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Bob Barker Steps On Down

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After a career of giving away cars and appliances and making the dogs and cats of America cross their legs uncomfortably at the end of every Showcase Showdown, The Price Is Right host and spaying-and-neutering advocate Bob Barker, 82, is hanging up his microphone as of June.

Genial, laid-back and just corny enough on camera, Barker is widely beloved, outside the occasional former spokesmodel and those household pets wishing to leave a genetic legacy. The Price Is Right itself, though, often gets looked down on as the downmarket stepsister of classier, trivia-based quiz shows such as Jeopardy and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. For my money, though, The Price Is Right is probably the best TV game show in history–more entertaining, populist and, if I can use this word without sounding ridiculous, important than its book-learnin’-orinted quiz cousins. Don’t get me wrong–as my annoyed family can attest, I love shouting out Jeopardy answers as well as anyone, but there’s a kind of irritiating coldness to the show and its emphasis on mastering arcane names and dates. For 35 years, The Price Is Right has made entertainment out of the basic tools of survival of middle-class American life–budgeting, saving, assessing what’s a fair price for a dinette set or a can of French-fried onions. Its winners are not held up as being better or smarter than the home audience, but rather, as exactly like them, just luckier. By me, that’s as commendable as controlling the stray-cat population.

So who has the main-street appeal and hosting skills to take over from Barker when the big wheel keeps on turnin’? I’m not sure, though there’s a larger pool of applicants available, now that Today/Millionaire host Meredith Vieira has proved the crossover potential from news to game shows  and back. By next June, at the rate things are going, Katie Couric just might be looking for her next career opportunity at CBS. And I’ll bet she’s great with pets.