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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!"

Ever.



3 comments:

Duane said...

You are right on the money with this essay about 'modelgate' Chris except for one thing - Dian never was the cashier on 'Grocery Game' that game belonged to Janice Pennington, and when she wasn't available, Holly Hallstrom was there to screw up the NCR cash register!

Today on the news, I heard people like NOW (National Organization for Women), and attorney Gloria Allred slamming down David Letterman for all of the 'sexual harassment that went down on David's show - where the hell were these women when Bob Barker did the same thing to Dian Parkinson? NOW was a bigger name back in the early 90's, and surely Ms. Allred would have loved to have nailed the most popular game show host (at that time) if she took the time to hear the full story (before O.J. came along later that year.) I think that both NOW and Ms. Allred should be looking to blame Barker and how he misused his position at CBS Television City before they get all bent out of shape about what David Letterman did.

As for Mr. Letterman himself, I've never been a fan of his, and like Cher before him, I think he is an a-hole - but with that being said, at least Letterman was a MAN about this matter, and took blame for what happened... What did Barker do? He resorted to name calling, and called the classic models of "TPIR" 'disgusting', and that 'he didn't want to talk about them' in a USA Today article that was given the week of his 'retirement' in 2007. His "I'm the victim!" BS grows a bit OLD after a while, and with his catty remark to Howie Mandel on "Access Hollywood" that the models on "TPIR" had 'to sleep with him to get their jobs' - now that is what should be protested! Sure, let Letterman get what's coming to him, but in the meantime, see what 'the king of game show lawsuits' did before passing judgment!

Chris Mann said...

Thanks, Duane, for taking the time to share your thoughts!

It is very odd that NOW and Allred apparently gave Bob a pass. Perhaps if Dian had made/been able to make media appearances in connection with her suit, things may have been a bit different. On the other hand, Barker probably would've instantly sued her, effectively scaring the hell out of and silencing any media outlet willing to air her grievances. (See Holly Hallstrom, 1995.)

MsSuzyQ88 said...

I do find it very strange that GSN named Bob Barker the best game show host of all time. Were they even aware of any of this prier stuff? Or it's also possible that they did know, but were covering up for Bob Barker.