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Carey puts stamp on game show

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Drew Carey, host of "The Price is Right," on the set in Los Angeles.

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LOS ANGELES — There’s so much noise during an episode of The Price Is Right that producers of the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, which is taping nearby, need to be aware of the game show’s schedule so the rowdiness doesn’t disrupt the filming of a love scene.

It’s a party in the hands of host Drew Carey, even as the concept hasn’t changed through the years — make the best guess on how much that new car, entertainment center, or trip to Paris costs and you just may win it. Today, the game show’s 8,000th episode since its CBS debut in 1972 is scheduled to air. Nearly 70,000 people have “come on down.”

The game has a blue-collar sensibility that the Cleveland-bred Carey reflects.

“All through my 20s I was broke,” Carey said backstage before a recent taping. “I didn’t start making money until I was in my 30s doing stand-up. I really don’t take money for granted. I have a lot of empathy for people on the show, that’s what I mean. I know what it must mean for them to win $5,000, which doesn’t seem like a lot of money to give away on a game show nowadays. But it’s a lot of money.”

As he approaches his seventh year on The Price Is Right, Carey has made the show his own. That wasn’t always the case, since he had the daunting task of replacing 35-year host Bob Barker.

“At the time, nobody could conceive of the show without Bob Barker,” said executive producer Mike Richards, “including me.”

Richards unsuccessfully auditioned to replace Barker. A year into Carey’s tenure, he was brought in as producer with a mandate: change it from Carey doing Barker’s show to Carey doing Carey’s show.

Carey wasn’t trying to imitate. But it was a little like moving into someone else’s house, with all the furniture left behind. Under Richards’ direction, the set and prizes gradually changed. While Barker looked natural offering a grandfather clock as a prize, it seemed silly for Carey. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine Barker mustering enthusiasm for a smart phone or iPod. The show now uses video to introduce a trip instead of static set pieces. Carey, 55, also seems comfortable with contestants who are excessive in their enthusiasm. Loud music keeps the energy up during breaks, when Carey isn’t telling jokes or talking to audience members.

“I have to constantly think of new things to keep the show fresh,” Carey said. “I have to constantly be witty and funny with the audience. I have to consistently be on. ... What I have to do is I have to make sure the way I do the job is they can’t imagine anybody else coming in here and doing it better — not without having a couple of years to do better.”

He is doing well. The show is up 14 percent in viewers over last season, and its average of 5.54 million viewers each day compares favorably to 5.42 million during Barker’s final season.

He said he found the job more rewarding than he anticipated.

“You have stewardship over an American institution,” he said. “You get to keep it afloat and kind of reshape it a little bit. I could never have seen the things I would have liked about it when I first got the job. I knew it was going to be good, but you can’t know when you first start how great it’s going to be.”

Carey uses his downtime to write comedy and revive his stand-up act. After spending years on TV, people forget his roots: It was a sobering moment when he booked time at a comedy club and people called the manager wondering what Carey would be doing.

That would be telling jokes, thank you.

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