‘Come on down!’ You could be the next contestant on The Price is Right Live!

By Stratton Lawrence

Special to The Post and Courier – Thursday, January 31, 2013

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The Big Wheel for “The Price is Right Live!”

North Charleston Performing Arts Center

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  • The Plinko game for The Price is Right Live!
    ( Provided )
    The Plinko game for The Price is Right Live!

  • The Cliffhanger game for “The Price is Right Live!”
    ( Provided )
    The Cliffhanger game for “The Price is Right Live!”

  • The Hole in One game for “The Price is Right Live!”
    ( Provided )
    The Hole in One game for “The Price is Right Live!”

  • The Plinko game for “The Price is Right Live!”
    ( Provided )
    The Plinko game for “The Price is Right Live!”

  • The Price is Right Live! host Todd Newton
    ( Provided )
    The Price is Right Live! host Todd Newton

How to play

Did you miss out on scoring tickets to be in “The Price is Right Live!” audience on Friday? Don’t worry because you still can play the games made famous by the TV show.

How, you ask?

It’s easy!

Head over to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center and fill out a registration form. Registration begins at 5 p.m., three hours before show time.

The registration forms of those in the audience and those not will be chosen at random just minutes before the curtain goes up. And they assure us that those in the audience will not get preferential treatment.

You must be a legal U.S. resident and age 18 to participate.

Questions can be directed to the PAC box office at 529-5000.

Being sick in grade school wasn’t so bad. Beyond the chicken noodle soup, getting to skip school and the extra pampering from Mom, it meant being home on a weekday to watch “The Price is Right.”

If you go

What: The Price is Right Live!

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive

Price: $38-$50; a ticket to the show is not required to be a contestant

more info: www.northcharlestoncoliseumpac.com

No other game show — not “Jeopardy!,” “Family Feud” or “Wheel of Fortune” — can claim the longevity or worldwide ubiquity of “The Price is Right.”

What began in 1956 with host Bob Cullen grew into a daily mainstay of network television in 1972, when the venerable Bob Barker took over as ringleader. Several prime-time iterations followed, as well as over three dozen international spinoffs, from “El Precio Justo” in Spain to Italy’s “OK, il Prezzo e Giusto!”

“The success of the television show is due in large part to its familiarity and comfort,” said Todd Newton, the host of The Price is Right Live! on its national tour. “I really believe that Johnny Carson created appointment television (shows that viewers set aside a specific time each day to watch) in nighttime, and ‘The Price is Right’ created appointment television during the day.”

Newton grew up watching the show with his grandmother in St. Louis, admiring Barker and dreaming of one day filling his shoes.

“I remember thinking, when I was 13 or 14 years old, just how charismatic and smooth Bob was doing the show, and how he made everyone who came on so comfortable,” Newton recalls. “I realized in 1999 that being a game show host was what I wanted to do, and I still say during each performance that I don’t believe anyone will ever do this job as well as Bob Barker did.”

When the former host retired in 2007, Newton was among the finalists for the television job, a post that ultimately went to Drew Carey.

Newton held on to The Price is Right Live! post for a multiyear run in Las Vegas, as well as picking up the job of hosting “Family Game Night” on cable channel The Hub. Last year, that role earned him a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Game Show Host.

“One of the first congratulatory notes I received was from Bob, and he said, ‘Congratulations on your dream coming true,’ ” recalls Newton. “I thought that was just a really great showing of class and professionalism.”

From his early days as a game show host, working a show called “Whammy” (modeled on the classic “Press Your Luck”), Newton looked to Barker as a mentor. He often attended live tapings of “The Price is Right,” seeking to pick up bits of wisdom and inspiration from the enthusiastic host.

“I’m a big believer in mentorship. I said to him, ‘Please, show me how to do this. I want to do it well,’ ” and Bob took me under his wing,” Newton explains. “The most important thing he ever taught me was to remember that the contestants make the show. We get to do the show every night in another city for another audience, but for a lot of the contestants, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once I realized that, it changed my whole hosting style, and I think that’s thanks to Bob.”

