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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Price Is Right: Breaking the Barker's Beauties

I've talked about how one of the things on my own personal bucket list is to be a contestant on a game show. That will not change until the day that it happens for me. I don't know what it is, but just being on a game show where you can have the chance to win cash and prizes just gives me a rush. I even enjoy playing electronic versions of game shows. I even have a couple of game show themed games for the Nintendo DS that I play fairly often.

I don't know. Maybe it all stems down from childhood memories of watching game shows in my youth. I still remember being a young boy loving the show 'Press Your Luck' just because of the cartoon Whammies that would pop up each time a contestant lost! There's just something about game shows that I find absolutely captivating.

Seeing the joy that contestants get over winning a car. Seeing said contestants chasing the frightened game show hosts all over the soundstage when they win the said car. That was just spontaneous fun! It was also kind of fun to watch the various bloopers that would pop up on game shows, and I think I remember those more than the actual winners of the game shows.

But you know, some of the most fascinating stories I like hearing about in regards to game shows are the behind the scenes stories that are told. Game show scandals involving contestants. Behind the scenes firings. Hosts getting involved in some unflattering situations. I love hearing about stuff like that.

Sigh...just call me a sick puppy, I suppose.

Anyway, for today's blog entry, I'm focusing on a show that is currently in its 40th year on CBS. Since 1972, the show has given away millions of dollars in cash and prizes, and has been fondly remembered for its pricing games, big wheel, and showcase showdowns. However, it also has a much less happy history, particularly with the women who modeled everything from evening gowns to minivans. The sordid behind the scenes tales from the various spokesmodels of this game show almost seemed just as entertaining as the contestants who appeared on the show.



Yes, The Price Is Right has had one of those runs that have been filled with lots of fun and excitement. And, yes, even some instances of accidental wardrobe malfuctions...



...but the show's also had a lot of behind the scenes turmoil, most of which involve the revolving door of ladies that have served as the show's models over its 40 year history.



This is a blog entry that I like to call...Breaking the Barker's Beauties.



Of course, everyone knows that the reason they were originally called Barker's Beauties was because of the show's most well-known host, Bob Barker, who hosted the show from 1972-2007. I say most well-known as opposed to original because Bob Barker WASN'T the first host. The Price Is Right actually debuted on NBC in the mid-1950s and was hosted by legendary game show host, Bill Cullen until the show was put on hiatus in the fall of 1965. It was revived by CBS seven years later, when Barker became the host for the next 35 years.



In 2007, Barker retired, and in stepped Drew Carey, who has hosted the show ever since.

During both Barker's and Carey's tenures as hosts of the long-running game show, there have been at least 25 women who have served as spokesmodels for the game show. During Barker's years at host, they were known as Barker's Beauties, but by the time Carey took over, they were simply known as 'The Price Is Right Models'.

Now, some of these models have come and gone without much fanfare, such as Anitra Ford and Chantal Dubay. Others have become television stars, or married television stars, as in the case with Gena Lee Nolin, Claudia Jordan or Nikki Ziering (though Nikki's marriage to Ian Ziering from Beverly Hills 90210 didn't last).

But looking over the vast history of The Price Is Right, it's amazing to read about all the scandals that have taken place over the years in regards to the models of the show. Some of them were fired for inane reasons, while others were involved in scandals involving producers, court cases, and even with the host of the program! A few of these models were only on air for a few years, but some had been on the show for two, almost three decades!

So, I thought that I would talk about some of the former Barker's Beauties of the program, why they left, and in some cases, the aftermath that followed. I'll do my best to remain impartial as I describe each case, but keep in mind that sometimes my feelings may come shining through. You have been warned.

For now, let's kick off the discussion, with the most recent model to be served her walking papers.



CASE #1: LUCKY LANISHA LASHES OUT

If you're a fan of the show and have been watching shows as recently as a couple of years ago, you may have heard of the model that Drew Carey affectionately dubbed 'Lucky Lanisha'. Lanisha Cole was given that nickname because it seemed that more contestants won their pricing games when she was the model featured than any other model. Of course, this was merely coincidental, but whatever the case, Lanisha Cole took it in stride.

That was until 2010, when Lanisha quit her job at The Price Is Right. Why did she quit? She claims that she was sexually harassed on the job by executive producer Michael G. Richards, and producer Adam Sandler.




NOTE: I'm not talking about Cosmo Kramer or Happy Gilmour when I say these names...entirely different people altogether.

