Three months ago, Drew Carey was told that casting agents from CBS were interested in the actor-comedian, famous for his crew cut, black-rimmed glasses and improv skills.
“I thought they wanted me on ‘CSI’ or another drama as some kind of goof,” Carey said.
They didn’t. Instead, the network wanted Carey, who had just shot a pilot for its upcoming prime-time game show “Power of 10,” to think about taking over for the retiring Bob Barker, the celebrated host of daytime’s most successful game show “The Price Is Right.”
“I said no,” Carey said. “Because it’s Bob Barker. The man is a television icon. It violated the golden rule of show business: Never take over for a legend. I remember what happened to Jay Leno after he took over for Johnny Carson, and it took years before people would give him a chance, even though he was doing a great show.”
Things change. Culminating a lengthy search that included such Hollywood names as George Hamilton, Mark Steines, Mario Lopez and even Rosie O’Donnell, Carey proudly announced Monday on “Late Show With David Letterman” that he was going to step into the biggest shoes in game show history by replacing Barker on “The Price Is Right.” Barker, who spent half a century on television, retired from the show in June after logging a record-breaking 6,586 installments.
“CBS did a really good sales job,” Carey said in a telephone interview on a break from taping his new prime-time show, which debuts Aug. 7. “They told me all I would be doing all day is giving away prizes, and I thought, you know, that’s not such a bad thing to be known for.”
Barker, who passed out an estimated $300 million during his 35 years on “The Price Is Right,” agrees, and applauded his successor.
“I read that Drew had told someone that if Bob Barker is cool with it, he was cool with it,” Barker said. “Well, let me make it official -- I’m cool with it.”
Barker, who has only had a brief telephone conversation with Carey on television’s “Entertainment Tonight,” was particularly pleased that Carey pledged to continue the animal rights activist’s familiar plug to viewers to spay and neuter their pets.
As for advice for Carey, 49, the 83-year-old with 19 Daytime Emmys said: “Were I to give him any advice I would give him the same advice that Ralph Edwards [executive producer of ‘Truth or Consequences’] gave me when he hired me in 1956. When you go out there, you do the show the way Bob Barker would do it, not the way Ralph Edwards or anybody else would do it. Be yourself.”
CBS President of Entertainment Nina Tassler explained that’s why Carey was ultimately selected.
“He is extremely charming, funny and engaging,” Tassler said. “Drew has this innate ability to connect with these contestants. When we saw ‘The Power of 10' pilot, we couldn’t help but notice how invested he was with the contestants.”
Tassler credits CBS President Leslie Moonves with the idea to court Carey. Moonves was president of Warner Bros. Television during part of the time Carey starred in his own television sitcom, “The Drew Carey Show,” which ran for nine seasons on ABC. Carey, who began his stand-up career in Cleveland, also hosted the improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” which ran for six seasons on ABC.
Initial fan reaction to Carey taking over “Price” has been somewhat mixed. The news prompted more than 200 comments on Digg.com, where one entry read: “Drew Carey is awesome. I think the show will never be the same but he did a great job with ‘Whose Line
’ but we will just have to see.”
But another said: “It could have been oh so much worse, it could have been Rosie O’Donnell.”
CBS hasn’t announced when the first episode of the Carey-hosted “Price Is Right” will air, but it’s expected to be sometime in the fall. The network doesn’t anticipate any major changes.
“We’re going to keep the show pretty much the same,” Carey said. “We want to keep the fans happy.” Whenever the show debuts, Carey said fans should expect a national tour.
“We’re going to travel and hit the major market cities,” Carey said. “Hey, we’ll be coming to a town near you.”