Bob Stewart: Creator of the television game show 'The Price is Right'
Monday 04 June 2012
The television producer Bob Stewart came up with the idea for the game show The Price is Right after hearing people standing in front of a Manhattan department store window discussing how much a piece of furniture might cost.
The format was simple: in auction style, four contestants guessed the retail value of the prizes on offer and the one who was closest, without exceeding the correct figure, was the winner. The programme, hosted by Bill Cullen, was launched in the US in 1956 and quickly became the most popular game show in the country. The Price is Right, devised by Stewart for his employer, Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions, continues to run in its homeland today and the format has been sold worldwide. The programme was hosted in Britain by Leslie Crowther, Bob Warman, Bruce Forsyth and Joe Pasquale between 1984 and 2007.
Stewart started his own production company in 1964 and one of his later creations The $10,000 Pyramid – featuring two pairs of contestants, each teaming a celebrity with a member of the public – became another global success. Six screens were organised in a pyramid shape, each with a word indicating a category, and the celebrity gave clues to his partner for seven items in that category.
The programme, renamed half a dozen times in the US to reflect increases in prize money – up to $100,000 – ran there from 1973 until 2004. Screened in Britain as The Pyramid Game, hosted by Steve Jones, it was featured first in Bruce Forsyth's Big Night (1978) and The Steve Jones Games Show (1979), before being broadcast in its own right between 1981 and 1990. It was later revived for the digital channel Challenge in 2007, presented by Donny Osmond.
Stewart was born Isidore Steinberg in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian Jewish immigrants. He served in the Air Force during the Second World War, then took a radio-writing course, before landing a job at a New York radio station. Encountering anti-Semitism from potential employers, he changed his name to Robert Stewart in 1950 and was soon working in television for various New York channels. In 1956, he moved to Mark Goodson-Bill Todman Productions.
Just weeks after The Price is Right was launched, another of Stewart's game-show creations, To Tell the Truth, was born. Another hardy screen perennial, running in the US until 2002, it featured three protagonists claiming to have a secret they wanted to reveal, with a panel of celebrities trying todetermine which one was telling the truth. It was recreated in various guises around the world – in Britain as Tell the Truth, first from 1957 to 1959, then from 1983 to 1990.
A further hit for Stewart in his home country was Password, starting in 1961, with two pairings of celebrities and members of the public guessing words based on one-word clues – a precursor to The $10,000 Pyramid.
After leaving Goodson and Todman's production company, he set up Bob Stewart Productions and made more than 20 game shows over a quarter of a century. They included Eye Guess (1966-69, with contestants trying to remember the locations on a nine-space board of answers to subsequent questions), Personality (1967-69, featuring celebrities guessing how fellow stars answered pre-recorded questions) and Winning Streak (1974-75, another word-association game).
Stewart showed that he had both business acumen and a hold on audience tastes by updating the formats of some of his programmes, including Jackpot! (1974-90, offering money and cash prizes of up to $50,000 for contestants answering riddles) and Chain Reaction (1980-91, another word game), which was recently revived by a different US production company (2006-07).
Until 2006, Stewart held the record for the most Daytime Emmy Awards won by any producer – nine. Three years later, he was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. Stewart retired in 1991, a year after the death of his wife, Sara. His subsequent long-term partner, Anne Marie Schmitt – who produced some of his programmes – died in 2006. Stewart's son, Sande, has also produced television game shows.
Isidore Steinberg (Bob Stewart), television producer and game-show deviser: born New York 27 August 1920; married 1943 Sara Abramowitz (died 1990; three sons); died Los Angeles 4 May 2012.
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