of “The Price Is Right.”

“It’s the contestant, not the game, not the host. It’s that person up there on the stage who goes on a journey, and the audience is right there with them,” Carey says. “The host is just the guide. All I have to do is just show up in a good mood and be nice to everybody.”

Just being modest? Sure. Carey has stepped in quite nicely actually, having the pressure to fill the shoes for icon Bob Barker, who retired last year amid tremendous fanfare. Ratings for the daytime version are down about 15% — certainly not unexpected considering the handoff from a gameshow legend to a comic, and it’s a number CBS can live with — plus the primetime version of “Price” is a big hit for the Eye with more specials on the way.

Both “Price” and Barker won Daytime Emmys in 2007, and it will be interesting to see if Carey, in his first year as “Price” host, is nominated this year as well.

Carey says he believes all great gameshows have a built-in mythology. The audience sees the contestant and wants that contestant to succeed. The host draws out the contestant’s story, making the audience root for him or her.

“Whether it’s ‘American Idol’ or ‘The Price Is Right,’ we invest in these people and want them to win,” Carey says. “‘The Price Is Right’ is a genius show on so many levels. The people are so excited and the stakes aren’t so high that it’s going to change anybody’s life. It’s all about having a good time.”

Carey is quick to look back at the transition of holding the skinny mic and can appreciate Barker’s words of wisdom.

“His advice was to be myself and ‘don’t do the show like I did,'” Carey recalls. “That was either good advice or a warning. Maybe it was a threat.”

With “Price” doing well and “Deal or No Deal” continuing to be a ratings champ for NBC, David Schwartz of GSN (and co-author of “The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows”) sees the confluence of a popular show and host as an equation for success.

“You have to have a good game to start out with,” Schwartz explains. “The most successful gameshows have simple formats, but I don’t think ‘Deal or No Deal,’ for example, would have been as successful without Howie Mandel. The game is to pick a suitcase. Howie draws out the suspense and weaves all the elements into just the right mix.”

Some gameshows fail because they are too complicated, Schwartz says, while others couldn’t match the game to the personality of the host. The best shows, he adds, are the ones that have the perfect match of emcee and game.

“Gene Rayburn was perfect for ‘The Match Game,’ and you can’t imagine ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ with anyone other than Monty Hall,” Schwartz says, “but many gameshows have been able to survive host changes.”

“Jeopardy!” was a huge hit with Art Fleming as host, and when it came back in 1984 with new host Alex Trebek, it never missed a beat.

Adam Rose, who became the first

$1 million winner on the Feb. 22 “The Price Is Right” primetime edition, says he’s been watching the show his entire life and embraced the change from Barker to Carey.

“I think I’ve watched more than 1,000 episodes,” Rose says, “and, to be honest, I like that I was on with Drew Carey because he really put me at ease. He made me comfortable and feel like I was at home.”

Rose says while the game is important, he believes the host plays a vital role in its popularity.

“I’ll watch a gameshow that isn’t very challenging if the host is good,” Rose says. “Without Howie Mandel, all you have is a bunch of random suitcases. When I first watched ‘Deal or No Deal,’ I thought it wouldn’t be good, but with Howie, I just can’t turn it off. He makes every show interesting, even though nothing in the game changes.”

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