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A CRACK AT 'WACK' PARTICIPANTS ON NICK'S ZANY NEW SPORTS PROGRAM MAY FIND THEMSELVES GETTING HOSED.

Byline: Valerie Kuklenski Staff Writer

ONE DAY TV producer Woody Fraser was hosing off his driveway, chasing dried leaves down to the curb.

``I suddenly thought, hey, that's a game,'' Fraser said. He wasn't talking about the mundane task itself, but how he could adapt it to a team competition for ``Wild & Crazy Kids,'' the sloppy, slap-happy summer series he's making for Nickelodeon.

So, back at his Valencia production office, Fraser and his staff mapped out a game in which two teams of five kids each put on goggles, climb into burlap sacks and then lay down on one end of a large mat covered in slippery plastic. ``Then I have two kids with firehoses,'' he explained, his voice rising with excitement. ``We call it 'firehose driveway sweep.' And the hoses just blam 'em. If they go off the side, their team throws them back on. The first to get five across wins.''

The show, debuting at 8:30 p.m. Monday and moving to its regular 6 p.m. slot for the remaining nine weeks, puts an outrageous spin on sports kids recognize. Each half hour has a theme tying together three team events.

Nickelodeon invited my 8-year-old daughter, Renee, and me to take part on ``WACK at the Wheel'' day. It was a mother-daughter bonding experience that makes Girl Scout camping and wedding planning pale by comparison.

Seeing-eye driver

We took part in a ``three-legged go-cart race.'' The first leg of the event had two cars on the track, each with a mother driving blindfolded while a kid navigated. (It's not easy.) The winning duo chalked up points.

Then Renee and I were set to take our spin against a mother-son team. The kids were at the wheel while the moms were assigned to pick up as many inflated pool toys as we could and bring them to the finish line.

My big mistake was grabbing a huge caterpillar, which was hard to handle and blocked Renee's view of the course. We finished second, adding a measly five points to our team's tally, but we had a lot of fun. And our sorry performance was redeemed by the pair who drove the last leg: kid at the wheel again and mom wearing a helmet with an open bucket of bright-colored slime. The orange team won points for crossing the finish line first and for having the most slime still in the bucket.

The victorious mom, Suzanne Chittenden of Ventura, admits this is not the type of activity she normally would do with her 8-year-old, Samantha. As she watched the video playback of her race, Chittenden said she was surprised to hear how intense she sounded.

``I'm more competitive than my daughter,'' she said. ``Isn't that terrible?'' (Samantha apparently had her own intensity issues. Her mom said she barely slept for two days prior to the taping.)

Later in the day came ``bumper boat pinata bingo,'' with bingo balls inside paper pinatas hanging over the pool. The orange and green teams, working in pairs, smashed the pinatas, scooped up bingo balls in fishing nets, then dumped them into their bins at the end of the pool where teammates called out numbers to mothers marking up giant bingo cards. The final event that day was ``bumper car soccer.''

``The idea of the show is to mix games,'' Fraser said. ``Take basketball and skateboarding and you have a 'skateboard slam-dunk' contest.''

In Fraser's hands, that's not a trick only Tony Hawk could pull off. The kids' shoes are anchored to the skateboard, and they are strapped with a Peter Pan-type aerial rigging for extra oomph.

Playing the market

Fraser, who brought bungee jumping to a wide audience on ``That's Incredible!'' in 1983, has consulted toy industry experts to keep up on what's hot now for 8- to 12-year-olds - the age range of his participants and the target audience at home. He found out that remote control cars and trucks are very, very big, and that Foosball is the No. 2-selling table game behind air hockey. So both were used for ``WACK at the Beach.''

In one event, the teams were sprinting remote-controlled humvees down the beach, while their opponents had plungers detonating charges under bridges the humvees were crossing. ``We were sending these humvees 25 feet in the air,'' Fraser said, relishing it as much as the kids who played it.

For ``human Foosball,'' the producers dug deep holes in the sand and buried two teams up to their waists in a configuration similar to the teams on a Foosball table. This time, however, the secret to winning was not all in the wrists. It was in the arms, head and any other above-ground body part that could be used to move the ball or score.

The show has evolved considerably from its first incarnation, which aired 1990-92.

``Kids are a little braver, a little hipper, a little wiser,'' notes Marc Summers, co-executive producer of ``WACK'' and former host of the similarly slimy ``Double Dare'' studio show on Nick. ``They have been exposed to a lot more. That's why you have to constantly push the envelope, but you have to realize where the end of that envelope lies.''

Summers sees himself as the ``voice of reason'' in brainstorming sessions, while Nickelodeon production executive Marjorie Cohn says Fraser ``is definitely nutty, a total crazy person.''

Well, there he goes

Fraser admits one game has been shelved - for now - because of safety concerns. It's a ``kite jumping contest,'' with a child's hand fastened to an odd-shaped 8-foot-long kite. He runs down the beach and jumps, soaring as much as 35 feet across the sand, depending on his footspeed, the jump, the wind and other factors. The kite's designer holds onto a safety line.

``This one kid was really good,'' Fraser said of a test run. ``He was really little. And he takes off down there and he jumps up and the kite goes straight up.''

The kite designer, caught off-guard by the flight, lost his grip on the safety rope and the boy began drifting out over the ocean. ``We've got lifeguards and a stuntman there, but nobody figured on the wind changing,'' Fraser said. All is well, though. A lifeguard jumped up, grabbed the dangling line and reeled him back in.

Summers, whose son Matthew is one of the series' producers, says he nixed a plan that called for kids in helicopters dropping flour on their parents.

``I'm always the voice of doom,'' he said. ``After everybody comes up with 'We'll put kids in space and then we'll make them do 26 cartwheels and then they can throw slime at each other,' everybody at the table turns to me and I say, 'Let me tell you why it's not going to work.' And their job is to prove me wrong.''

Although there may be comparisons to NBC's ``Fear Factor,'' Fraser says he's really going for the ``fun factor.''

``What I look for is, 'I want to do that. I want to get out of my chair and step into the television screen and do that,' '' he said. ``That is the key. The second key is the games have to be imaginative so kids go, 'Wow, that's cool.' If you do those two things, I think it'll work.''

Meanwhile, Fraser keeps an open mind to everyday activities that can be the stuff of these pint-sixed extreme games. And he's determined to come up with a foolproof way to do that kite stunt.

WILD & CRAZY KIDS

What: Outrageous team sports with generous doses of fun and slime.

Where: Nickelodeon.

When: 8:30 p.m. Monday.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) fun factor

Nickelodeon pours it on again for kids - with more slime and stunts

(2 -- 4) On Nickelodeon's ``Wild & Crazy Kids,'' parents and children steer bumper boats and smash pinatas that contain bingo balls. The show combines team sports in, um, creative ways.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 23, 2002
Words:1322
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