This week, John Scalzi‘s Weekend Assignment #5 was an easy one for me: Recount your most memorable encounter with celebrity. I doubt he would have expected the novella I came up with, but since he didn’t specify a length limit (and since this is my journal), here goes!
As you can probably guess, my most memorable encounter with a celebrity involves Bob Barker, host of “The Price is Right.” I’ve always been a big fan of game shows. I grew up watching them, and ‘Price’ has always been my favorite. I’d wanted to get to see the show in person for decades, but it was pretty much a dream I figured would never happen.
But in September, 1997, the CBS station I worked for added a Noon newscast to its schedule for the first time, and I had the idea of sending a crew to CBS Television City in Hollywood, where both “The Price is Right” and “The Young and the Restless” are taped. As the promotion manager, I figured that since our new noon show would fall right between the two shows, we’d be able to market a “behind-the-scenes” series on both shows for two consecutive weeks during the November sweeps. I was able to convince our general manager to green light the idea, and he knew that if I wasn’t included in the trip, he’d never hear the end of it.
We had two shooting days at Television City, CBS’s primary west coast headquarters. The first day was spent at “The Young and the Restless.” Naturally, I was having a hard time resisting the temptation to slip across the hall to take a peek inside studio 33, where ‘Price’ is taped. But I did resist.
The following day, we were escorted into the studio at about 10:30am, when rehearsal was going on. For each show, the crew will rehearse where the pricing game props and prizes will go on stage, and the camera operators and director plan how each shot will be executed. Barker usually doesn’t attend the rehearsal; it’s primarily to get the crew ready for the nightmare pace they’ll face when the show is actually being taped.
It was amazing just being on the set, not only because it was the set of my favorite television show, but because of the history of the studio itself. Studio 33 is the same studio where Carol Burnett taped her legendary variety show in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s also the same studio where greats like Jack Benny (another personal favorite of mine), Red Skelton, and Bob Hope performed. Even Ed Sullivan, during a rare west coast broadcast, used that stage. I was standing in the heart of the golden age of the medium, and I found it almost overwhelming.
I quickly spotted producer Roger Dobkowitz, the man you occasionally see on camera every now and then when Bob asks whether a contestant’s win (or blunder) is one for the record books. Roger is one of the nicest people in the business. We started talking about the show and it was clear to him that I was a diehard fan, the kind Barker refers to as a “loyal friend and true.”
At the time, Barker didn’t have time to do a sit-down interview with us. We knew that going in. But I had prepared a sort of “fan letter” to Barker. He was one of those people who made TV look like a fun place to be. It wasn’t “Sesame Street,” “Captain Kangaroo,” or “Mr. Rogers,” but instead Barker who helped teach me how to speak and interact with people through his exceptional interviewing and ad lib skills. I mentioned to Roger that I had the note, and that I had included a donation to Bob’s charity, the DJ&T Foundation. (It’s named after Dorothy Jo, his late wife, and Tilly, his late mother, and it funds free spay and neuter clinics across the country.) Roger said he was sure that it would mean a lot to Bob, and he arranged to “sneak” me into Barker’s dressing room before the show.
It was probably about two hours later, after Bob had arrived, that Roger was able to get me my meeting. It was very intimidating. Barker wasn’t the first celebrity I had met, but he certainly was the most important to me. We only had a couple of minutes for a quick chat because Barker still had to get ready for the show, but Bob was very gracious. I gave him the sealed envelope and told him that I had a few things I wanted to say to him inside. I figured he’d read it some time later.
By about 1:15pm, they started taping the show. Bob makes his entrance from behind Door #2 on the stage, and I was standing behind the doors next to our videographer. (The image you see was taken by the camera right where I was standing, and shows Bob just as the doors open.) As he was walking to his mark to await his entrance, he saw me and stopped and shook my hand. He thanked me for my note and said he appreciated it.
That same evening — and I know it was the same evening because of the post mark — he actually mailed a hand-written thank you note to my home address for the kind words about his career. I thought it was quite a gesture from a class act. I can’t imagine any experience topping that.