Marc Summers is turning the big four-oh this year. He's been married nearly 18 years and has two children. But Summers has anything but a typical adult job: Recently he was dipped in molasses and salt, hung upside down by his ankles and licked by cows.
Summers was host of Nickelodeon's popular "Double Dare"--the game show that featured two teams of youngsters who score points by correctly answering quiz questions and then add to their score by performing physical challenges--such as cracking 20 eggs on a teammate's forehead. Summers now hosts its spinoff "Family Double Dare," featuring parents competing with their kids.
This week Summers adds a new program to his resume, "What Would You Do?," which premieres Saturday on Nickelodeon. The show features Summers putting people--young and old--into unfamiliar situations to see how they will react.
Summers talked with Susan King about his life as a kids' game show host by telephone from Orlando, Fla., during a break in the taping of "What Would You Do?"
"What Would You Do?" sounds like a cross between a game show and "Candid Camera." How would you describe it?
It's not "Candid Camera." It's putting people in situations to see how far they will go. The whole theme of the show is "What would you do--if?"
For example, we were at Universal Studios (in Orlando) and I was dressed (as a fortune teller) in a turban and a beard and halfway through doing somebody's fortune, a so-called Universal employee said to me that my wife was having a baby. I told the person whose fortune I was telling, "Would you be a fortune teller for 10 minutes until the next one arrives to do the job?" Several people said, "No way" and they walked away, but we also got several people who put on the turban and the cape and began to read people's fortunes. Some of these people were brilliant.
We also have a segment called "Choice Bag" and whatever it says on the card you have to do. We had one that said, "Would you rather smash an egg on your head, or drink a raw egg?" I would have thought that everybody would have smashed the raw egg on their head, but everybody drank the raw egg.
This show and "Double Dare" both seem like they could be enjoyed by both kids and parents. Have you discovered that parents like these series just as much as kids?
We found that on "Family Double Dare" that the family that plays together stays together. There is such little time for families to enjoy themselves these days, unless it's vacation. It's so neat to see moms, dads and kids hug each other again.
Nickelodeon thought "What Would You Do?" would be a great program to get parents to sit down and watch with the kids.
With "Double Dare" I had more parents stop and say, "I love to watch the show because my kids think I am so smart because I can answer most of the questions."
Was it difficult as an adult discovering how to appeal to kids?
No. I never planned on being a kid host. I just wanted to host TV shows. And I couldn't get a job.
The problem I was having was that everybody thought I was much younger than I really was. I would go to NBC and audition for a show and they would say you do a nice job but we are looking for guys with wrinkles and gray hair. And what Nick was looking for when I did "Double Dare" was a guy with 10 years' experience who looked more like Michael J. Fox.
I was 34 years old and kids thought I was 24. I treated kids like adults. I never talked down to the kids. I was never condescending. I don't see why you would talk to a 13-year-old any different from a 33-year-old.
What has happened is that they trust me so much it's almost scary. I have to be very, very careful, especially what I do on this show, because they will do almost anything for me. If I walk up and say, "Grab this pie and stick it in your parents' face," they say, "Marc said to do it so..." You can't abuse it.
Do you walk a fine line then between entertaining the kids and responsibility?
I am a parent and have an 8- and an 11-year-old, and I try to walk both lines. I am not going to put a parent in a situation that will embarrass them and make them look bad.
Do you remember the most favorite challenge on "Double Dare"?
The favorite one with kids is one they called "Pies in the Pants." We would put kids on one side of stage wearing these huge clown pants and their partners were on the other side with a catapult. What we would do was put a pie in the catapult, step on it and make a pie fly in the air to the other side of the stage. You would have to catch three whipped cream pies in your pants in 20 seconds or less. For some reason the kids would get hysterical.
Have you learned anything about kids since coming to Nickelodeon?
The one thing I have found on this show and, unfortunately, on all the kid game shows we are producing at Nick is (about) all that stuff we are frightened about--and that is the education system. Old Mr. Bush here is trying to be the education president and somebody better do something quick.
We asked a question the other day on a Nick show and it was, "Name two of the five living Presidents." They went through three kids and not one kid could come up with one. You would think somebody would say, "How about Mr. Bush?"
It has happened on "Double Dare." On "Double Dare," one question was, "Who was Count Basie?" The kid said he was one of The Muppets.
It points out to me that we better get on the stick here in the U.S. We really need to educate our kids, if it's either with year-round schools or spending more dollars for education.
"What Would You Do?" premieres Saturday at 6 p.m. on Nickelodeon and will air Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 and 6 p.m.
"Family Double Dare" airs Saturday-Sunday at 5 p.m. on Nickelodeon.