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The Price is Right

Test Episode

Taped November 19, 1956

The Show:

Audience: "Oooooooooooh!"

Don Pardo: "'Oooooooooh!' is right! Take a good look at what you see right now. This beautiful full-length mink coat and everything else on your screen: the jewels, the luggage, the purse, everything can be yours! Someone watching the program from home this week will win it all as NBC presents a new game of bidding, buying, and bargaining: The Price is Right! And here to conduct the most exciting shopping spree on television is Bill Cullen!"

This isn't exactly a pilot. That was already taken care of some time before this. NBC bought the show before a pilot was ever taped--per Bob Stewart in his Archive of American Television interview, that wasn't unusual at the time. In the 1950s, a pilot was shot after the network committed to the show, mainly to work out the kinks. The original NBC pilot for The Price is Right was a flop (a particular lowlight, remembered years later, was that Bill Cullen crashed into the turntable wall at one point when a stagehand missed his cue). NBC actually tried to pay Goodson-Todman to call off the whole thing and forget about ever doing the show, but Bob Stewart stood firm and Bill Todman in particular was moved to hold NBC to their deal.

Exactly one week before the show's premiere, The Price is Right recorded another episode, identified officially as a "test episode."

Bill Cullen once explained the reservations he had about agreeing to host the show, saying he didn't think he could be witty on a game that involved nothing more than saying numbers over and over again. And candidly, this pilot seems to back him up. It's a surprisingly slow and quiet 30 minutes. The audience watches politely, without the hollers of "Higher!" or "Freeze!" that punctuated the series. 

And then there's the set, which looks like a totally different show. It actually looks more like a panel show than a prize-packed game show. The curtain for large prizes is stage right, the turntable is center stage, and Bill is seated at a desk, with the four contestants seated behind a large desk of their own. 

Other differences from the actual series:

  • Bill indicates that, as a rule, he never knows when a prize comes with a bonus.

  • One of the prize models delivers the actual retail price envelope to Bill once the bidding ends.

  • Sometimes, after a prize is described, the actual retail price is shown to the viewers at home (an idea that proved to be better suited for one of producer Bob Stewart's later creations, Password).

  • There's no buzzer. Bidding simply continues until all four players decide to stop bidding. The first item up for bids, a television, is subject to bid after bid after bid for a full three minutes.

  • Unlike the aired series, in which Bill and Bob Stewart frequently called audibles about how to handle overbids, this show had a single rule set in stone. In the event that all four contestants overbid, the prize is carried over as a bonus for whoever wins the next item up for bids.

  • An odd rule that we initially found out about from Variety's review of the premiere episode is in effect here. Any contestant who overbids is disqualified from bidding on the next item up for bids. The problem with this rule shows itself the first time it comes up in this pilot. All four contestants overbid, so Bill just has to explain that since that obviously would bring the game to a dead halt, everybody gets to bid on the next item. And then amazingly, the next and final item up for bids, a car, is overbid by all four contestants, so the show ends after two consecutive deadballs, and Bill signs off by announcing that "tomorrow," the winner of the first item up for bids will receive both prizes as bonuses.

We can't say we'd blame NBC executives if they were sweating just a little bit after screening this test episode. It is a bland, bland 30 minutes, with no trace of the excitement or off-beat giveaways that would define the series.

Although episode #1 isn't known to exist in any form, we do have a copy of episode #2, November 27, 1956. The show got from point A to point B very quickly. The more familiar set design is in place, with Bill sitting at a counter directly on the turntable and the contestants seated in front of the curtain. They've already dumped the rule about overbids after only one episode. The buzzer is in place to speed up each round. And though Bill had limited mobility issues, getting him away from the desk and giving him freedom of motion suddenly opened him up. Handling the prizes gave him something to talk about, and he brought new life to the proceedings. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was The Price is Right. It took them at least two episodes.


One final note: We suspect that there were at least two test episodes taped during the week leading up to premiere. We have multiple photos of Bill with a dog at his desk, but there's no sign of that dog in the test episode we've seen. It just goes to show that there's always a chance that there's even more Bill-related treasure out there that we don't have yet.

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