At about 2 o'clock yesterday, in front of 3,000 shouting, hooting people at the Baltimore Arena, an otherwise untortured 10-year-old from Upper Marlboro named Winfred Wills III saw his childhood innocence end.
The cable television game show "Double Dare" -- or "Super Sloppy Double Dare" to its fans -- was taking its brand of high-camp silliness through Baltimore near the beginning of a 25-city tour. Young Mr. Wills and his parents, freshly plucked from the audience, were listening to host Marc Summers explain that Winfred II and Renee Wills were about to have a milk chug-a-lug contest.
Winfred III, standing between his parents, was to hit the loser in the face with a pie.
"As soon as I saw the whipped cream, I knew it was some sort of Three Stooges thing," said Mr. Wills II, who had neglected to take off his sport jacket before climbing on stage. At the sight of the pie, the serious-mannered systems engineer winced and took off his glasses.
So, Winfred, said Mr. Summers, would you rather hit your mom in the face with the pie, or your dad? "You can't wait to do this, I can tell," he teased.
Young Winfred knew his dad would chug faster, he said later. Dad sits around drinking milk all the time. That means pieing Mom.
He paused, then shouted, almost wailed into the microphone: "I'm speechless."
So goes life around "Double Dare," the 5-year-old Nickelodeon cable network show that is part quiz show for the parents and part slapstick for the children.
"We always do the show on two levels," Mr. Summers said. "How often do moms and their children get to do anything anymore?"
As much as the show delights its audience, it has been the big break for its hosts. One broke into on-camera work through the show after 13 years of trying, and the other played soccer and basketball in high school and still looks ahead to becoming a sportscaster.
"I just wanted to be a TV host," said Mr. Summers, who went to Los Angeles after college in 1973 and landed the "Double Dare" job over 1,200 others in 1986. But the typical game show host when he started trying was much older, someone more like Gene Rayburn or Tom Kennedy.
Mr. Summers now is 40, and still looks about 25. "They kept saying, come back when you have some gray hair and wrinkles."
In the meantime, Robin Marrella got an interview for a production assistant job on the show through a high school friend, then moved on stage when the producers decided Mr. Summers needed sidekicks. "We started doing a shtick together," Mr. Summers said.
Neither thought initially that the show would catch on. "My first inkling is, this is never going to work," Ms. Marrella said. "But then I saw it in the studio. It was like, 'This is a huge birthday party.' . . . The bottom line is, it's a lot of fun."
Children certainly think so. Walk out from backstage before the show and a dozen will trail up in succession, asking if you work for the show and if you can get them on stage. And every kid you ask claims to like the show for the same reason as Jessica Stargell, 9, of Carney: "It gets all messy."
"Sesame Street" it is not. "Double Dare" isn't education; it has a touch of quiz show to it, but mostly it's slapstick fun. Wander backstage at "Sesame Street," or "Jeopardy!" for that matter, and you are unlikely to find a skid holding 24 seven-ounce cans of Reddi-wip, eight 7-pound cans of Hunt's Snack Pack vanilla pudding (the better to be mixed with applesauce and food coloring for thecontestants to crawl through), two bags of VTC marshmallows, four boxes of corn starch, 24 graham-cracker pie crusts and a 4 pound, 8 ounce jar of Vlasic maraschino cherries. At "Double Dare," they are around the corner from the 26 1/2 cases of bubble gum whose Hawaiian Punch aroma wafts through the interview room.
On "Sesame Street," Winfred Wills doesn't pie his mom. On "Wheel of Fortune," Vanna White wears more expensive clothes than the T-shirt-clad Ms. Marrella would ever dare. No kids take rubber chickens dipped in chocolate and propel them across the stage at their mothers, who most assuredly never wear bird cages on their heads to stuff the chickens into after catching them. And surely, you will not find on "Sesame Street" an insurance-underwriting executive like Steve Peregoy pulling the waist forward on a pair of oversized pants so his child can throw pies at his crotch from 20 paces.
"Last [Saturday] night was the first time I saw the show," said Mr. Peregoy. But his wife, Kathy, a schoolteacher, and their children, Jaclyn and Tim, won a contest with another family that was the show's finale.
His wife had won the right to compete by calling a radio station Friday while Mr. Peregoy was at work. "She owes me for a lot of years."