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TBT: Bob Barker Hosts 'Monday Night Raw'

The guest-host gimmick was one of the worst things in 'Monday Night Raw' history, but Bob Barker bucked the trend in a big way.
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Each week, VICE Sports takes a look back at an important event from sports history for Throwback Thursday, or #TBT for all you cool kids. You can read previous installments here.

Like much of today's political climate and the downfall of a professional sports league, you can blame one of Monday Night Raw's most grating tropes on Donald Trump.

The Donald has ties with the WWE dating back to 2007—the promotion maintains a talent bio of him to this day—but the culmination of his role came in 2009. On June 15th of that year, Trump, then the storyline owner of Monday Night Raw, announced a new guest-host program. It was precisely what it sounds like: celebrities, usually armed with matchmaking power, would host the company's flagship wrestling show.


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While the gimmick was never formally discontinued, it peaked over its first year, during which span a new person hosted the show every single week (save for one special WWE Draft episode). There were distinguished alumni like Batista and Bret Hart, musicians like ZZ Top and actors like Freddie Prinze Jr., and even mainstream athletes like Ben Roethlisberger and Pete Rose. A healthy majority of them were trash.

Bob Barker was not.

Just months after Trump's appearance, Barker brought The Price Is Right to Raw in Chicago. September 7, 2009, wasn't exactly a seminal moment in wrestling history, but it was Barker's first television appearance since he retired as The Price Is Right's longtime host in 2007.

More important, it was genuinely enjoyable. That in and of itself was something of a triumph, because the WWE's guest hosts often flopped. Johnny Damon bumbled through his monologue and teased homophobia with Sgt. Slaughter. Pee Wee Herman argued with The Miz about He-Man. Al Sharpton, flanked by the Bella Twins, croaked out a James Brown verse. Snooki made an appearance, then got booked in a match and later received an award, because it was 2011. Cheech and Chong showed up 30 years after their prime, dusting off jokes that were equally dated.

Perhaps this was to be expected; there was no criterion for selection, really, not beyond something to promote, a willingness to ham it up for a few segments, and the inclination to show up in a random city. The less you thought about why the WWE was dragging out Random Celebrity X, the better. There is no sufficient explanation for why Criss Angel was the guest of honor in Portland, and there probably doesn't need to be one, either.


Like a true television pro, though, Barker made the most of his appearance. The then 85-year-old possessed the necessary self-awareness to grasp exactly what kind of show this was, and what sort of role he needed to play. He didn't fall into the trap of trying to match the wrestlers beat for beat, neither on the microphone (like Herman) nor flinging himself off the top rope (like Jeremy Piven).

Instead, Barker played the straight man and let the buffoonery all around him do the heavy lifting. The best moments occurred over two rounds of The Price Is Raw, a naked attempt at hawking WWE products that was far better than it had any right to be. There were low points, of course. A shrill blonde named Jillian Hall, working the angle of being a horrendously bad singer, screeched horribly off-key songs, and nobody bothered to explain why they dug up I.R.S., the early 90s midcarder who halfheartedly reenacted his shtick about taxes on his bids.

Barker wasn't immune to flubs, wondering aloud in the second round whether faux-Italian comedy wrestler Santino Marella was bidding $1,200 or $12,000 in his lasagna-thick accent (he's actually from Toronto). Also, A.J. Pierzynski was there, because, why not?

But when the bit worked, it killed. Barker feigned over-exasperation when Marella asked to buy a vowel. A vowwellll? You've been body slammed too many times! He then played to the crowd when Marella eventually bid "one thousand four hundred sixty-five American-style dollars" for a Best of Smackdown Tenth Anniversary DVD. I don't think he's overbid, do you?


Barker gently admonished Hall to pipe down—I think they've heard enough, but I loved your singing! Of course, I'm tone deaf—and quickly parried I.R.S.'s tedious tax questions.

The most enduring scene came from an interaction with Chris Jericho, one of the great in-ring and character performers in wrestling history, who stomped on to the scene in full ring gear with the Price Is Right's legendary name tag stuck to his left pectoral. Jericho, in full boorish heel mode, didn't place a bid from his podium. Instead, he marched up to the stage, glowering and silent.

"You know, Chris, your mother would not be proud of you the way you're behaving," Barker admonished, before belittling Jericho in the most Barker-ish ways possible. First, he preempted Jericho's long-awaited monologue: "Wait! The man talks! He's actually speaking!" Jericho predictably recoiled, so Barker ad-libbed off that, too.

"Please, he's pouting," Barker told the audience, theatrically holding a hand up to shush them so Jericho could speak.

When the wrestler finally got going again, Barker cut him off once more, taking Jericho's declaration that "I am one-half of…" as a final bid of $1, and then booted him off the stage, threatening to spank him on live TV for being naughty. It was aw-shucks with just the right amount of shade mixed in. It was pretty much perfect.

Like everyone else, Barker was there to shill something—in his case, his book Priceless Memories, the proceeds of which went toward his foundation that subsidizes spays and neuters for dogs. Still, he had the courtesy to jab at how ridiculous it all was, opening one segment with his nose in the pages and laughing to no one in particular, "I enjoy my book more every time I read it!"


Next came a confrontation with Chavo Guerrero, who threatened the old man after losing a Barker-engineered match that could have netted him a car. Barker sized him up, and then tried to talk him down. "Chavo, in any fight, the big advantage is surprise," he said before sucker-punching the wrestler in the chest and crumpling him with a karate chop to the back of the neck. Next came a quick turn back to the camera.

"I'm having a wonderful time tonight," Barker said in his famously genial way. "I really am!"

All told, Barker appeared on six segments over two hours. Parts of it were great, parts of it weren't, but all of it was fun, a commodity that grew scarcer as the guest list stretched thinner and thinner that year—Jewel and Ty Murray, anybody? On and on it went, one irritation after another until finally, mercifully, the WWE eased off the accelerator in the name of palatable television. Guest hosts were largely replaced by guest stars, who have no matchmaking authority and consequently are shoehorned into far less airtime. What was once a weekly albatross has evolved into a semi-regular nuisance.

And Barker? WWE fans would go on to vote him as the Raw guest host of the year, and his episode is still regarded as one ofif not the singular—high points of the guest host era. Of course, that honor only means so much given the competition. Nevertheless, Barker took an inherently limited format and made it work, just like he did for 50 years on CBS. The WWE audience may care less about consumer pricing than sucker punches, but Barker's smooth charm and winning self-awareness made sure they had a good time all the same.

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