Marc Summers stood in front of a giant prop nose filled with goo. He was explaining to ’90s Nickelodeon star Lori Beth Denberg (“All That”) how to root around the nostrils to retrieve a neon orange flag from inside.
Fans of “Double Dare” recognized the iconic, gross-but-funny obstacle from the enduringly popular Nickelodeon game show. The series revolutionized kids programming during its late ’80s-early ’90s run by giving children the chance to embrace messy, public play supervised and warmly encouraged by beloved host Summers.
It’s been more than 20 years since “Double Dare” was canceled but, at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, fans lined up for autographs and mobbed Summers, who hosted a modified version that streamed live on Facebook and featured other past Nickelodeon stars such as Denberg and Kel Mitchell (“Kenan & Kel.”)
Nickelodeon executive Keith Dawkins said it was “magical” to watch Summers interact with fans, whose “childhood is coming to life in front of them again.”
It will come to life once more when Nickelodeon airs “The Double Dare Reunion Special” at 9 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday, commemorating the show’s 30th anniversary. And, if enough people watch, the physical challenges, the giant nose, the obstacle course, the trademark Nickelodeon green slime — the whole kit and kaboodle — could be resurrected for a new generation.
“The audience will really decide,” Dawkins said of the show, which was canceled in 1993 after 525 episodes hosted by the infectiously energetic Summers. “They’ll decide the fate of this, whether we do it as a one-off special, or a many-year special, or as a series.”
Summers is both amazed and humbled by the ongoing attention from those who grew up with the show, but it wasn’t always that way. When it ended and he sought other work in Hollywood, Summers admits, “I went through a period, honestly, where yeah, [my association with ‘Double Dare’] made me angry because I was trying to do other things and it always came back down to ‘kiddie show host Marc Summers.’ ”
Now, though, at age 65, the Indiana native lights up as he delivers the line that began every physical challenge on the show: “On your mark, get set, go!”
He has had occasion to deliver it several times this year. In addition to Comic-Con, Summers, in his iconic Size 9½ white Reebok shoes, starred in eight sold-out performances of “Everything in Its Place: The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers” at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Bloomington, Ind.
Part vaudeville, part drama and part “Double Dare” — including two physical challenges — the show recounts Summers’ life, in which he’s faced a number of serious obstacles of his own.
“Life and Slimes” finds Summers crawling across the floor, arranging fringe on a rug, illustrating the reality of living with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He tells the story of a horrific 2012 accident when his face smashed into a taxi’s partition. He details learning that he had leukemia. And he takes calls from a violent stalker who later confronts Summers on a walk, threatening his family members’ lives.
The stalker — a personification of Summers’ OCD played by actor Mike Nappi— concludes the show by drenching Summers with the famed green slime. During its fourth performance in April, an audience of 85 people watched and recoiled in empathetic horror for the man who’d just shared his life story.
The play is both biography and a triumph of vulnerability, a very public rejection of the fear of being stigmatized after sharing his OCD diagnosis during an episode of his ’90s Lifetime talk show “Biggers & Summers.”
That honesty cost him a job hosting “Hollywood Squares” in 1998 and, with the talk show canceled, his family was in trouble. “We sold a house because we were in bad shape financially,” says Summers. He was left doing corporate speaking gigs for a pharmaceutical company. But talking about OCD constantly for years and years left him “stuck” and “depressed.”
Translating Summers’ memoir and memories to the stage over the course of five years was the work of Tony-nominated actor Alex Brightman (“School of Rock”) and his writing partner, Drew Gasparini. The play traces Summers’ life from his days as a page at CBS to the present.
“It drains me every night,” Summers says of re-enacting emotionally charged moments. During an initial read-through of the play in December, someone told Summers, “ ‘You’re spilling your guts out,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I guess I am.’ I got a little concerned: Should I pull back? I think you get to a point — and maybe it’s because of the cancer and the car accident — I don’t give a …”
Summers is hoping that the show will make its way to Philadelphia next year and eventually to New York and that it will perhaps lead to other roles on Broadway, since theater is now offering opportunities that television is not.
That’s because Summers is facing what he did at the start of his career: ageism. Back then, however, he looked too young; now, ironically, “They think I’m too old. The audience doesn’t care, but they do,” he says, referring to television executives.
Summers’ most prominent television role recently was mainly behind the scenes as executive producer of Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible.” It was canceled this summer.
Yet Summers has only kind words for the network that offered him a path back to television in 2001 as host of “Unwrapped.” A decade later, when it was canceled, he was a year into treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
Without “Unwrapped,” he wouldn’t have been able to afford his $20,000 treatments. “Food Network is like the best network in the history of the world,” Summers says. “They could have said, ‘We’re sorry, too bad,’ but they gave me more episodes so I could get through the chemo.”
Now in remission, Summers is going strong. Besides “The Life and Slimes” and the potential revival of “Double Dare,” a documentary called “On Your Marc” is being shopped to potential distributors, either for a theatrical release or on Netflix or premium cable. (It includes interviews with Summers’ friends and mentees, including Neil Patrick Harris, Guy Fieri and Ryan Seacrest.)
“I closed the office for ‘Restaurant: Impossible’ July 1, and two weeks later, I was in San Diego for Comic-Con,” he says. “I’ve never worried about what’s next. I’ve been really lucky, since the Nickelodeon years, where one thing jumped into the other.”
As Summers says in the play, “Life keeps knocking me down, but I keep getting back up.”
‘The Double Dare Reunion Special’
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)
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