Anyway, the lawsuit is still being processed as of this writing, but as TIME magazine wrote back in 2010, Cole filed the lawsuit on September 7, 2010, at the beginning of the show's 39th season. Cole, who began working on the show in 2003, said that things went smoothly until 2009, when Richards began dating one of the other models on the program (conflict of interest, anyone?). She claimed that he showed more favourtism towards his new squeeze, and started to treat her badly. He gave her trouble for breaking rules that Cole had never knew existed. As for Sandler, Cole has stated that one time, he burst into the model's dressing room while she was getting changed, and verbally berated her in front of all the other models for not wearing a microphone.

As of right now, nothing has been settled in court, and to most people, it seems like a he said/she said story. But Cole wasn't the first model to launch a lawsuit against the production team of Richards/Sandler. That same year, model Brandi Sherwood-Cochran (who worked on the show from 2002-2009), filed a lawsuit of her own, claiming similar allegations as Cole, plus an additional claim that she was terminated from her job because she had gotten pregnant. Again, no word on either lawsuit reaching a settlement is known...but given that two former models have launched lawsuits against the current production team, it certainly got tongues wagging. But, the legal troubles that Richards/Sandler are facing were pocket change compared to the ones faced by the host that preceded Drew Carey.



CASE #2: THE PERILS OF DIAN PARKINSON

In 1975, a new model came onto the scene in the form of Dian Parkinson. Parkinson was no stranger to the world of modeling, having competed in several national and international beauty pageants during the 1960s (most notably winning the first runner-up title in the 1965 Miss World contest). Dian certainly made an impact on the show during her eighteen year stay on the program, and her sunkissed blonde look combined with massive sex appeal made her one of the more popular models of the whole show.

But then in 1993, Dian Parkinson left the show, with Barker explaining that she had left the program to pursue other ventures. The then 49-year-old Parkinson was promptly replaced with then 22-year-old Gena Lee Nolin. It was rumoured that the reason that she had left the program was due to her feud with other long-standing Barker Beauty Janice Pennington. While it was true that producers very rarely had Dian presenting with Janice just before she quit, that wasn't the reason why Dian left.

As the same TIME magazine article I cited in regards to Lanisha Cole's departure stated, the ugly truth surrounding Dian's departure from the show was revealed in 1994. That year, Dian had filed a lawsuit against Bob Barker as well as the show itself to the tune of eight million dollars in damages. Why? Dian claimed that Barker had made sexual advances on her, and that he forced her to have sex with him or else she would end up losing her job.

Although I was only thirteen at the time all of this went on, I remember being incredibly shocked by the news. Up until this point, my opinion of Bob Barker had been nothing but good. To me, he was the silver haired man who gave people cars, and who cared about controlling the pet population. The last thing that I (and probably millions of others) wanted to believe was that Bob was capable of such behaviour.

So imagine all of our shock when Barker eventually admitted that yes, he and Dian did in fact have a consensual sexual relationship for a year and a half. Mind you, technically Barker was single (his wife had died thirteen years prior to the lawsuit being filed), but still...the idea of the host of a game show doing it with one of the models. Instant red flag. Doesn't really matter whether it was consensual at all. The writing was on the wall, and the truth damaged both the reputations of Barker and Parkinson for a long time after that.

Of course, Barker kept his hosting gig for another thirteen years, and eventually, Dian Parkinson was forced to drop the lawsuit. But the aftermath of the lawsuit leads into the next model scandal...and by the end of it all, three models would end up on the unemployment line.



CASE #3: HOORAY FOR HOLLY HALLSTROM

This is one case in which I am unable to continue my impartial stance. I'm just gonna come out and say it. I loved Holly Hallstrom. She remains my favourite Price Is Right model of all time, and I'll come right out and say it. Her dismissal from the program in 1995 was a travesty and should have never happened.

Why did I enjoy Holly so much? Well, aside from the fact that she always had a smile on her face and was probably one of the most fun-loving models that the show ever had, she was also the most unpredictable model as you never knew how a segment would end when she was a part of it. A lot of the times, she would get into situations where the gods of fate plotted against her. Sometimes, she'd hold up a price tag upside down. Sometimes the props she used would end up turning against her. Sometimes she'd have a wardrobe malfunction.

And for the love of God, don't let Holly ANYWHERE near kitchen appliances...



...and yet she STILL looked cute despite all those mishaps.

From 1977 to 1995 (barring a brief hiatus in 1983), Holly Hallstrom made audiences laugh in delight, and it's no wonder that years after her departure from the show, people still look back on her time there fondly.

But then in 1995, things started to go terribly wrong for Holly.

