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Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Top Ten Bob Barker-esque Things David Letterman Shouldn't Do During and After a TV Sex Scandal
Forget legions of lawyers, publicists, focus groups, gossipmongers, news pundits, crisis management teams and Miss Cleo. CBS's King of Late Night need only look to CBS's former (and nine-times-sued) King of Daytime to see how NOT to navigate his first TV sex scandal.
Fifteen years ago, Mr. Come-on-Down himself, former Price is Right host and (since 1988) executive producer Bob Barker—then a mere 71 years old—shocked actual-retail-price-obsessed America when he copped to copping feels with one of his longtime and decades-younger prize models-cum-employees.
Days before fridge- and emcee-fondling Barker's Beauty Dian Parkinson—she of the itty bitty bikini who wound her hips so provocatively during "The Bump Game"—sued the game show deity for sexual harassment, Barker took control of his image (and public opinion) and broke the salacious news of afternoon delights-gone-wrong in a preemptive press conference. The longtime widower admitted to giving in to Parkinson's siren-like calls for "hanky panky," but vehemently denied that it was anything but her idea. "As God is my witness," he said all Scarlet O'Hara-like while raising his hand, "I have never forced her to do one thing that she did not want to do, ever, sexually or any other way, ever."
Never. Ever. Not even once during the Grocery Game. No way. Huh-uh.
Of course, then-49-year-old Parkinson disagreed, as was apparent in her jaw-dropping lawsuit claiming sexual harassment/employment discrimination, deprivation of rights under California constitution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy.
All because her boss agreed to play, um, Plinko and Pick-a-Pair in his dressing room. (Thank God that pricing games Flip Flop, It's in the Bag and Gas Money weren't created yet.) That was essentially Barker's way of seeing what he and other staffers called a consensual sexual relationship. Parkinson claimed he forced her to be a sex slave in order to keep her job between 1989 and 1993, when she finally departed ostensibly on her own terms. So, in June 1994, she sued him for $8 million.
(Letterman should appreciate these game show references. He's been a celeb guest on Password Plus, $20,000 Pyramid, The Gong Show and The Liar's Club, and he hosted the 1977 game show pilot The Riddlers. He also had a pre-litigious Parkinson on his talk show—as a mute but vivacious prize model—four times.)
But Barker refused to play Lucky $even (Figures). And after he publicly discredited the two-time Playboy cover girl over the next 11 months, she dropped her suit (her legal one this time), blaming health problems and financial depletion. Curiously, she never directly responded during Barker's media tour to clear his name while trashing hers. Parkinson testified that she'd taken "hush money" in exchange for "model consulting" payments when she "quit" the show. Evidently, she could speak out only in court filings and appearances, or through her attorneys. Score 1, Bob Barker.
The legendary host emerged, in the public's and media's eyes, as a victorious victim of a big-money shakedown. He also portrayed himself as the champion of legitimate sexual harassment claims—i.e., not those filed by allegedly scorned, come-hither game show models allegedly hoping to become the next Mrs. Bob Barker and/or very, very rich.
Barker seemed to have perfectly handled this potentially-devastating public scandal. In front of the camera, anyway. Behind the scenes, not so much.
Just when all seemed rosy in the silver-foxy world of TV's avuncular (?) emcee, another Barker's Beauty, Holly Hallstrom, was fired. Like Parkinson, this fan favorite had worked for Price for nearly two decades. Unlike "the lovely Dian," though, Hallstrom did not sign a hush clause but instead publicly spoke out, claiming she was forced out for being "too fat" and not defending Barker in the media—as her two fellow prize models had done—during Parkinson's suit. Viewers were aghast. Many angry Price fans wrote CBS and Barker. This time, Mr. Come-on-Down wasn't clearly in the victim seat, though he told Entertainment Tonight at the time, "I'm the victim here! I'm the victim!" It had become increasingly clear that Barker presided over a very hostile work environment.
Barker sued Hallstrom in 1995. She then held her own press conference and eventually countersued. Ten years later, after her dismissed case was successfully appealed, she won a settlement reportedly of at least $3 million. In 2000, shortly after his deposed and under-oath female staffers contradicted Barker's version of events surrounding Hallstrom's exit, Barker fired (or, according to him, didn't "rehire") five more female longtime employees. Two of the five—both of whom were very visible and articulate Barker's Beauties—received hefty settlements. The three behind-the-scenes female staffers sued for wrongful termination, discrimination and, in one case, sexual harassment. Two of these three women eventually received settlements; the other woman lost on appeal in 2007.
But wait. There's more.
In 2004, two African-American female employees sued Barker, his producer Phil Rossi, and the show for sexual harassment and racial discrimination. These two women—including future Deal or No Deal model and Celebrity Apprentice contestant Claudia Jordan—settled prior to trial. In 2007, a third African-American woman—this time a CBS employee—sued the host, the show and the network, alleging sexual harassment, racial discrimination and wrongful termination. Her case was recently thrown out but will, reportedly, be appealed.
Long story short, all of this very costly trouble likely could've been averted had Barker kept it in his pants. Certainly, lawsuits #2-#9 could've been avoided had Barker not—to borrow another CBS game show term—pressed his luck with his more outspoken and increasingly sympathetic female employees, the growingly suspicious public and the scandal-obsessed media, which circa 2000 included (non-CBS/Paramount-owned) shows such as E! True Hollywood Story.
Without further adieu (phew!), here are Retroality.TV's Top Ten Bob Barker-esque Things David Letterman Shouldn't Do During and After a TV Sex Scandal:
10. Don't defy CBS and (allegedly) give the female staffer you're secretly doing permission to pose nude for Playboy.
9. Stop letting women reach into your seemingly bottomless "$500 pocket."
8. Don't sleep with the chick despised by nearly ever other woman in the building.
7. Quit making women scream, "THAT'S TOO MUCH!"
6. Don't harass the gal who won't defend you publicly, then try to get her to "voluntarily retire" when she gains 14 lb. while taking hormone medication.
5. Don't call said gal—known for her klutzy bloopers—a "Big-Ass Ham®."
4. Stop hitting on women at "Barker's Bargain Bar."
3. Don't fire the lady who so publicly defended you during your first sex scandal if her testimony differs from yours during the lawsuit(s) spiraling out of said sex scandal
2. Don't tell ladies, "I'll show you what's behind 'Door No. 2' in exchange for what's in the box."
1. As God is your witness, never, ever utter the phrase "Come on down!"