Editor’s note: Mandel Ilagan is one of the co-executive producers of “Family Game Night,” which airs on the Hub. He has also been an executive at and produced multiple reality TV and game shows for FremantleMedia, Fox Reality Channel and Hasbro Studios. He is on Twitter.
Ilagan's story is part of the coverage leading up to the 40th annual Daytime Emmy Awards, airing on HLN Sunday, June 16 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
Game shows are a huge part of my life. In fact, the first memories I have of television were sitting at home in Florida watching “The Price Is Right” with my grandmother, who didn’t speak a word of English!
Flash forward to 2003. I was working as a development executive at FremantleMedia, the company that produces “The Price Is Right.” Roger Dobkowitz, one of the show’s producers at the time, dropped by my office and said that if I ever had any ideas for new pricing games, he’d love to hear them. Needless to say, I seized upon this opportunity.
During the long drive home, I started thinking, “What could capture the audience’s interest like a “Plinko” or “Cliff Hangers,” while also doing something that the show hadn’t done before?” Then, I thought, “What does everybody encounter while shopping?”
The show already had games about using credit cards, pricing cars and grocery shopping. Then, it hit me. We’re always bombarded with sales touting items that are “half off.” How about a game where you picked items that were “half off” their retail price?
I fleshed the game out, adding an element where you tried to pick the box that contained the big prize. Every time you picked a half-off item, we eliminated half the empty boxes from the board. It was clean, simple and had nice symmetry to it.
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I went online to find prices of some items to make a mock version of the game to test out on my friends. It was a hit! So, the next morning, I went into Dobkowitz’ office and presented the game to him. He said that he’d never seen a game like this before on the show and wanted to take it right away to host Bob Barker, who was also an executive producer of the show.
Soon after, I got a voicemail from Dobkowitz saying that Bob was shown “1/2 Off” and wanted to make it the next new game on "The Price Is Right!"
We then talked through some concepts about how it should look. Set designer Bente Christensen fleshed out the ideas, and I was blown away by her sketches. They spared no expense with this. There were chase-lights, boxes that dropped and a huge sign with the game’s name. My baby was coming to life!
A few months later, the game was ready to rehearse on stage. I even got to play as a contestant while Bob practiced hosting the game. Aside from a few cosmetic tweaks, the game was ready for air.
On the first tape day, I did a lot of pacing backstage. I was like a dad-to-be in the waiting room of the maternity ward. I wondered, “What would the audience think? How will the contestant play the game? Will they understand the rules?” Those concerns were all laid to rest as Box No. 7 was opened and a big wad of cash fell out, giving "1/2 Off" its first win!
As the bells rang and the familiar theme played, the audience leapt to their feet. This is what it's all about: Fun, excitement and the contestant’s joy after winning $10,000!
During the break, as the crew set the stage for the next game, Bob introduced me to the studio audience as the creator of the game. I even got a big thank you and a hug from the winner!
From some stats I found, “1/2 Off” has given away nearly half a million dollars in cash and prizes since its premiere on “The Price Is Right” in 2004. And the game is still an active part of the lineup, thanks to executive producer Mike Richards and the show’s current team. It’s even made appearances on "The Price is Right" video game and DVD game, and there’s even a “1/2 Off” slot machine on Facebook!
I still watch the show as a fan, and every time I see Drew Carey stand by the doors as they reveal the game, it takes me a second before I realize, “Oh yeah, I created that!” Not bad for that little boy from Florida who used to play game show host during recess.