You’re the next contestant

Newton arrives at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center this week on a nationwide spring-run with The Price is Right Live! Just like on the television show, people will be chosen at random — even some not in the audience — to “Come on down!” for a chance to guess the prices of showcase items, play one of 85 classic games like Plinko and Cliffhangers, and eventually spin the show’s iconic wheel.

Likewise, any prizes seen on TV are fair game at the PAC, including appliances, vacation packages and even a new car.

When it comes to comparing the TV and live versions of “The Price is Right,” Newton says the “similarities are endless, and the differences are few.”

“We want folks to come to the show and see what they’ve become accustomed to over the last 40 years,” he said.

The similarities boil all the way down to the name tags that attendees receive on their way through the door.

“It wouldn’t be ‘The Price is Right’ if they didn’t get one of those yellow name tags,” he exclaims. “Those name tags are a part of Americana. I’ve even been sweet-talked a time or two into letting folks have a couple extra for a grandma who couldn’t make it to the show or a husband who had to work that night.”

For a chance to compete, however, folks should arrive early enough to complete a registration form outside the PAC. Purchasing a ticket is not required to be a contestant, but nonticketholders will be invited inside only if their name is chosen, and only for the duration of their competing time.

“It doesn’t matter who you know, how long you’ve been watching the TV show, how far you drove to get there or where you’re sitting in the theater,” Newton claims. “The contestants are chosen completely at random, literally moments before the curtain comes up, so everyone has an equal shot to be called down to play for these great prizes. We call four new contestants down after every game, so more people come to contestants’ row than on the TV show. We do that because we know that folks are spending their hard-earned money to come and see us, and that means the world to us, and we want as many people to have ‘The Price is Right’ experience as possible.”

Also to that end, The Price is Right Live! can stretch out twice as long as a typical 45-minute taping of the TV show. From beginning to end, a live performance may run anywhere between 75 and 90 minutes.

“I’ve hosted 1,000 performances of The Price is Right Live! and I can honestly say that no two shows have ever been the same,” Newton said. “When I start joking with the audience and everybody’s having a good time, we roll with it, and that’s what makes the live show so much fun.”

A new car

After a month off for the holidays, Newton said he’s excited to “fire up the old tour bus” and “get back out on the road and come to South Carolina.”

Last year’s tour was his first time traveling the country with the show, and he said he finds the tour bus life “glamorous.”

“Even if it was a complete and total strain on my psyche and my body, I don’t think I would notice it, because all I’ve ever wanted to do was be a game show host,” he said. “When I’m done taping a season of ‘Family Game Night,’ I get to go on the road with The Price is Right and be around game show fans and experience this energy 365 days a year.”

Sometimes, that energy literally sweeps him off his feet. He’s been hoisted in the air and caught more than a few winners who have leaped into his arms in excitement.

“I’m 6-3, 215 pounds, so I think I’m one of the bigger game show hosts around today, and I’ll tell you that I’ve been picked up and spun around and kissed by more people than just about anybody else out there,” laughs Newton. “But listen, man, I open myself up to it. I love it. I want to celebrate with people. Their win is my win, and I want them to walk away with as much as possible and to never forget the night we spent together. ”

That’s a good-natured attitude that Newton says he acquired from the guidance of Barker and the constant wisdom of his father.

“I just got an email from my dad when I was about to see some of his friends in a city where we were performing, and he reminded me to treat every show as if it’s my first and my last, because that’s how the audience sees it. I really try to go out there and live it up.”

For Newton, that means putting on his suit and pink tie each night — “It takes a confident man to wear that pink tie,” he jokes — and helping to channel each winning contestant’s excitement back out into the crowd, ensuring that even the folks who come just to observe or shout out prices from the audience go home satisfied.