With unbridled enthusiasm and unchecked affection, contestants have always been the stars of "The Price is Right." More than 2 million exuberant fans have taken part in the show.
But those fans will be mostly missing when the show returns with new episodes this week, after going on hiatus in March due to the pandemic. For the first time, "The Price is Right" will be without an audience. And that's not the only big change. Host Drew Carey is debuting a new look, sporting a beard.
"To be honest, a lot of this stuff about COVID, if you haven't been sick, it's kind of been a little bit of a blessing in disguise to be shut down so much," Carey told "CBS This Morning: Saturday" co-host Dana Jacobson. "Because I had a lot of time for introspection. A lot of spiritual growth this summer. Part of me wanted to reflect it with a different look. So let me just grow a beard and see what it looks like. And then I liked it when it came out and I kept it."
Restarting production took months of planning. The set was reconfigured to add social distance, crew members wearing masks work in zones. Safety protocols include cleaning and testing. But executive producer and showrunner Evelyn Warfel, says one thing was not-negotiable.
"If you don't hear George [Gray, the show's announcer] say 'Come on down!' at the top of the show, it's not 'The Price Is Right,'" Warfel said. "So I think for us the biggest challenge was how are we going to do a 'Come On Down' without an audience. And we struggled with that."
"You have the signature line. There still is the 'Come On Down,'" Jacobson said to Carey.
"Yeah, yeah. I haven't been backstage to look but I've been told about it," Carey said. "They unhook their ears and they hold their mask over their face. And if they hear their name, they throw the mask down and run out. So they're just as surprised."
What you won't see during the pandemic are contestants getting close to the host. Bear hugs are off-limits.
"Now I remember seeing video of you getting knocked down by a contestant," Jacobson said. "So is this almost potentially safer, now that you have social distancing like keeping them from you?"
"Yeah. Nobody's picking me up and swirling me around," Carey said. "But I liked, you know, high five-ing people, and I liked hugs and, like-- you know, none of that anymore, man."
"The Price is Right" first aired on CBS in 1972. Bob Barker, with his warmth and easy-going style, helmed the show for 35 years. He passed the stick mic to comedian Drew Carey 13 years ago.
In nearly half a century, more than $250 million in cash and prizes have been given away with a live audience cheering non-stop.
Next week, the audience-free show will premiere with a primetime special.
Carey says during the special, "I got a beard, I'm not wearing a tie and tonight we are saluting essential workers."
A small way for "The Price is Right" to give back. Something Warfel hopes it continues to do for the audience at home, despite the changes.
"Especially in these times, when people are really having a difficult time, they want to see shows that are fun, and exciting and bring a little bit of joy and happiness," Warfel said.
Carey's goal is simple, to help contestants enjoy the moment.
"I'm a host, and I'm hosting a little bit of a smaller party than I used to. So I want everybody to be comfortable and we love it when people win," Carey said. "You know, everybody backstage is rooting for people to win. Never has anybody back there gone, 'Oh we've got to save some money. I hope they lose.'"
The iconic game show will be airing three prime-time specials, "The Price is Right at Night," featuring frontline and essential workers. The first one airs this Tuesday night at 8 p.m.