The Lifeguards Dream
Baywatch began as the daydream of Executive Producer Gregory J. Bonann, a former lifeguard who had envisioned a television show based on his experiences. Greg Bonann and Michael Newman worked beaches and towers together and became very close friends. At the end of the long day of rescues at Will Rodgers Beach complete with fights, purse stealers and car break-ins, they would put their feet up on the rail. Greg said, “If a show like CHiPS can be so popular, why couldn’t we make a show about what we do down here?” And Michael was in total agreement.
The show’s idea had a chance to become a reality when Greg rescued the 13-year old son of TV Executive Stu Erwin in Santa Monica. The boy would have died if not for Greg. When the grateful TV Executive asked Greg how he could repay him, Greg’s request was that he wanted to discuss his idea for a show with him. Erwin led him through the procedure of getting his show on a network. After years of pitching his idea around Hollywood, things finally changed for the better when Greg’s sister married TV writer Douglas Schwartz (nephew of famed Sherwood Shwartz/Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch). Douglas, who later teamed with writer-producer Michael Berk, sold Greg’s idea to NBC. In 1989, Baywatch: Panic at Malibu Pier premiered as the highest-rated TV movie of the week. It lead to NBC’s airing of the TV series Baywatch. But after 22 episodes, the show was canceled due to lackluster ratings.
Determined to keep their series afloat, the Producers decided to revive the program in syndication. Douglas bought the rights back for $10. With David Hasselhoff’s enormous European popularity, the creators acquired foreign backers, and one year after cancellation, Baywatch was back on the air in syndication in 1991. The show did well with the return of Billy Warlock and Erika Eleniak. The two actors opted to leave after that second season to pursue other projects, and the Executive Producers hired Pamela Anderson who was also working on the hit comedy series, Home Improvement, Nicole Eggert (Who’s the Boss?), Alexandra Paul, newcomer David Charvet, and world champion surfer Kelly Slater. Pamela was a huge hit with international fans. She quickly emerged into the spotlight and with the burden of filming two hit shows, had to leave one to pursue the other-Home Improvement. Baywatch quickly surfed its way into syndicated glory.
The popular format of a very attractive, buffed cast dressed in red, custom-made swimsuits guarding the sand and running out to the surf to rescue victims in the Super Sow Mo Baywatch Trot proved a most helpful tool. In the process of helping unknowns become household names, the series itself became a phenomenon. At its peak in the mid-90s, Baywatch garnered over 1 billion weekly viewers in over 144 countries. The Genisis Book of World Records deemed it the Most Watched Show on the Planet.