Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Truth be Told

I feel sorry for those who never got a chance to see "Truth or Consequences."

I don't mean the town in New Mexico, either.

I'm thinking of "T or C" this morning amid the news that host Bob Barker is in the hospital after a fall near his Southern California home.

"Truth" didn't give Barker, 91, his start in broadcasting, but it put him on television for the first time. And there Bob stayed for some 51 years.

It was game show---and reality TV, if you want to know the truth---pioneer Ralph Edwards who passed the torch of "Truth" to Barker, in 1956.

Edwards created "Truth" on the radio in 1940. The premise was wacky yet simple.

The show was among the first "audience participation" offerings of the day.

Regular folks would have to answer an obscure trivia question---always designed for the contestant to fail---and when the answer was wrong, there would be consequences. These usually came in the form of wild stunts that were often embarrassing.

But the people ate it up and to be a "victim" on the show became desirable.

As Edwards said, "Most of the American people are pretty darned good sports."

The mad success of "Truth" in the non-visual medium of radio is a testament to Edwards' ability to use sound effects, audience microphones and his own vivid descriptions to give the listener a ringside seat to the raucous action.

Ralph Edwards didn't paint pictures with his radio show, he made mental movies---as any good radio program did in the medium's heyday.

Edwards moved "Truth" to TV in 1950, once he saw the potential of television and how it fit his stunt show like a glove.

Edwards stepped off camera in 1954, devoting his time to running his production company, which produced "Truth."

After a couple of years with new host Jack Bailey, Edwards turned "Truth" over to Barker, who Edwards had heard doing an audience participation show on Los Angeles radio.

That was in 1956, and Barker continued hosting "Truth" until 1974.

I started watching "Truth" in the late-1960s and now that I think about it, the show is at the tip top of today's family tree when it comes to wackiness on television. Pretty much every show you see on television today that involves crazy physical tasks by its contestants can have its roots traced to "Truth."

"Truth" also spawned similar shows in the days of early TV such as "Beat the Clock."

Before "Truth," nothing on television really came close to capturing the notion of asking regular people to do things that they would never consider doing---even with a few drinks in them.

"Candid Camera" had its niche, but that show preyed on the unsuspecting. "Truth" made no bones about it with its participants: you're going to do something weird and embarrassing. And you're going to do it willingly, and it will be seen by millions of people across the country. Period.

And people fell all over themselves---sometimes literally---to be on "Truth." Everyone wanted Bob Barker to embarrass them on national TV.

Ralph Edwards was right---most of the American people were, indeed, pretty darned good sports.

I was drawn to "Truth" as a young boy because each episode was different. The stunts were creative and slapstick and frankly, it wasn't boring.



Then there was "Barker's Box."

Maybe this is what I liked about "Truth" the most.

At the end of every show, a box was brought down to the studio audience. It had four drawers---three had money in them and the fourth was empty, or had a booby prize in it, such as a phony snake that would pop out. If the selected audience member chose the three money drawers before choosing the empty one, he/she would win the money. That's it. Simple but fun.

"Truth" signed off for the last time in 1974. Barker didn't go hungry. He went on to host something called "The Price is Right."

An effort to revive "Truth" occurred in 1977 but it died a quick death with host Bob Hilton.

I had great fun watching "Truth" as a young lad. Liked it a helluva lot more than "The Price is Right," that's for damn sure.

Bob Barker made a living on radio and TV for over six decades by engaging with audiences. For 18 years on "Truth," those audiences would do pretty much anything Bob asked them to do.

THAT'S some power.

Get well soon, Bob. As you said after every show in your "Truth" days, "Hoping all your consequences are happy ones."

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