When my oldest was not yet one year old, he could say three words clearly and reliably: Dada, Mama, and Bob.
The latter came into play every weekday when the TV would go on, the theme to The Price Is Right would begin to play, and Alex would crawl into the living room for the fun to begin. “Bob! Bob! Bob!” filled an hour of my life on a daily basis.
That kind of slavish devotion to both the show and its former host Bob Barker may seem extreme, but in an era of cable channels, streaming services, and entertainment options of all kinds, there’s something comforting about The Price Is Right, something reassuring about a show that’s lasted more than 47 years on the air.
The show survived the retirement of Barker and the unlikely casting of standup and sitcom star Drew Carey as his successor. The show’s popularity has even spawned a live version which has toured the country for 15 years.
A modern vaudeville
For most of those years, stepping into the role of emcee and crowd wrangler, Mark L. Walberg has balanced life on the road with the show along with his other pursuits.
A familiar face on television (as host of Antiques Roadshow, for example), the genial Walberg has enjoyed this stint with the show and, like many of us, has spent a lifetime watching.
“I grew up a fan of game shows anyway,” he said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “It really was the golden era of daytime game shows. I had a grandmother who lived in Miami, and I’d visit her, and she’d have the shows on when she was cleaning the house. I just always loved them.”
The show tours in fits and spurts, which suits Walberg’s busy schedule as he can go out with the show for a week or two then return home for a time. The show allows him to tap into his many different talents as a performer, and he credits a lot of the venues — like Fort Wayne's Embassy Theatre — for helping to create the proper vibe.
“A lot of the theaters where we play used to be old vaudeville houses,” Walberg noted. “And I think The Price Is Right Live really brings back those old days of theaters when you’d pay your dime and leave your troubles behind you. My grandparents were in vaudeville, and my wife’s parents were in vaudeville, and I love being part of that. It’s great to see local people all coming together for something that’s so familiar to them. People from all walks of life have this common ground, that they’ve all watched The Price Is Right.”
Live show with more people
For those who have yet to enjoy the show live, Walberg promises an experience very much like what they’ve enjoyed on their televisions for many years.
“The sets and props are very similar to what you’ve seen on the show,” he said. “We pull into town with a big semi-truck filled with all the sets that everyone knows. Some of them might be scaled down a little bit, but we have the big wheel and all the games that everyone loves. The prizes aren’t quite as big as they are on the show, but we give away a lot of nice trips and things. We give away cash. People really enjoy it.”
There is a somewhat different approach to selecting contestants for the live version of the show, but that only serves to get more people involved and allow for more prizes to be awarded.
“For the [television] show, the crowd is lined up outside, and the producers will talk to them and get a feel for which ones will be good on the air. We just have everyone fill out a card, and we put them together and spin the hopper, and they’re all chosen randomly. We don’t keep people up there for the whole show like they do on TV. We get four new people for each game, and so by the end of the evening, between those games and the showcases, we’ll have had close to 50 people who have gotten to play. And we have door prizes and such so a lot of people have a chance to win something.”
Everyone loves Plinko
When asked if there’s a favorite game among the devoted Price Is Right audiences, his response was immediate and emphatic.
“Plinko,” Walberg said. “It’s absolutely Plinko. Everyone loves it, and I don’t know why because it’s not really that great a game. But when that Plinko board comes out, the audience goes crazy. And we have a lot of the games people think of when they think of the show, like Cliffhangers. The audience really has a lot of fun.”
And yes, you can expect to hear the words that have become synonymous with the show.
“‘Come on down’ has definitely become iconic,” Walberg said. “After 47 years, the phrase has become part of the country’s lexicon. The world’s lexicon.”
Barker often regaled interviewers with stories of wacky interactions with contestants, and naturally Walberg has a few of his own.
“Oh yeah, there are crazy things that happen all the time,” he said. “Guys will pick me up when they win, that’s become a regular thing. I had a guy once with a big beer barrel belly, wearing pants that were held up only by suspenders. Then the suspenders broke, and I had to help him keep his pants on. I almost broke a hip one time helping a woman who fell down after spinning the wheel too hard. You just never know what you’ll get. Some people will come up there and be so nervous that they’re really quiet, then others will come up there, and you wonder if security is close by.”
Despite such unpredictable human interaction, Walberg loves being able to host a show cherished by millions and to interact with those who have loved it all their lives.
“Part of what I love is that anything can happen,” he said. “I love interacting with local people who all have this common touchstone. People from all walks of life just having a good time with a show they love. Before I did this show, I was the guy who’d warm up the audience, go out there, tell a few jokes, get them ready for the show. Now I get to do more improv, go out and play. And I love doing it.”
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