Drew Carey's the big wheel at 'The Price Is Right'

Drew Carey is not out to reinvent the big wheel, though he is having fun tinkering with it. With an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude, the 49-year-old funny guy assumes Bob Barker's hosting duties at The Price Is Right next week, when fresh episodes of CBS' long-running game show begin.

On this particular afternoon, Carey is biding time in Barker's old dressing room before a taping. There will be about 30 shows in the can before Monday's premiere, a day Barker is dreading because, he kids, "My reruns end, and I'll be another old man out of work with no income."

Finishing touches are being made on a brand-new dressing room that will be Carey's alone. (Barker shared his with The Young and the Restless actresses and political talk-show host Bill Maher.)

There also are changes to the set, though it would take a most loyal viewer to identify them: a slightly altered color scheme, pastel curtains, a recarpeted turntable. Only the imposing Showcase Showdown wheel has been spared any retouching.

Carey isn't wearing his signature black specs, and though he appears more youthful without them, he slips them on as soon as he is called to the stage. He had Lasik eye surgery years ago but says he still needs bifocals to read product prices: "It really does get blurry."

The power of Drew

There was no blurriness in the eyes of executive producer Syd Vinnedge when it came time to find Barker's successor. "Drew is someone we had on our list for a long time, and we kept getting no's: He just wasn't interested," Vinnedge says. But after Carey proved a hit on CBS' prime-time game show Power of 10, the network pursued him more aggressively.

Without auditioning, Carey beat out such other hopefuls as Mario Lopez ("We realized this kid was a matinee idol and wouldn't stay," Vinnedge says); George Hamilton, perhaps too close to Barker; and Rosie O'Donnell, who insisted the Los Angeles-based show move to New York. "She would have done a really good job," Vinnedge says, "but I don't think it's easy to move this show."

Carey has had no choice but to commute between Hollywood and New York, where Power of 10 shoots. "I've learned to take earlier flights because the earlier flights don't get delayed," he says with a sigh. "I've had a three-hour delay and five-hour delay …"

The demanding flight schedule has left Carey battling a head cold, and he's chugging his second dose of TheraFlu. The flight headaches also might explain a playful outburst directed at one audience member who reveals herself as an employee at one of the offending airlines. "Where's my luggage, mother (expletive)?" Carey screams.

While the audience laughs, some crewmembers seem mortified to hear the f-bomb on Barker's squeaky-clean stage.

"Oh, no," Barker responds upon hearing of the incident. "I don't think I'll comment on that."

The edgy Carey emerges mostly during commercial breaks, and TV viewers will likely never see them. But some believe the change in tone will seep through. UCLA student Josephine Oldan, 18, who was called to "come on down" and ended up winning trips to Canada and Mexico, says Carey "was hilarious. When Bob was there, it was more traditional. It seems like the spirit of the show is lighter now and more fun."

Carey can be flirtatious, and sometimes naughty, with his audience.

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