Gregory Bonnan - the man we owe our thanks to! Baywatch was originally conceived in 1980 when veteran Los Angeles County lifeguard Greg Bonnan had an idea for a TV show containing "sand, surf and sea rescues".
He didn't know at the time what format the show should take. "First it was Baywatch: the mini-series, then it was Baywatch: the half-hour sitcom, then it was Baywatch: the Saturday morning cartoon show.", he remembers.
Admittedly, Greg knew more about saving lives than transforming saving lives into a viewer-friendly format, but that changed when producer Doug Schwartz married his sister. In addition to gaining a brother-in-law, Greg found someone (along with executive producer Michael Berk) who shared his vision of "lifeguards in action, beauties and blue skies".
Season One
Doug and Michael had a deal with Grant Tinker's production company, and in 1988 the three friends approached Tinker with the "Baywatch" idea. Grant liked the idea and sold it to NBC as a two hour film called Baywatch:Panic at Malibu Pier, which aired on April 23 1989 and rated number six in the top ten TV programs of that week. Baywatch was immediately picked up by NBC as a weekly series (with emphasis firmly based on action) and went into production in July 1989. The first episode aired on the following September 22nd. Jill, Craig and Mitch
Baywatch's first-season cast of regulars consisted of David Hasselhoff as Mitch Buchannon, Parker Stevenson as Craig Pomeroy, Shawn Weatherly as Jill Riley, Billy Warlock as Eddie Kramer, Erika Eleniak as Shauni McClain, Peter Phelps as Trevor Cole and Brandon Call as Hobie Buchannon. Recurring cast roles went to: Monte Markham as Captain Don Thorpe, John Allen Nelson as John D. Cort, Holly Gangier as Gina Pomeroy and Gregory Allen Williams as Garner Ellerbee. Even though the show was holding it's solid viewing figures, NBC executives were edgy after three episodes.
Brandon Call as the original Hobie They feared that the premise of Baywatch would run out of steam quickly. However, the show became an easy target for critics who dismissed it as "flimsy non-stop T&A". Baywatch hit some rough waters by midseason when it's ratings dropped drastically. By that time, Shawn Weatherly (who played Jill) decided that she wanted to leave for good and Doug Schwartz used her departure for the show's advantage: "When Jill was eaten by the shark, the audience suddenly realised that this was real life and lifeguards were in danger.
It also turned out to be the highest-rated show of that season." Michael Berk remembers: "We didn't quite know what the show was supposed to be" during the first season. The network and studio were always arguing and Berk, Bonnan and Schwartz kept getting caught in the middle. They weren't sure if Baywatch should be a "rescue of the week" pure action show or if it should be more personality driven. As a result, action won over and the characters of the lifeguards weren't explored as thoroughly as they might have been. A double whammy struck the producers when NBC cancelled Baywatch at the end of it's first season and Grant Tinker's production company went under. They felt that there was still life in it's concept and spent fourteen months trying to convince people of that fact. Along the way, jobs were streamlined, shooting times were almost halved and budgets were slashed. It was also decided that every scene was shot with a view to being used. In the past, too many sequences had hit the cutting room floor, thus affecting storylines. Consequently, a typical Baywatch script became thirty-five pages long, everything in it was shot and money was saved.
Season Two
Achieving popularity through syndication, Baywatch was given a second chance and the show went back into production with a reshuffled cast for all-new episodes which were due to air in 1991. Peter Phelps was dropped and Parker Stevenson left the show over "creative differences" (although it was rumoured that the scaled down show couldn't afford both Stevenson and Hasselhoff, and that the latter's European popularity tipped the scales). During the long break, Brandon Call got a part in the sitcom Step by Step (although another rumour said that he was growing up too fast for the planned Hobie coming of age stories). Jeremy Jackson is welcomed by his screen dad
The role of Hobie went to a new young actor, Jeremy Jackson. Jeremy's naturally dark hair was lightened so that the "new" Hobie would resemble his former screen incarnation. Veteran actor Richard Jaeckel was also added to the cast, playing the role of Capt. Ben Edwards. Recurring roles this season went to Pamela Bach as reporter Kaye Morgan, comedian Tom McTigue as Harvey Miller and Vanessa Angel as marine biologist Megan. Economic measures meant that action sequences were replaced by beautiful beach shots. While this was a treat for male eyes, the upped T&A quotient made Baywatch the butt of a lot of jokes. This frustrated David Hasselhoff who felt that the show "should be about emotional storylines, morals and real-life heroes." Baywatch underwent a major revamp during season two. The saucy music montages were lessened and new characters and storylines were introduced. The producers had a chance to express their creativity since the show as free from network interference. The father-son pairing of Mitch and Hobie because the whole basis of the newer relationship-oriented storylines and injected some "heart" into Baywatch. However it was the growing love between Eddie and Shauni which captured audiences interest and Doug Schwartz wanted to carry that story into season three.
