Those Who Want to Clean Up TV Face a Real Challenge in Cable's Slop-Happy Kids' Show, Double Dare

updated 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

There's little doubt about what Geoffrey Darby really is: a secret slob, a frustrated food fighter who, as a kid, probably wanted to bury his face in a bowl of Jell-O or toss Twinkies across the cafeteria but never did. That could explain why Darby, 34, has helped to create Nickelodeon's Double Dare, the messiest TV game show for kids. For 30 minutes a day, six days a week, two teams of 10-to 13-year-olds gather in DD's studios and square off on the show's $200,000 obstacle course—a mammoth contraption that looks like a gymnasium designed by Betty Crocker. Competing for VCRs, stereos and concert tickets, the teams double-dare each other to perform such "incredible and sometimes edible stunts" as dropping eggs into a funnel on a contestant's head or tossing wet sponges while blindfolded. By the end they're jumping into a vat of whipped cream, diving into a root-beer float or easing down a fudge-laced chute.

With its patented gooey format, Double Dare keeps viewers stuck to the tube. Since its debut on cable last October, DD now reaches more than 34 million homes and frequently pulls a 10 rating in a market where a 6 or 7 is considered wildly successful. "We're a major cult hit," says executive producer Darby, citing the 1,700 fan letters a month and the DD fan clubs on the Cornell and Ohio State campuses.

Actually the show's real appeal may lie with an age group even older than college students. On a recent celebrity edition, Danny (Who's the Boss?) Pintauro and his dad, John, competed with Freddie (Kate & Allie) Koehler and his mom, Marilyn. The kids had fun, but Freddie's mom enjoyed it the most. "I put whipped cream in his face and washed his head with green slime," Marilyn gleefully recalls. "It's like parents' revenge."

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