Mark L. Walberg loved game shows growing up, and his two favorite hosts were Dick Clark on the "$10,000 Pyramid" and Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right."
Clark became his mentor when Walberg got a job with Dick Clark Productions, rising from assistant to warm-up comedian to announcer / host on such shows as "Shop Till You Drop," "Russian Roulette," "The Moment of Truth," "Joe Millionaire: The Aftermath" and "Temptation Island." For the last decade he's hosted PBS's Emmy-nominated "Antiques Roadshow."
Now he's standing in for his other game show idol, hosting the touring version of "The Price Is Right" when it comes to the Covelli Centre on Wednesday.
"I started doing it many years ago when it was in Atlantic City and Las Vegas," Walberg said during a telephone interview from his home in southern California. "I was more of a fill-in guy. I was on the road doing my own thing quite a bit, but I'd do a few days here or there as needed. Now there is a tour, which is a much bigger deal and really a blast."
Walberg is doing eight cities on the 35-date tour. Todd Newton ("Family Game Night," "Whammy! The All-New Press Your Luck"), Joey Fatone ("Dancing with the Stars") and Jerry Springer are some of the other hosts who've told folks to "C'mon down!"
"We all do it a different way, I do it my own way, but we all try to realize that what people are coming for is the true 'Price Is Right' experience," Walberg said. "I love doing the show. I have a chance to have that fix of a live audience and improvising. You never know what's going to happen. It harkens back to the early days of my career."
WHAT: "The Price Is Right Live!"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Covelli Centre, 229 E. Front St., Youngstown
COST: $96.50, $46.50, $36.50 and $26.50
Many of the games familiar to those who watch the show at 11 a.m. weekdays on CBS are part of the tour, and those in the audience will be picked to compete. Attendees can register in advance at priceisrightlive.com if they want to be considered to be called on stage, but registering in advance isn't required to be eligible. And unlike on television, where the audience members are interviewed and screened as they wait in line to find potential contestants, Walberg said it is his understanding that they don't do that for the live show, so a crazy shirt won't increase the odds of getting picked.
"For us it's far more random, more luck of the draw," he said. "You never know who's coming on stage. You don't know if someone is going to be crazy or silly ... It's the same set, the music is the same. You're gonna hear 'C'mon down!' Not everyone is going to hear their name called but the format is designed to get as many called as possible."
At the very least, everyone there will leave with their own "Price Is Right" name tag, and those who buy the top ticket are guaranteed an opportunity to get their photo taken spinning the big wheel.
Walberg has plenty of experience hosting game shows, and there are a couple of secrets to being a good one.
"Step one, you need to know the game," he said. "You have to make it look effortless, and if you don't know the ins and outs of the game, it's trickier than you think. And you have to realize the games and the contestants are the stars of the show. Your job is to give the contestant the best possible chance to win and keep it moving."
In some ways, game shows were the original television "reality" shows. Walberg also is a veteran of the more contemporary form of the genre, having worked on acclaimed programs like "Antiques Roadshow" as well as more critically savaged series like "Temptation Island," which was the highest-rated series in FOX history at the time.
A more accurate description for some reality series is "scripted nonfiction," Walberg said, but that doesn't make them less entertaining. And he believes audiences are increasingly aware of the manipulations that a part of television reality. But he said "Antiques Roadshow" is a true reality series.
"There's no prescreening. We appraise 10,000 items and only tape about 90 of them. They're getting appraised for the first time on the air. We don't invite anyone onto 'Roadshow' with an item."