Marc Summers is one of the most memorable personalities from many millennials’ childhoods.
Marc Summers is one of the most memorable personalities from many millennials’ childhoods, who knew him as the host of Nickelodeon game show Double Dare.
He impacted the lives of that generation significantly, earning a devoted audience that grew up with him and followed him from one project to the next. And if you’ve got sharp eyes, you might spot him around Philadelphia, as a branch of his production company is locally based.
For those who don’t know, Summers has been a bigwig in the television world for nearly 30 years. He helped to pioneer both Nickelodeon and the Food Network, boosting their success by hosting and producing Double Dare and narrating and producing Unwrapped, both staple programs.
Summers, 65, was born Marc Berkowitz and grew up in Indiana in a Jewish household. He always knew he wanted to be an entertainer, even as he considered becoming a rabbi as a kid.
“At my Bar Mitzvah,” he said, “I felt that I was performing. Instead of going to football games as a kid, I was going to synagogue.
“I got the TV bug and went to talk to Rabbi Weitzman of Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, who had started his career in entertainment. I told him that I wanted to be a rabbi but also to be a performer. Regardless, I wanted to help people. He told me, ‘As a rabbi, you can help a small congregation a lot, but as a performer you can help a lot of people a little.’ I decided that I would rather help a lot of people, so my path was set.”
Summers got his start in entertainment when a friend began to teach him magic.
“I joined the school’s magic club and was president by eighth grade,” he said. “I would take jokes from comedians I had watched on The Tonight Show. I went to college and did anything to get stage time. I put myself through college as a magician.”
In 1973, Summers, then 22, moved to Los Angeles to begin his career. He supplemented his income with performances at the Magic Castle and, in 1976, he began performing at the Comedy Store.
“The goal was to be on The Tonight Show,” Summers said. “It was the gold standard, the Taj Mahal. If you make it on there, it means you made it.”
But Summers soon realized that he wasn’t going to be as good as the other performers.
A ventriloquist friend of Summers got a call from Double Dare but wasn’t familiar with Nickelodeon, so he asked Summers to go to the audition instead.
“I was the first guy to audition in Los Angeles, and they brought me back for call-backs,” Summers said.
“My job has always been produceresque, solving problems,” Summers continued. “When we moved to Orlando, Nickelodeon asked me to produce the show, too. I said yes right away. … I learned on the job what it meant to be a producer.”
For the last 11 years, Summers has been a producer at the Food Network, working on an array of projects, including Unwrapped and Restaurant: Impossible.
Allen Salkin, the author of From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network, described Summers as “a central, important player in the history of the Food Network, as an on-screen personality and an off-screen producer.”
Unwrapped is the show that brought real success to the Food Network — it still holds the record for the show that they have produced the longest. Summers attributed some of its success to his devoted Double Dare audience.
Salkin explained: “What happened with Unwrapped was that it came about in a time when the Food Network was trying to broaden its appeal. As we know now, food isn’t just how to make it — it is associated with childhood, family, identity. The brilliance of Unwrapped was that it hit squarely on both nostalgia and pop culture.”
Summers was working with a production company in Philadelphia when he came across Dinner: Impossible — it was the second program they produced. Since then, Summers has become one of Philly’s faces of fame. Although he no longer works or lives in the city full time, he is still active in the community.
For example, Summers hosted an event in June dubbed Dunkel Dare as part of Philly Beer Week 2016.
On the less positive side, Summers required extensive facial reconstruction after a 2012 car accident in Philadelphia.
Nowadays, Summers is performing a one-man show cleverly titled The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers.
“My goal was that if I could make one person cry in the three weeks the show first ran, I would know I did my job.”
Daniel Nozick is a reporter with the Baltimore Jewish Times, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.