Marc Summers is to children of the ’80s and ’90s as Dick Clark is to their parents.
As the host of the wildly popular Nickelodeon game shows “What Would You Do?” and “Double Dare,” Summers was a pie-throwing, slime-slinging, flag-finding hero to a generation of cable TV kids.
After leaving the network in 1993, Summers seemingly vanished from the limelight until finding a new home at the Food Network in 2000. Since then, the Indiana native has produced several seasons of “Dinner: Impossible” and “Restaurant: Impossible,” and hosted the series “The Next Food Network Star,” “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” and “Unwrapped.”
Beginning April 21, the 62-year-old foodie lends his palate to another Food Network series entitled “Rewrapped.” Described by Summers as “‘Chopped’ with junk food,” each episode tasks three chefs with recreating some of the world’s most famous snack foods, including Hostess Twinkies, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, Entenmann’s Frosted Donuts, Tastykake Krimpets and many more. After creating the treats’ delicious doppelgangers in round one, the contestants must use the actual snack food to craft a creative sweet or savory dish.
Hosted by Joey Fatone, “Rewrapped” places Summers in the judge’s chair along with snack industry insiders and professional chefs. I recently sat down with Marc to discuss the new series, annoying food fads and his Nickelodeon past.
David Onda: Like most kids of my generation, I have fond memories of watching you on TV, in everything from “Double Dare” to your Halloween magic special.
Marc Summers: Oh my gosh, yes. “Marc Summers’ Mystery Magical Tour.” They ran it for years. I still contend that if they ran that again, kids would go crazy over it. It was such a good show. Magic was my first love and it’s what I first started doing, and so I figured, how the hell can I take what I know and love and turn it into that? And they let me do it. We got Lance Burton, who was just the best magician, and still is, quite honestly. Shiri Appleby, who’s an actress, and very successful now, played the little girl.
Onda: If magic was your first love and you eventually got into hosting kids’ game shows, where did your interest in culinary arts come from?
Summers: I’ll tell you what happened. I was doing a talk show on Lifetime called “Biggers & Summers” and I decided to talk about [having] Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I did that, and sooner or later, the reputation was that I was difficult and hard to work with and the show got cancelled. Howie Mandel has gotten a pass. He can be OCD all he wants and nobody cared. And for some reason, people put me in a corner and thought there was something wrong with me. So, I didn’t work for a couple of years after I came out and talked about it. And the lady who fired me at Lifetime became the head of programming at Food Network. And I called her up and said, “Judy, I will pay you to get back on television.” She said, “I just got here, give me a few weeks, let me figure out what’s going on.” I ended up doing a show about surprise parties called “It’s a Surprise.” The surprise was – nobody was watching. From that, I ended up doing “Unwrapped,” which became the longest-running show in the history of Food Network. I was at Nickelodeon for eight years and I never thought I’d be anywhere longer than that. And the next thing I know, I’m on Food Network for 15 and it’s just been great.
Onda: The concept of “Rewrapped” is brilliant. Was there a snack food that, at first glance, you thought would be impossible for the chefs to recreate?
Summers: The Goldfish crackers, because how do you do that? How do you make that thing look exactly like that? One guy was creative and took a hanger and sort of made a mold with it. Somebody else took aluminum foil. When you look at creativity from that aspect – it’s tiny. You eat a bunch of those things, but a machine spits out millions a day. But if I said, “Go make me three goldfish in your oven,” how the hell do you do it?
Onda: Can you give me a hint at an episode where a chef really hit the mark or was an epic failure?
Summers: A guy who made a Hostess cupcake. Let’s face it, that icing on the Hostess cupcake looks a little shiny, a little weird, like an oil slick. When this guy spit this thing out, it looked like it came out of a factory. It was perfect, it was right on. I could not believe how spectacular that was. And then we had somebody who made a Twinkie that was maybe… you’d look at it right away and go, “That’s not a Twinkie. Why would you even submit that?” It’s not as easy as it looks. You only have one shot. You could over-bake or you could under-bake. How do they get the cream filling in there? It was fascinating to watch these people pull it off.
Onda: In one episode, a chef uses molecular gastronomy to make a dish with cherry pies. As a culinary expert, are there any “food fads” you roll your eyes at?
Summers: Here’s the thing. If I go into a restaurant and have to look at the menu for 20 minutes and can’t find something that I like… I’m a midwest guy. I like steak and potatoes. I like chicken. But bone marrow? Really? And truffle everything. I’m not a fancy person, so I get sort of turned off by people trying to be so cool with their ingredients. That’s why I like going to [Philadelphia eatery] Butcher & Singer. It’s steak, chicken, fish, french fries, salad. Good, perfect. I know exactly what I’m having. There’s a restaurant – that will remain nameless – in Chicago that has just been voted, supposedly, the best restaurant in the world. But it’s like, “Smell this, then bite into that.” Really? I’m not doing that. Give me a fork and a knife and let me eat.
Onda: The winner of each episode wins a year’s supply of whichever snack food they were tasked with creating. If you could have a year’s supply of any snack food, which would it be?
Summers: Pizza. I’m a pizza freak. I could eat pizza seven days a week. If I could get [Philadelphia chef] Mark Vetri to make pizza for me every day for a year, I’d be the happiest man in the world.
Onda: Did you have a favorite Nickelodeon show that was on the air in the same era as “Double Dare”?
Summers: Not really. We were so busy working. We started at WHYY [in Philadelphia] and we shot episode after episode after episode – sometimes six a day. The way I was introduced to Nickelodeon is I had small children and [the network] had a terrible puppet show on called “Pinwheel,” and I used to watch “Pinwheel” while I was up for the midnight feeding and burping my babies. That was all I remember watching. I never watched much Nickelodeon television.
Onda: Did you ever ride the “What Would You Do?” Pie Coaster just for fun after hours?
Summers: [laughs] Not once! I never was on the Pie Coaster. That’s so funny that you bring that up.
Onda: You did the Pie Pod though.
Summers: More times than I can begin to tell you. [Producer Woody Fraser] would stick me in that thing and I was always getting clobbered with those pies. We had to recalibrate that thing every day. You would move it an inch and all of a sudden everything was thrown off. So some poor guy had to sit there every day while they let it go making sure it was right.
Onda: What was the oddest “Double Dare” product you saw your face on?
Summers: We did a handheld video game, we did the box games and there were a lot of books. At one point we had suspenders, but they were just the “Double Dare” logo. We almost had a “Double Dare” cereal. Now, if you go to Nickelodeon, all they wanna do is make merchandise. But back then, Geri Laybourne, our president, didn’t want merchandise, and we turned down a $2 million deal with a cereal company. The box was gonna be sort of a “Physical Challenge” where you could open it several different places and pull out all sorts of things. At the last minute, they walked away from it. That would have been cool.
Onda: During the obstacle course, did it ever drive you crazy when the orange flag was right in front of the kids and they couldn’t find it?
Summers: Yes. Yes!
Onda: Sometimes you would point it out.
Summers: Oh, often.
Onda: They’d be digging through the peanut butter and jelly or the pizza and it’s right there in front of them…
Summers: And they couldn’t freakin’ find it. It used to drive me insane. Look – I always wanted them to win. It was no skin off my back if they won. It was fantastic. The hard part was when we were doing the primetime series and cars were at stake, and the parents would get really blown out of proportion if the kid didn’t get the flag. We’d have to take the parents away from the kids because they’d be grabbing them by the throat. “Son of a [expletive], I needed that minivan!”
Watch the series premiere of “Rewrapped” on Monday, April 21 at 8 p.m. ET on Food Network.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.