Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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Special Report: Price is Right 35th Anniversary

Prized contestants

Gameshow pros search hard to find right rabidity

On tape days, wannabe contestants arrive from all over the country -- with ages ranging from teens to grandparents -- and begin to line up as early 5 a.m. outside CBS Studios on Fairfax and Beverly boulevards, vying for a chance to win a new car or a box of Rice-a-Roni.

Of the 350 screaming fans hoping to make it to Contestant Row, only nine will hear their name and "come on down!"

There's a great deal of thought that goes into selecting contestants, making sure they're entertaining and a good fit for the at-home audience.

"We cast just like every other TV show," says audience coordinator Stan Blits, who's also the music director and a skit writer. "If you look across the audience at any given point in the show, you'd think that every person would make a spectacular contestant."

He and his assistant look for three elements during their interviews that make a successful contestant -- sincerity, energy and humor.

"Energy doesn't always mean jumping up and down and screaming," says Blits about the process. "We had a 92-year-old woman on the show who was very sassy and funny. When she talked about Bob, she said, 'I'm in love with that man.' And then she won a car and danced around the stage. You could see it in her attitude from the very beginning that she was going to make a great contestant."

As Blits interviews fans, he'll slip a secret word into the conversation, alerting his assistant to make a note of them. The interviewing process typically takes just under two hours.

"After that, we take 30 minutes to go over the notes and narrow it down. We cast them in the show, putting certain people with certain games, saving the ones to feature in the spot where they'll shine the best," he says. "We'll spread out the demographic throughout the show."

Although "Price" attracts all branches of the military, showing up in uniform is not a guarantee to getting on. Neither is that clever message on your homemade T-shirt declaring just how much you love Bob.

"We appreciate the love and time you put into making them, but we never choose on the basis of the T-shirt, but who's inside them," says producer Roger Dobkowitz, who's been with the show for its entire 35-year run.

Most fans, such as the Allman family from Tucson, Ariz., order their tickets online ahead of time and plan their vacation around the show.

Five women from Riverside, Calif., calling themselves "the real Desperate Housewives," planned to split any prize money, but if one of them won a kitchen set, they agreed it would go to Jodie Hawn since she had just purchased a new house.

Eunice Davis, of Melbourne, Fla., who was there with her sisters and niece, says, "I'm hoping for a chance. I'd like to take home a new car. I'm driving a 1991 Miata." Of her approach to price-guessing, she says, "I'm old enough to have a little bit of wisdom and knowledge."

During breaks, Barker chats with the audience. They bring him presents, ask to shake his hand and quiz him on things like how to be a Barker Beauty.

In any given audience, there will be people celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, maybe even be on their honeymoon -- and they all want is to share it with the genial host.

"We have young people who have waited years, and when they turn 18 (the minimum age to be a contestant), they're out there," says Barker. Even those who aren't selected to be a contestant have a memorable time.

Lake Tahoe resident Jerry Tsavalas counted himself lucky just to have gotten in the studio.

"I grew up watching 'The Price Is Right' and now I've seen Bob Barker in person. I can die happy."

Date in print: Monday, September 18, 2006,

© 2006, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.