The Price Is Right Live Was a Pop Culture Orgy of Prizes, Plinko and the Prince of Pure Trash TV
Game shows have been one of my addictions since my younger days when wearing sneakers with lights in the heels wasn't a fashion a faux-pas and eating my weight in Halloween candy didn't require a defibrillator.
Photo by Danny Gallagher Host Jerry Springer walks out to an insanely loud crowd at the Eisemann Center in Richardson at the start of The Price is Right Live on Saturday.
It all started at my late grandparents' house back in the Uptown section of New Orleans. They were the last people on the planet to discover the divine majesty of cable television, and whenever they watched my hyperactive ass for my exasperated parents, they could only keep me entertained with their ancient, dial-operated television that could pick up only five channels depending on the weather and where I sat when I wore braces. Every morning after the cartoons were done keeping the kiddies entertained, the big three networks aired a block of game shows. They kept me surprisingly quiet for a few hours, perhaps because games of all kinds were of natural interest to me and there used to be plenty to choose from, including that iconic test of American greed and free market economics called The Price Is Right.
TPIR has survived for 26 seasons and five hosts because it has one of the most unique concepts in game show history. It features a bunch of mini-game shows within one giant game show that change each episode and are easy to play but impossible to master. It also plucks contestants right out of the audience, so literally anyone in the building can walk away with a boatload of money, appliances or an ironic collection of boats. Despite all the changes and shifts between different, co-existing generations, audiences of all ages still suffer exorcism-grade seizures at the mere mention of words like "Plinko" and "caaaaaaar!" So imagine how crazy that crowd of price-shouting fanatics would go if that equation also included a live version in their own backyard hosted by Jerry Springer, the man who made daytime talk shows even seedier than Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jessy Raphael thought was morally possible.
Now imagine being right in the middle of it.
This insane-sounding event at Richardson's Eisemann Center was something my eyes had to witness or they would never forgive me. A live version of one of the greatest game shows in human history filled with crazed, screaming fans willing to do just about anything for a chance to guess the price of an antique gumball machine sounded like an irresistible train wreck of pop culture goodness. The promise of Springer's presence was the clincher.
Danny Gallagher A group of fans aka "Former Barker Beauties" wait for "Cliff Hangers" and "Plinko" to shower them with riches and a reason to give host Jerry Springer a giant, body slamming hug.
Calling such a crowd excitable would be a huge understatement. They were a batch of gelignite sitting on the edge of a volcano. Even a still shot of one of the show's stars could send them into orbit. The screens played clips and trivia from TPIR's past, and the biggest applause came when former host Bob Barker's bleached-toothed grin shone on the screen. Texas has never rooted that much for a vegetarian in its entire history.
By the time Springer's old man smile poured out from behind the curtain, the crowd was on its feet and chanting "Jerry! Jerry!" like good little drones and drone-ettes.
"I know why you're happy," Springer said. "It's because you're not on my other show."
My writer's heart was all ready to tear into the trash TV host, but as the evening progressed I actually found myself liking and even laughing at the man who made "guys who sleep with their stepsister's brother's sister's mother" part of the American lexicon. He must have known that the audience was Play-Doh in his hands, but he never talked over the crowd, except for two well-deserved cracks at the Dallas Cowboys and "Red State" Texas' right-wing senators that only the touchiest of mindless political zealots would take as a full-fledged insult.
"I heard that the City Council was considering bringing professional football to Dallas," Springer said to a mix crowd of giggles and boos. "I'm just kidding. The Cowboys are a great team. It's not their fault that the games are 60 minutes and not 58."
He was affable and lighthearted. He cracked dumb jokes that were mostly self-effacing, especially about the show that made him a cringe-inducing household name. He spewed a hilarious rant about a really bizarre product showcased in a pricing game that he called stupid and "bad for society" and considering that he built a media empire out of letting morons pummel each other, you can bet that he's right.
He did an Elvis Presley impersonation. Seriously, the son of a bitch imitated ELVIS and it wasn't too shabby. He's like that loveable uncle that kids rush to hug when he walks in the door because he's always got a smile on his face and perhaps some candy or spare change in his pocket for his favorite nephews and nieces.
Danny Gallagher Tron Colbert, left, gets a chance to play "Cliff Hangers," the game from The Price is Right with the yodeling song that you'll never be able to get out of your head.
The true stars of the night were the games that included such classics as "Punch-a-Bunch," "Cliff Hangers" and, of course, "Plinko," and the contestants whom everyone rooted for as they struggled to guess the retail price of breakfast cereals, kitty litter and assorted appliances.
The noise reached near-deafening levels the closer each contestant got to the promised land, and even if they themselves never get on stage, all the audience members were practically giddy from the excitement of just being there and watching one of their fellow residents take home a prize or cold cash. Young, perky women were high-fiving grizzled old guys. College-age frat guys were shouting alongside old women who could barely stand up on their own brittle frames. There might have been a few people who were jealous that they didn't get to run down to "Contestant's Row," especially in these uncertain economic times. It never showed. The bigger the prize, the bigger the roar that rushed passed my ears. They wanted everyone to win and win big and share the sheer joy of knowing that they defied the odds and gave fate the finger.
It's one of the purest forms of live entertainment euphoria my senses have ever witnessed and the world's most potent Ecstasy tablet probably couldn't reproduce it. Either way, it would be fun to watch again.