Q. I realize that this is a sensitive question, but I'm curious: When the camera pans the audience on "The Price Is Right," I rarely see many black faces. Yet there is often a black among the dozen or so contestants during the show. How does that happen?
-- S.T., of Belleville
A. Whoever said life isn't always fair may have been thinking about "The Price Is Right" -- especially if he or she wasn't picked to compete on the show that host Bill Cullen began to make a daytime staple way back in 1956.
At least, I suppose the truly democratic way of choosing contestants would be to assign every audience member a number and then draw those numbers out of a hat. That way everyone would have an equal chance of being rewarded for their pilgrimage to the CBS Television City studio.
But that's not the way it works, as the program's execs make clear at www.priceisrightinfo.com:
If you want a chance to take home more than a ticket stub, you have to show up in front of the studio hours before taping time. There, you'll be given a large "price tag" with an identification number. You write your name and address on part of the ticket and hand it to a page.
The names are given to the show's producer, who then meets with groups of 8-10 hopefuls at a time to decide beforehand who will be that day's contestants.
"The show's producers are looking for a particular type of person for 'The Price is Right,'" they stress. "If you're not it, they'll pass you by.
"Mainly, they're looking for enthusiasm. They want jolly, emotionally expressive contestants who will get genuinely excited when they win (or lose). As a result, they tend to prefer female contestants over men (who often pretend to act excited while being interviewed, but who later sober up when they realize that their boss may be watching them on TV).
"If you watch the show, you may notice that they also seem to favor pretty young girls, interesting looking and dressed individuals, college students and men in uniform."
And, I think you may realize that if you're trying to build the maximum audience, you want to pick a diverse group of contestants. So, just as you've heard about the importance of role models to draw women into male-dominated professions, network suits know that blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc. probably won't keep watching a steady stream of WASPs vying for prizes day after day. That is undoubtedly going through a producer's mind, too, as he makes a final decision.
You may not consider it entirely fair, but it has kept people "coming on down" for the better part of 57 years.
Q. "Two and a Half Men" is about the raunchiest show on prime-time network TV. How is it that it has earned only a PG rating?
-- S.L., of Shiloh
A. It sounds as though you, like me, may have grown up in an era when TV married couples slept in separate beds and never flushed a toilet. Even today, I still sometimes marvel how old sitcom writers could fill 23 minutes without some crude bathroom humor by Opie or a stream of double entendres from Bud Anderson.
But times and tastes have changed, leading to rating systems for everything from movies to comic books. Still, those systems are human and imperfect. You can't have a computer watch a TV show and have it spit out a rating.
As a result, I think you'll often see complaints that, over the years, such systems have grown more liberal as audiences seem to grow more accustomed to material that may not have passed the censors 20 or 30 years before. What used to be an R movie now may be a PG-13 or even PG.
That's probably the best way to explain why "Two and a Half Men" earned a PG rather than a 14, the next step up in TV ratings. (The last is MA -- recommended only for those over 16.) In addition to the overall rating you have to look at the letters that go along with it.
A 14 rating involves intensely suggestive dialogue (D), strong, coarse language (L), intense sexual situations (S) and/or intense violence (V). Whoever graded "Men" decided it had only "some" suggestive dialogue, "infrequent" coarse language and "some" sexual situations -- the definition of a PG.
My question: Children won't heed the ratings, but shouldn't parents know after five minutes that the show is inappropriate for their youngsters and change the channel or the V-chip? But, then, I'm a bachelor, so what do I know? The kids probably will be sent to their rooms, which they'll watch it on their iPhones ...
Barack Obama became the fourth president to be sworn in privately on a Sunday. Who was the first to take the oath on a Sunday?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: Today, Mr. Whipple is a cultural icon after years of manhandling that "squeezably soft" Charmin toilet paper. Of course, we also can buy White Cloud and Angel Soft, which promise a similar gentle experience. In any case, we've certainly come a long way from 1935, when Northern proudly advertised that its bath tissue was "splinter-free." Oooh, that hurts just to think about it.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org