15 Things You Might Not Know About Baywatch
By Jake Rossen
Even by the already-excessive standards of television, the idealized version of California life on Baywatch (1989-2001) was something else. Centered on the bronzed, impossibly-proportioned lifeguards of a fictional Los Angeles County beach patrol, the series was derided for its simplistic plots and cheesecake -- the same elements that made it one of the biggest success stories in the history of the medium.
While Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron put the finishing touches on a tongue-in-cheek film adaptation due in 2017, check out these 15 facts about the series that gave you more David Hasselhoff than you ever imagined possible.
1. THE SHOW WAS SOLD WITH A CUSTOM MUSIC VIDEO.
Co-creator Michael Berk told the BBC in 2013 that NBC was initially less than enthusiastic about a lifeguard series, fearing there were only so many plots that could revolve around CPR. To prove the concept was viable, Berk and his partners shot a montage of lifeguard footage on Venice Beach and spliced it to Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer." While that wouldn't appear to support an argument for substance, NBC bought the show.
2. THE SLOW-MO SHOTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE OLYMPICS.
From the beginning, Baywatch's visual trademark was the sight of a lifeguard running toward danger in slow-motion. Berk recalled the idea came from a producing partner of his who had just been shooting the 1988 Summer Olympic Games and had captured footage of sprinters at slower frame rates during the 100-meter dash. Hasselhoff later claimed the shots were used to pad shows that were running short without having to spend more money for footage.
3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO WAS ALMOST CAST AS HOBIE.
For the role of Hasselhoff's onscreen son, Hobie, producers auditioned Leonardo DiCaprio. While they were impressed with his performance, they felt the 15-year-old was slightly too old for the part; actor Jeremy Jackson, four years younger than DiCaprio, was cast instead.
4. THEY CAST A REAL LIFEGUARD. (AND ONE PRO SURFER.)
The immaculately-mustachioed Michael Newman was a real lifeguard when co-creator (and fellow competitive swimmer) Greg Bonann tapped him for a supporting role on the show. Because of his skills, Newman was able to pull double- or triple-duty, doing stunts, instructing cast members on rescue protocol, and sharing stories of real-life rescues for story plots. (Producers even named his character "Michael Newman.") Later, professional surfer Kelly Slater was cast as Jimmy Slade: He quickly grew tired of the show interfering with his surfing as well as the far-fetched plots. "I'd be like, 'What!? There's an octopus that's stealing surfboards and hiding them in a secret cove and I'm going to fight him in the next show!? Who writes this sh-t?'" he told GQ. In 1993, he asked to be written off the show.
5. HASSELHOFF'S GAMBLE SAVED THE SHOW.
Despite its virtues, American network viewers weren't all that enamored with Baywatch when it premiered in 1989; the show finished 74th out of 111 series that year. International viewers, however, couldn't get enough. Its popularity in Germany and the U.K. helped convince co-creators Berk, Bonann, and Douglas Schwartz to resurrect it for syndication. To make the deal work, Hasselhoff volunteered to reduce his salary per-episode in order to receive a greater share of the profits if it was a hit.
6. PRODUCERS BOUGHT THE SYNDICATED RIGHTS FOR $10.
Another key reason Baywatch was able to find new life after NBC was the dissolution of a partnership between production company Gannett and former network executive Grant Tinker. Because no entity existed to control the show's assets, producers were able to secure the rights to the series back for a perfunctory sum of $10.
7. THE SETS WERE PRETTY PRACTICAL.
When Baywatch moved to syndication, the show's budget was slashed by 30 percent. In order to conserve funds, several sets that appeared on-screen were actually functional rooms for crew members to use off-screen. A lifeguard station kitchen had running water and was used as a production break room; a gym set was practical enough for Hasselhoff to pump his pecs between takes.
8. TOMMY LEE WAS NOT A FAN OF PAM ANDERSON'S LOVE SCENES.
At the height of Baywatch-mania in the mid-1990s, Anderson married Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. According to Hasselhoff in his autobiography, Don't Hassle the Hoff, Lee would go nuclear whenever his wife had love scenes with co-star David Chokachi, breaking windows and screaming until security moved him off the set.
9. NO ONE WAS ALLOWED TO GAIN WEIGHT.
The form-fitting flattery of the red Lycra swimsuits worn by the cast members turned out to have some unforgiving edicts: Alexandra Paul told Esquire that her contract specified she could not gain any weight while appearing on the show. While Paul initially thought it was just for the women, she later found out the clause applied to both sexes.
WAS RENEWED JUST TO SAVE FACE.
Hoping to exploit the Baywatch brand, Hasselhoff and producers conceived of a spin-off, Baywatch Nights, in 1995 as a more adult-oriented alternative. Instead of saving drowning victims, Hasselhoff's Mitch Buchannon chased down criminals as part of his friend's private detective firm. Although ratings were modest during its first season, producers decided to renew it for a second (and final) season so it wouldn't appear the Baywatch brand was losing any steam. According to Hasselhoff, the company even bought airtime in some markets.
11. IRAN SOLD TICKETS TO WATCH IT ON TELEVISION.
The global popularity of Baywatch may never be rivaled: At its peak in 1993, it was widely reported over a billion people tuned into the show weekly. In places where television was not as commonplace, fans still found a way. In an interview with Men's Health, Hasselhoff said the Shah of Iran's wife once came up to him and told him Iranians sold tickets to the show in Tehran at homes with satellite dishes.
12. IT AFFECTED AUSTRALIA'S KOALA POPULATION.
As Baywatch approached its first decade on the air, rising production costs became an issue. To conserve funds, the series decided to move to Australia. Baywatch Down Under was intended to be a facelift of sorts, but locals were having none of it. Citizens of Avalon Beach protested the show closing down portions of the area, chasing away residing koalas, and even telling residents to keep the noise down while the show's stars caught naps. The production moved to Hawaii for its final two seasons and a 2003 made-for-TV movie.
13. AQUAMAN WAS PART OF THE CAST.
When Baywatch relocated to Hawaii, a number of cast additions were made. The most notable: Jason Momoa, who later found fame as Khal Drogo on HBO's Game of Thrones and is set to appear as Aquaman in the 2017 Justice League film as well as his own solo feature. Cast as a lifeguard at 19, Momoa told Entertainment Weekly in 2015 that the role was not necessarily his big break. "I couldn't find an agent for four years after Baywatch," he said. "They don't take you seriously. They think you're a pretty boy, this and that ... It's hard—no one really makes it off that show."
14. BAYWATCH: THE MUSICAL IS HEADED FOR LONDON.
In addition to the upcoming feature, Schwartz and Berk have ambitions to bring the franchise into uncharted waters: A Baywatch musical is set to debut in London's West End sometime in 2017. Schwartz promises that a water tank will be on stage.
15. IT USED 40 BOTTLES OF SUNSCREEN A MONTH.
According to the show's make-up artist, JoAnna Connell, Baywatch went through 40 bottles of sunscreen a month in order to keep the cast free from sunburns and melanomas. The minimum: SPF 15.