LOS ANGELES – These were two labors of love.

Cliff Lee arose in the depths of the darkness to make the hour drive from Anaheim, Calif., with his wife to line up at 6 a.m. for tickets to “The Price Is Right.” Turns out 6 a.m. is a little late. They got stand-by ducats. The taping wouldn’t begin for 10 hours.

Lee doesn’t care beans about “Price,” but his wife, Ju-Yeon Ryu, adores it. She still lives in Broomall, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, while he studies acupuncture in California, and the two take a stab at bicoastal marriage.

“Price” is “just the best,” she beams. Not only is the old-fashioned game show – No. 1 in daytime after 33 years – her favorite TV offering, it’s also the only one she has ever watched regularly since coming to the United States from Korea in 1996.

A doctorate in dance theory from Temple University, she’s agog with anticipation on this day in late January. Not that she might win $25,000 in cash and prizes, though that would be fine, but that she might actually meet Bob Barker and maybe get a chance to play her favorite “Price” game, Plinko.

“I learned fluency in English watching,” she explains, “and all about American culture.”

“I’ve heard that from so many people,” host Barker says. “They can follow what we’re doing. It’s conversation. We’re pleased to hear that.”

You could dismiss the show as a mindless monument to American materialism, but that wouldn’t really explain why CBS’s “Price,” in its 33rd year with the same format and a host who was old for TV when it started, is the top-rated network daytime show.

“The Price Is Right” is a party, assembling on this balmy day yet another multicultural, multi-regional and multigenerational audience of about 320 of the friendliest, most energetic people you can imagine.

“I’m surprised and delighted at how the show and I have become sort of a cult thing among college kids,” Barker says. “I don’t know why. If I did, I’d bottle it and sell it.”

With a production assistant waving his arms at the side of the stage, the energy is not allowed to flag. All the fun and games pipe into living rooms and bedrooms across the country weekday mornings at 11 EST, just when 5.6 million stay-at-homes are looking for a pick-me-up.

TV’s only remaining daytime network game show gets about as many viewers as its top-rated morning and late-night shows, “Today” and “Tonight,” though a little less than half the gaggle for the No. 1 syndicated evening game show, “Wheel of Fortune.”

Barker is 81 now, and has given away more than $200 million in cash and prizes, on 18 years of “Truth or Consequences” in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s (including a string of 3,524 consecutive performances), and 33 years of “Price Is Right.”

“I’ve done this all my life,” he says. “I have such a good time. … I’ve considered retirement at the end of every year for 10 or 15 years, and then I say, “Well, I’ll do it one more year.”‘

Barker’s wife and the love of his life, Dorothy Jo, died in 1981, and he never remarried. Over the years, he has weathered several sexual-harassment and wrongful-termination complaints by some of the Beauties, who pose provocatively with the merchandise. Nowadays, the Beauties are replaced pretty regularly, and include women of various ethnicities. Contestants Row has been many-hued for years.

“The country has become a melting pot, as you well know,” Barker says, “and reflecting that is one of the reasons for our success.”

No Koreans get to the Promised Land on the Feb. 18 show, but that doesn’t bother Ju-Yeon Ryu. “Just being here,” she says before the taping begins, “at “The Price Is Right’ that has been so important to me since I came (to the United States).

“It’s like a dream.”


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