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In September 1992, Nickelodeon—known then for cartoons, late-night Mister Ed reruns and its signature green slime—launched a youth-oriented sports game show, Guts, that turned 10- to 15-year-old kids into high-flying, rock-climbing superstars. Dunking, surfing, midflight-bow-and-arrowing—all of it was possible with a seemingly endless supply of bungee cords. Contestants went head-to-head in extreme versions of everyday sports, winning somewhere between 300 and 100 points at each of three preliminary-round events. ... And then came the daunting Aggro Crag.

For four seasons the show asked adolescent contestants, D-d-d-do you have it?! Now, 26 years after its debut, and with Nickelodeon staples like Double Dare returning to the small screen, Sports Illustrated spoke with Guts crew members, on-air talent and contestants about what made the show special, and how a mountain with a mind of its own captured the imaginations of children everywhere.

Scott Fishman (co-creator, executive in charge of production): Nickelodeon management came to Byron and I, and said, “We want to create a fantasy or action sports show for kids.”

Byron Taylor (co-creator, production designer): It was just another project—it wasn’t Guts yet. We wound up making an animatic [a pitch reel, typically using crude animation]. Animatics are usually 30 seconds or a minute. We made an eight-minute-long version.

Fishman: We called it The Ultimate Challenge. The network didn’t want to call it that. “If you have an ultimate challenge, how do you build on that? What’s next?” We had two or three rounds in our first version; we eliminated kids as we went and one kid got to do a final run for a prize.

Taylor: It had some of the stuff that eventually went into Guts, like the bungee game.

Fishman: The second round in our animatic was this giant ball that would spew slime. We were Nickelodeon. We used slime.

Taylor: It didn’t have the sports overlay yet. That’s what Albie brought.

Albie Hecht (co-creator, executive producer): I wanted to take Double Dare to the next level. American Gladiators was on at the time; that was an eye-opener stunt show for adults.

Fishman: The head of Nick told us Albie had this idea for a fantasy sports show for kids. We started with our two concepts, tore them apart and put them back together.

Hecht: I felt that kids deserved their own shows. Court shows were all the rage, like The People’s Court; that’s why we created Kids Court on Nickelodeon. So we said: Let’s make a big stunt show for kids.

Taylor: That led to a lot of very specific things that we needed to have: an arena, a track, a pool. ... We had games that required soccer balls and nets. ... Then we asked: What would it be like if we changed the size of the ball? What if a player was aided by a bungee cord? How could you alter track and field? We twisted every sports concept.

Magda Liolis (supervising producer): We would sit around and ask, “What would be cool? What did you wish you could do as a kid?”

Chris Woods (producer): And it had to be something you couldn’t do in your backyard. It had to take you higher, push you further.

Hecht: We went and tested some ideas. We hired Kim Kahana, Charles Bronson’s stunt double. He was a wonderful guy, but intimidating, like he was going to wipe us out. He [ran] a stunt school for us in the swamps outside Orlando. It was like going up-river with Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. It was very spartan, like Parris Island Marines training.

Liolis: A lot of the shows on Nick were like, “Do this at home.” We were like, “You can’t do this at home.”

Hecht: There were two months more of testing—extreme vetting and safety. We tested with stunt people first. Then the producers would have to go.

Liolis: I’d jump off some scaffolding, slam my knees and go, “Oh, we need to pad those for the kids.”

Hecht: I weighed 160 pounds but the kids weighed 60. That was another level of adjustment. So we brought in test contestants. We wanted everything to be fair—if you had three contestants with different weights, each of them needed different slacks [on the bungee] to equalize their weights.

Fishman: The bungee off the bridge [a setup of three padded sets of stairs positioned around a central point toward which players could launch themselves on a bungee rig] started with basketball.

Hecht: Elastic basketball—it was the ultimate Guts game.

Fishman: Our baskets were set at 11 feet, so players could dunk a basketball higher than Michael Jordan.

Hecht: It was magic. I was this frustrated Jewish point guard from Queens who always had a fantasy that I could dunk a basketball. My brother had even set up a seven-foot hoop in our backyard garage so we could dunk.

Taylor: The bungee became an iconic element of Guts. We developed a number of games on that same rig. But that setup was expensive.

Fishman: [Beyond the film festival,] Cannes also hosts an annual television programming convention, where people are looking to buy and syndicate programming. [We’d try] to sell the format of Guts to other countries. We’d set up the [bungee] rig and a basket on the beach, and you would have all these people in suits and dresses who wanted to try it.

Liolis: The show was going to be about fulfilling fantasies, doing things you can’t do in real life.

Fishman: A couple things we decided from Nickelodeon’s research: We would never eliminate anyone; we’d have three kids there the whole episode. Kids didn’t want other kids eliminated. It wouldn’t be like a regular game show.

Hecht: It wasn’t “You won, and you two lost.” [Everyone] got to run around the track. It was joyful and cheerful and celebratory.

Liolis: Eventually we had to think of something snappy, something catchy that expressed the idea of Guts for the tagline.

Rick Witkowski (theme song composer): Albie explained that he was going for “American Gladiators for kids.”

Liolis: It was about having a fearlessness to try this stuff—and we needed something that spoke to that in a short phrase. I was probably looking at a thesaurus.

Witkowski: I wanted to do something hip hop-y. Cinematic hip hop. Classical, epic gladiator. Ben-Hur-ish. ... They wanted to use the stutter thing. Once I got all of those elements in and came up with the D-d-d-do you have it, I’d sold them on it.

Having secured the largest workspace at Universal Studios in Florida, Sound Stage 21, the production team needed a host, a referee and kids who would fly through the air.

Mike O’Malley (host): I was hosting a show called Get the Picture on Nick.

Hecht: Mike embodied three things that we needed. Energy—this show was going to have so much energy. We needed someone who could keep up with that. An athlete—he’s a rabid Boston sports fan; he grew up playing baseball, basketball; loved sportscasting. And a sense of joyous competition—he would make the kids feel comfortable and get the best from them. Mike was amazing at that.

Woods: Mike didn’t want to be a kids TV host forever. But when Albie went to him about Guts, how could he say no?

Moira Quirk (referee): I’d come to America [from England] to spend two weeks with my grandma and I was working at Universal Studios. And that short trip just sort of became forever.

Hecht: Whenever I hear a British accent I think of authority. I loved that Moira had a British accent. It felt authoritative.

Liolis: She was funny and had an attitude. She was so tiny but in charge.

Hecht: She was this beautiful little imp, the same size as the kids. They loved her; she made them feel comfortable.

Quirk: Being very English, I knew nothing of American sport. I still called football “American football”. I liked to watch skiing and tennis—I was that sort of sports fan.

Liolis: She brought a cheekiness to it. Kids are fascinated by hearing different accents.

Hecht: They were so magical, those kids.

Quirk: The first couple years, they recruited the kids from [Orlando-area] sports centers and police clubs. As the show progressed, they came from further afield.

Woods: And they were really competitive. We did not have one bad sport, ever. Nobody cried. The three kids would be together all day, isolated from their families, and they bonded really well.

Hecht: We didn’t want kids who were overly competitive. We didn’t want people who were out to win, win, win.

Quirk: I remember one girl who sucked at everything. Bless her. She was competing against two kids [who were out of her league], but she was pleased as punch to be there. Grinned all day. And yeah, there were a couple of dicky kids. And kids who hadn’t taken their meds.