Fans of The Price is Right fall into two main categories: those who enjoy the show for what it is, and those who obsess over every detail. Both groups were surprised last week when it was confirmed that announcer Rich Fields would not be returning to the show for season 39.
Fields himself responded to the news with a letter to his friends and fans, in which he mentioned that executive producer Mike Richards has a different vision for the position going forward. The intention right now is to fill the role of announcer with an improv comedian, giving the show an atmosphere of a "variety show within a game show."
This news hit a little harder. While simple things like set changes and musical cues can sometimes cause a minor uproar amongst die-hard fans, even casual fans wonder what the show will have in store going forward.
Randy West, a seasoned game show announcer who has worked on The Price is Right, both on television and on The Price is Right Live show, was able to offer some insight into just what this type of change could mean.
"Some of the finest minds in television games came together to craft and perpetuate the magic that has been The Price is Right, the most successful game show in television history," West says. "It seems to me that the challenge of keeping the show competitive by the criteria set by Madison Avenue's time buyers has grown more complex with each passing decade. With overall TV viewership on the decline and Price's audience maturing, attention has to be focused on somehow freshening the show without alienating the core audience nor changing the basic presentation so drastically as to destroy what can be called the 'brand' or the 'franchise.' I don't envy anyone trying to achieve those goals."
"The announcer on The Price is Right has always been an integral ingredient in creating the show's flavor by virtue of the fact that his voice is heard seemingly non-stop throughout the program. It feels that with some games we hear more from the announcer than we see the host."
Indeed, The Price is Right has elevated the role of the announcer to new heights, often featuring Fields on camera, bantering with host Drew Carey, and even popping up in Showcase skits. He's also been front and center in several different campaigns throughout this past season, including a viral video in which he trains for his job with Lou Ferrigno, and the "iRichFields" app for the iPhone.
Randy West, who was himself mentored by the inimitable Johnny Olson, continues, "I always felt that Johnny Olson set the perfect tone with a non-intrusive, non-jarring melodic delivery and controlled enthusiasm that never wearied the ear. His interplay with the host was always supportive and never intrusive or self-serving; Johnny never stole the spotlight. When given the chance to shine in showcases, he always added an element of fun and humor, without any heavy-handed comedic flourishes or ego-driven extraneous hamming. And Johnny always maintained his dignity."
Johnny Olson is the standard to which many hold all game show announcers. There's no question that he was an integral part of The Price is Right during his time on the show, and he was dearly missed after his passing. His eventual replacement, Rod Roddy, also gained a huge fan base with his colorful clothing and upbeat personality. Fields had his detractors in the beginning, but he won many fans over since debuting in 2004, and many now consider him to be one of the last elements of the game that link its current format to the Bob Barker days.
The move from a traditional announcer to an improv comic could be a dicey transition. The skill sets are vastly different, for one, and the overall feel of the show could undergo a major change. West explained to us the nuts and bolts of the game show announcer skill set:
"Most importantly, the job is best trusted in the hands of someone with exceptional reading skills and a polished professional delivery. The show's easygoing flow and momentum can so easily be disrupted by a choppy, hesitant or monotonous read, by misplaced or exaggerated emphasis, or by just plain old reading errors. Even when they are fixed in editing, the result can often be subtly perceived as unnatural, and the result is often distracting."
"I think someone with a well-rounded wealth of experience is what is needed for the role more so than someone who can be primarily categorized as a comic, an improv actor, a variety artist, or a voice-over talent. In short, it's a job for a disappearing species of performer, a generalist that has traditionally been called a 'broadcaster.' That's someone who has experience behind the microphone in a vast variety of assignments - disc jockey, interviewer, narrator, karaoke host, stand-up performer, sports commentator, even officiator at supermarket grand openings! It's the kind of background that honed the innate skills of performers from Bob Barker to Ryan Seacrest, and it's the kind of experience that's best to breed an announcer who can react to any circumstance and deliver an adrenalin-infusing warm-up."