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Nickelodeon's Double Dare still a hit 30 years later

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Nickelodeon has no shortage of beloved series in its vault, with fans citing everything from animated series like Rugrats and As Told By Ginger to live-action shows like Kenan and Kel and Legends of the Hidden Temple as formative parts of their collective childhoods.

One such series is Double Dare, a game show that saw kids compete in two-member teams as they attempted to complete physical challenges and answer trivia questions, as well as take on a challenging obstacle course, all in the hopes of winning a few prizes.

With Double Dare currently celebrating it’s 30th anniversary — having aired from 1986-1993 in its original run — Nickelodeon announced a reunion special set to air on Nov. 23. The half-hour episode contains footage from the show’s original run, as well as new games taped earlier this year. It will also see the return of original host Marc Summers, along with announcer John Harvey (a.k.a. “Harvey”) and “right hand woman” Robin Russo.

Ahead of the special, EW caught up with Summers, Harvey, and Russo to talk about returning to the show, and just what made it so popular.

It was a truly a team effort.

The kids competing weren’t the only ones who had to work together and play to each other’s strengths.

“People always give me the credit, [but] it was a team,” says Summers of his experience on the show. “We did it together. Harvey was more than a sidekick. Robin and I had fun. The proof in the pudding is 30 years later, we’re all still friends. We all talk to each other [and] hang out together. There was a bond that remains to this day.”

Russo and Harvey agree, with Russo crediting this to Summers being a “generous” host to begin with.

“Marc made room for everyone. He would try to make everybody in the studio a part of the show,” says Harvey of Summers’ hosting style which often saw him bring up various crew members of the show, including the show nurse, stagehands, art director and even the head writer. “Marc and I are the same age, and we grew up watching that kind of television where the viewer was in on the joke. He really made a lot of that happen.”

There was nothing like it.

Of course, it helped that the show was completely original at the time of its creation, which meant that there was nothing Summers, Harvey or Russo were forced to emulate.

“If it had been something that they had done 10 times before, maybe they would have given us more parameters and instruction. That kind of freedom is so rare,” says Harvey of their early experience on the show as they figured out how it worked. “Nickelodeon was willing to take a chance. They really encouraged us to try insane stuff.”

“As long it wasn’t too off the wall, they would let us pretty much do everything,” adds Russo.

This let Double Dare try out episodic “themes” that ranged from “wrestling,” which saw actual wrestler Sgt. Slaughter make an appearance on the show, to even “3D.”

“[That theme] was the dumbest thing on legs,” laughs Harvey. “The audience were given sunglasses basically, and all [the cameras] did was zoom in and out, in and out. That’s all we did. We called it the ‘3D episode.’”

MTV; Courtesy Everett Collection

It made an impression — on both kids and parents.

One of the things Summers liked to try on the show, and during commercial breaks, was celebrity impressions. Unfortunately for his young audience, it was never anyone they might recognize — though Summers does note that people still laughed.

“I used to do this really weird impression of Ethel Merman, a big Broadway star. It was a very strange thing,” recalls Summers. “We had a 10-year-old kid in the audience one time. He raised his hand during commercial break and said, ‘You know Marc, I can do Ethel Merman the same as you.’ We came back from the commercial break and I brought him up and the two of us did our Ethel Merman impressions together.”

Harvey says they definitely tried to include jokes kids would never get so that parents would be interested too.

“We had a love of parents,” says Russo. “Still to this day, a lot of parents say they enjoyed it as much as the kids.”

Though according to Summers, not all parents were fans of Double Dare — especially with many kids attempting to recreate the show’s infamous obstacle course in their own living rooms.

“It was Halloween, Double Dare had been on five or six years,” recalls Summers. “I open the door and this women goes, ‘You’re the guy from Double Dare.’ Let me tell you why I don’t like you. My kids destroyed my house doing an obstacle course.’ Apparently they took coffee grounds and put them all over the house, ruining her carpet. The next morning I wake up, and in my shrubs there were packing peanuts. I think I was pranked by this woman.”

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Summers has more than a few fond memories of his time on the show — like one memorable four-year-old audience member named Valerie. “I said ‘Hi, Valerie. What’s your favorite show?’ She said, ‘Finders Keepers,‘” laughs Summers. “That was a Nick show. [But] not my show.” 

Another memory saw Robin exact her revenge on him after she’d had enough of Summers’ teasing. 

“We were walking through the obstacle course, and she decided it would be great to get me as messy as possible. She poured chocolate on my head, threw pies in my face, put peanut butter all over me. I looked like the abominable snowman when I was done,” says Summers. “It was a fun moment. The kids had a great time. That was the thing. Kids would laugh at us having a good time.”

It’s the fun that they’d experienced throughout the show’s run, as well as their years-long friendship, that made returning for the anniversary special so appealing to Summers, Harvey, and Russo.

“It was a huge birthday party,” says Russo, describing the show’s atmosphere.

Harvey agrees. “It’s a showbiz axiom. If you’re watching a group of people have fun, you might not understand anything that clearly, but you know they’re having fun.”

The Double Dare special airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on Nick at Nite, with a special encore on The Splat at 10 p.m. ET.