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What IS the Price?
January 11

The Price is Right has been a schizophrenic show of late. They've done some brilliant special episodes (The Halloween, Valentine's Day and April Fools shows were particularly inspired.) At the same time, they've had some real clunkers. The 7000th show had almost no zing to it; the New Year's Eve show purported to have the "Favorite prizes of 2009" and made them nearly impossible to win.

But you could chalk any of those things up to bad luck, poor contestants, who knows. On Monday, January 4, the first game out of the blocks was Pick-a-Number. The prize on offer was a hot tub plus ten massages at the spa of your choice. The first three numbers of $8,49- were given, and the last number had options of 3, 5 or 7. The contestant picked seven, and lost because the actual prize was $8,493.

Let's count the fails. First is the scheduling of Pick-a-Number first. The first game of the show sets the tone. A win in that first game builds momentum that the show can build on. Good producers would want an exciting fun game to start the show. Pick-a-Number requires the player to fill in the prize of the prize by picking a number from three choices. It is a fine game to drop in when you need to make up time from Switcheroo or Three Strikes, but there is no reason to lead off the show with it.

Second is the prize. I know that the hot tub is a TPIR-standard, plus we get to look at whichever model pulled the straw to show it off. The complaint is in adding something to the prize that you cannot possibly price accurately. Ten massages at the Beverly Hills Hilton? Yeah, you could price that. A year's membership to Gold's Gym? You could price that. But adding something like "ten massages at the spa of your choice" essentially makes the game random.

I'm going to detour here for a moment. I realize that the point isn't to be able to price everything to the dollar all the time. That would make for a not-very-fun show. But if you say that the prize is "A new car!" but neglect to mention whether the car is a Prius or a Jaguar, then we have a problem. And that leads us into the next fail...

The blank to be filled in was the ones place. They are expecting the player to be able to price the prize to the dollar. Even the most evil setup previously would ask the player to pick the tens digit, or more often the hundreds. The game at that point becomes not one of pricing acumen, but one of dumb luck.

For many years, The Price is Right was competently put together, exciting and fun to watch. Unfortunately, the people in charge of the show don't seem to know what they're doing, and we get bizarre games in strange orders, prizes that are destined to go straight back to the warehouse, and viewers changing the channel to something else.

Travis Eberle can be reached at traviseberle@gmail.com, if you want to know his price.