When people see game show host and television producer Marc Summers outside of their TVs or childhood memories, he says he loves it when they come up to him, politely introduce themselves and tell him that they grew up watching him host Nickelodeon's messy kids' game show Double Dare.
"I get that every day and I love it," Summers says. "Because people grew up with it, the show had a huge influence on so many people and I find it amazing and fantastic."
Double Dare is more than 30 years old, and it's been part of the regular childhood TV diet of several generations of kids. Its multiple spinoffs, like the syndicated Super Sloppy Double Dare and Fox's prime-time version Family Double Dare and the reruns, aired long after the show's final episode. Last year, Nickelodeon brought the show back with Summers and YouTube comedy star turned TV host Liza Koshy for a whole new generation of kids and their parents who fondly remember rooting for contestants as they tried to find a flag in a giant pair of nostrils filled with neon green snot or run up the chocolate-covered slope to get to the bottom of the Sundae Slide.
The show has become such a big hit again that Nickelodeon launched a Double Dare Live tour just like the ones in the ’80s and ’90s. Summers and the game show's sets, props and obstacles are roaming all over the country to give kids and their parents a chance to win cash and prizes in their hometown. Summers' show will be in DFW on Saturday at The Theatre at Grand Prairie.
Summers says he's been trying to get Double Dare back on Nickelodeon for years. However, the tone of the network's non-animated shows shifted from rebellious kid fare like The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Clarissa Explains It All and You Can't Do That on Television to bubblegum pop comedies like iCarly, Big Time Rush and (cue shivers) Fred: The Show.
"I'd been trying to bring it back for 10 years and Nickelodeon wasn't budging on it," Summers says. "Then I saw they started thinking about picking up old shows like Blue's Clues and Clarissa and I just texted the management saying, 'Am I getting the next phone call?' And a few days later, I got an email saying, 'Give us a call.'"
Double Dare first appeared on TV schedules in 1986, starting a 10-year run that lasted long beyond its final episode in reruns. The show also helped bring the first big wave of watchers to Nickelodeon.
Summers, an Indiana native, had worked in Los Angeles as an actor, stand-up comedian and magician since the late 1970s before the network hired him to host the game show that pitted two teams of kids in a 30-minute game of trivia dares and messy physical challenges. Summers' smiling and sportive emcee style, splashy sport jackets and show-starting shouts of "On your mark, get set, go!" made him a perfect fit for the food-flinging game show that still bills itself as the messiest on television. Double Dare became one of the network's first certified hits right out of the starting gate.
"Back in the day when Nickelodeon was putting things together, they did a lot of research and found out that kids didn't have their own game show," Summers says. "They were living vicariously through their parents who were watching The Price is Right. So they decided that kids were already playing Truth or Dare on the playground back in the day and they added the mess and an obstacle course and it turned into what it turned into. Cable was in its infancy and Nick needed something to shout out big, 'Come and watch us!'"
Double Dare also made Summers an emcee TV star. He scored guest appearances across cable TV and the networks on other game shows, hosted his own talk shows and made guest appearances on late night talk shows.
His infamous appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno next to a notably cranky Burt Reynolds led to a series of verbal jabs about the late movie star's recent divorce and Summers' career before they poured mugs of water on each other and ended the bizarre segment with a pie fight and a hug.
The show's wild success prompted the first live tour to theaters where kids could get up on stage and make a mess for cash and prizes. However, the prizes they offered on the live tour weren't all that impressive, something Summers says he remarked on into his microphone at one of the live shows at which the sponsor was sitting in the audience.
"We would give away trips to Space Camp and on Fox, we were giving away cars and trips to Europe so I would say, 'If you get through obstacle No. 1, you get a box of Blow Pops and if you get through obstacle No. 2, we'll give you tickets to a movie.' And there was a sponsor that I can't name right now but it was a national sponsor who was in the audience and they didn't tell me," Summers says. "I said they would win a $10 gift certificate to this place and I looked down at the audience because I saw the Nickelodeon executives were there and I said, 'Come on, we can do better than this,' and they freaked out."
Summers says he's sure every contestant will be happy with the prizes on his current tour.
"Now we're giving away cash," he says. "People always like money."
The show also gave Summers a long-lasting television career in front of the camera as a host of shows like the long-running food documentary series Unwrapped on the Food Network and behind the camera as a producer on reality shows like Dinner: Impossible and Restaurant: Impossible. He also appears in an upcoming nature documentary series for the Discovery Channel. Summers says his son and daughter have also followed his footsteps into the TV business as a TV producer and editor, respectively.
"I'll be 68 in November, and I always feel like I've never worked a day in my life," Summers says. "I'll keep going and people seem to keep coming and I guess they'll tell me when it's time to stop."
Nickelodeon celebrated Double Dare's 30th anniversary in 2016 and brought Summers, announcer John Harvey and co-host and production assistant Robin Russo back together for a reunion special. Nickelodeon's new management started to commission reboots of some of the show's most memorable programs, like the sitcom Clarissa Explains It All starring Melissa Joan Hart and All That, which launched the TV comedy career of Saturday Night Live star Kenan Thompson, who is an executive producer of the kids' sketch show revival, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
A new Double Dare launched in 2018 that looks and sounds just like the original show, with a theme song that pumps out guitar riffs like a semi-auto confetti cannon and a loud, color-clashing set that the fashion conscious called "cool" in the '80s. Summers says the show reaches two audiences at once now with the lively Koshy as its new host for the YouTube generation and Summers as her co-host for the adults who grew up watching him.
"It was very smart because Liza has 15 or 20 million viewers through YouTube and there's a whole generation who don't know who she is but know who I am and vice versa," Summers says. "She's very open and sweet about taking direction, and very respectful. We’re actually really good friends. She comes to me for advice and it's worked out quite well. Not anybody can just walk in and do a game show even after being trained. It ain’t that easy, but she's incredibly bright and very funny and she picked it up in a nanosecond."
The live tour that was spawned by the show's most recent success picks both kids and adults in the crowd as contestants. Summers says each live show gives him an even more unique opportunity to see how Double Dare has grown over the last 33 years.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"When we raise the curtain and they see the set for the first time, we get a huge scream and people go crazy. And then we reveal the next curtain and the obstacle course comes out," Summers says. "The thing I love about it is even though we're only bringing 60 to 70 people up, everyone walks out feeling good and feeling participatory and involved. It's fascinating."
The tour also gives Summers a chance to meet fans who now span two generations of TV watchers, he says.
"A lot of times, there will be four grown-ups and I'll say, 'Where are the kids?' and they say, 'Oh heck, we left them at home,'" Summers says. "They all have stories about how we built an obstacle course in the living room and how Mom sent me to my room for a week. Everyone has a story and it's fascinating. I'm learning on this tour the impact of this show, and it's truly fascinating to me.
"People will say, 'Oh you probably don't want to hear this.' I do want to hear it. The fact that anybody remembers is great."