In July of that year, shortly before the show began taping its twenty-fourth season, Hallstrom was let go from her job after nearly nineteen years. Around that time, it was widely reported that the reason for the dismissal was weight related. It was reported on the television show Hard Copy that Hallstrom had been given prescription medication for health issues earlier in the year, and as a result of this medicine, she had gained fourteen pounds over the first half of 1995. Have you ever wondered why Holly was often placed behind huge cars and boats during Showcase Showdown segments? It was rumoured that her weight gain was the reason for it, although that has not been confirmed as true, so definitely don't quote me on it.

Now, if this were the real reason for her dismissal, shame on Bob Barker and the Price Is Right! Fourteen pounds. Big whoop. She still looked amazingly beautiful no matter what size she was. And, most people loved Holly's personality regardless of what dress size she wore.

But as more and more details were made public as to the real reason why Hallstrom was let go, it seemed to further damage the reputation of Bob Barker, and kicked off one of the ugliest court cases in the history of television production.

(Most of the following information comes from the words of Hallstrom herself, in a 2005 interview she did with then Showbiz Tonight host, Brooke Anderson, as well as an interview posted on www.nerve.com)

As Holly said herself in that interview, the reason that she had given initially for her dismissal...the one about her gaining weight was a minor issue. But the real reason she was let go was linked to the whole Dian Parkinson scandal of the mid-1990s. At the time of the scandal, Hallstrom wanted to remain neutral in the conflict between Barker and Parkinson, but according to Hallstrom, Barker refused to let Hallstrom take on the stance of neutrality. Hallstrom claimed that if she didn't testify against Dian in the court battle, Barker would have her fired from the program. Needless to say, Holly stuck to her guns, and she ended up taping her final appearance on The Price Is Right in the summer of 1995.

Of course, Holly couldn't very well say that this was the very reason why she was fired...it would simply be her word against his. But having proof from other staff members who worked on the show saying that Barker had wanted her gone for some time, and that the weight gain was his way of making sure that she would seek out early retirement, Holly decided to fight back.



She hosted a press conference in the fall of 1995, telling every media outlet possible that she was let go from the show because of her weight gain. Barker countered her claims by suing her for slander. Holly countersued citing that she was wrongfully fired. The battle lasted for well over five years. During the battle, Holly ended up losing her home and actually spent some time living out of her car. So, why did she continue fighting after she had lost so much?

She fought to prove a point. She wasn't going to be bullied or strongarmed into doing something that she didn't feel was right.

Can't say I blame her in this case. Not knowing what really happened behind closed doors, I can't really say who is lying, and who is telling the truth...but if everything happened the way that Holly said it did (and I believe that most of what she had said was true), then all it does is colour Bob Barker in a really bad light.

Eventually, Holly ended up having the slander suit that Barker issued against her dropped, and in 2005, ended up reaching a court settlement. But the damage had already been done.

While I'm sure that the last thing Holly wanted to see was for anyone else to lose their jobs over her personal battle with Bob Barker, ultimately, the battle caused two more models to lose their jobs with The Price Is Right as well, ironically enough for the same reason Holly ended up losing hers. Former models Kathleen Bradley and Janice Pennington testified on Holly's behalf in her lawsuit against Bob Barker, as well as three other staff members. In 2000, shortly after their testimonies, all five lost their jobs. Sounds kind of convenient, doesn't it?



For Pennington, she had been a fixture of the CBS version since day one. She had celebrated twenty-eight years as a model on the show, and when she was let go, she didn't even get a chance to say goodbye. Mind you, at the time she was let go, Janice was almost sixty years old, so some had the opinion that she had retired from the program due to her age. And we probably will never know what the real story is through Janice's point of view, because she had a hush clause, preventing her from saying anything about her former boss. 



For Bradley, however, she had no such clause. And when she was let go after a decade on the program, she wasted no time in telling media outlets that she believed that she was fired in retaliation for standing by Holly...just as Holly was let go for refusing to take sides in the Barker vs. Pennington feud.

Sounds just like a soap opera, doesn't it? Much more fascinating than a standard game of Plinko, wouldn't you say?



Truth be told, I was blown away by the behind the scenes drama that took place at The Price Is Right. Some of it may have been hearsay, but some of the tension that occurred was well-documented. It's impossible for all of us to know what really went on as none of us were there...but regardless of whether these events happened the way the parties said they had, it's certainly left a tarnished spot on the otherwise shining game show.

Despite all this though, I still do enjoy watching The Price Is Right. It's a fun show to watch, and it is filled with lots of fun and excitement. Maybe now that Drew Carey is at the helm of the hosting duties, the show will end up moving ahead from all of the drama that plagued it midway through its run.



Only time will tell, I suppose.

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