EXCLUSIVE: Long-running game show The Price Is Right is heading back into production with a redesigned, COVID-friendly set and all of its usual rounds, but, for the first time in its nearly 50-year run, it will be without its rambunctious audience.
Production returns later today at Television City in Los Angeles and Evelyn Warfel, who took over as showrunner and exec producer of the Fremantle-produced CBS show last year, tells Deadline how they got it back filming.
Warfel said that after the show stopped production in March, she and her team spent the last few months working out what a COVID-friendly production, following all of the local, state and guild guidelines would look like for The Price Is Right.
“We quickly realized we were not going to be able to have 300 people on the show sitting close together,” she said. “We decided that we were going to come back without an audience to maintain the safety as best we could for our talent, for the contestants, for our staff and crew.”
“That was the hardest part of all of this; the audience is such a core part of that show, and so, for the first time in 48 years we’ve had to look at it and go okay, we’re bringing the show back and it’s going to be different and we have to hope and know that everyone understands what’s going on and how serious it is and that we want to bring back this show for everyone, but it has to look different. If we want to come back, we have to do it safely.”
Unlike some other entertainment formats, the Drew Carey-hosted show was not able to have a virtual audience as ultimately it would be impossible to ensure that they weren’t looking online for the actual prices of the items.
Fans will hopefully be sated, however, that all of their favorite games will be back. “We’re still going to have the same great games. We figured out how to bring all 77 games back while maintaining social distancing. So, they’ll see all their favorite games. It was also important to me to keep the ‘Come on Down”,” she added.
Season 49 of the show would have previously started in mid-August with episodes on air at the end of September. To make up for this, the team are increasing the number of episodes they film a day from two to three. Warfel is also moving the production days so that one of the days of filming will be Sunday, when there are fewer people on the lot. “I wanted to maximize the amount of time we could have reduced exposure to other shows and other people,” she added.
The set has also been rebuilt. Decking has been put on top of the area that the audience used to sit and each contestant on Bidder’s Row are now six feet apart. “We pulled out all the audience chairs and we put in decking and we’ve now made it all one level. So, it’s level. You know how they used to run up the stairs to meet Drew? I felt like it was odd for Drew to be talking down to only four people. It made sense when it’s 300 and it’s a whole audience, but it felt weird to me for him to be talking down to four people and then having it empty behind them,” she said.
As with many other production, there are production zones, masks and shields and regular testing. The Fremantle team also worked closely with a team of COVID doctors. “We walked through our games with the doctors to discuss where we’ll have Drew stand and how the contestants will stand,” she added. “We’ve made some changes to some games… but they will be all spinning the wheel. They’re able to all touch the wheel. They just have to sanitize their hands first, and then after that, the first wheel spin, the wheel will be sanitized for the next wheel spin.”
Many have suggested that these COVID costs increase the budgets by between 10% and 20%. While The Price Is Right doesn’t have the same budget as a primetime shiny floor show, Warfel said it doesn’t pose any particular difference for daytime. “I don’t think it’s any harder for us in daytime than for the primetime shows because at the end of the day we all have a budget, and these costs for every show are going to exceed that budget because it’s not normal for anyone, wherever we’re working,” she added.
While Warfel has been with the show for years as a co-exec producer, she only took over the job from Mike Richards last year, becoming the first woman to hold the position in the show’s history.
“I feel excited. I’m excited to be back. I love a good challenge. I think our set is beautiful. It’s different, but I really enjoyed the process of creating something new. I am a little bit nervous to be quite honest just in terms of the fact it’s so different. This show is so iconic,” she said. “We’re having to change it in a way it’s never been changed but this show has always been an evolution of how do we keep the nostalgia and make it more modern and fit in the times without taking away that comfort from people that they’ve known their whole life.”