Season Three
However when both Erika Eleanik and Billy Warlock decided to leave in order to pursue film careers, the rush was on to find two actors who could step into their shoes. They knew that Erika's replacement would have to have the same look and body as her predecessor. That person turned out to be Pamela Anderson Lee who became C.J. Parker while the role of spoiled rich kid Matt Brody was taken on by David Charvet. Nicole Eggert and Susan Anton were also added as Summer Quinn and her mother, Jackie, while Alexandra Paul played senior lifeguard Stephanie Holden, a lady with a history of a not-so-long-ago relationship with Mitch. The first ever Baywatch publicity shot of David Charvet and Pamela Anderson
Real life surfing champion Kelly Slater was added to the cast as Jimmy Slade and Monte Markham left to make way for the new younger cast. "River of No Return" was the Season Three two-part opener. Eddie and Shauni went white-water rafting, decided to get married and moved to Australia. That covered their exit from the show. We also met C.J. Parker, their guide, who Mitch convinced to come back to Los Angeles and become a lifeguard. Baywatch went on location for the first time - "River of No Return" was shot in the river country of Northern California, while the episode "Vacation" took place on a cruise-line boat to Mexico. It was an exciting year for Berk. He had the task of replacing popular characters and making them fit in. And it worked. During Year Three, the international response rose to one hundred countries proving that the formula worked well. More real-life issues like bulimia, blindness and Alzheimer's disease were added. Schwartz says: "We felt that there was a responsibility and a sense of conscience to get a message out along with the action and the entertainment. Real-world issues became important to us."
Season Four
The cast survived intact into Season Four. The emphasis on real-life stories continued with the episode on Down's syndrome, "The Child Inside" proving to be a high point. Also, romance was favoured over sex. "We've had sexy scenes but we've never had sex", says Schwartz. "In fact, it was during that season that we could have done an R-rated version of Baywatch for direct to video called 'Forbidden Paradise'. What the people behind the video really wanted was to have Pamela appear nude. We did release 'Forbidden Paradise' on video but only with a PG rating. We were not about to betray the family audience we had worked so hard to get." An edited version of "Forbidden Paradise" served as the two-part sixth season opener. For Executive Producer-writer Berk, Season Four saw one of his may ride-alongs with the Los Angeles county Lifeguards turn into a real-life adventure and ultimately a high-point Baywatchable. "I was riding in a lifeguard call car when we got a call that two brothers had been swept out to sea in a riptide. A lifeguard swam out, rescued one of the brothers, and secured him on his rescue can. While he went after the other brother, the first slipped off the rescue can. The lifeguard got to him again and he was rushed to the hospital, where he eventually died. That lifeguard began to suffer post-traumatic stress and required counselling sessions. I was allowed to observe those sessions and turned those true-life incidents into a story involving Mitch called 'Submersion.' At this stage, Baywatch was the fastest produced programme on TV, taking only five months to film twenty-two episodes.
Season Five
Season Five went ahead with few changes. Nicole Eggert, citing as her reason that "the water was too cold", bolted the beach. With her daughter gone, there was no reason to keep the mother and so Susan Anton was let go. Yasmine Bleeth was brought in as Caroline Holden, the sister of Stephanie and Jaason Simmons was introduced as Logan Fowler. The Australian actor was added to expand on Baywatch's international appeal. A continuing story arc, reminiscent of soap operas was introduced to add emotional body to the regular Baywatch elements. Jaason Simmons as Logan and Yasmine Bleeth as Caroline
Stephanie, Caroline and C.J. decided to share an apartment and Steph's spunky sister took more than a passing interest in Logan. The big change however, was Pamela Lee's development in terms of storyline and prominence. "Pamela really came into her own at that point. If there was a highlight at all during Season Five, it was that Pamela was literally born into the world," enthuses the producer. Berk, whose real-life adventure during the Los Angeles earthquake resulted in the two part episode "Livin' on the Fault Line", offers that "Season Five was great from a writing standpoint because we finally had a bad boy to write about." The perfect Baywatch formula - two to three music videos and the balancing act of character development and the lifeguard action - continued as smooth as silk.
Season Six
David Charvet left the show after Season Five and Baywatch enlisted two new Season Six cast members. David Chokachi as the clean-cut all-American Cody Madison and, at the other end of the spectrum, Gena Lee Nolin as the cold and calculating hot blonde Neely Capshaw, who jumped into her work - lying, cheating stealing, and using her body to gain the upper hand in story lines. The lifeguard from Hell? Neely's the one! For Berk, who instituted an all-encompassing Baywatch bible for writers, the Season Six high points were Stephanie's marriage to the doctor who was treating her for skin cancer and the oil platform underwater rescue. David Chokachi and Gena Lee Nolin get some surfing practice in
In the UK, sponsorship for Baywatch was offered to interested companies. Various skincare and beachwear companies put forth their bids, but in the end, a hair-care product "Shockwaves" won. A number of wraparound sequences featuring healthy, young people with impeccable hair were shown before, after and during the show.
"Shockwaves" from Wella 1995 also saw the inception of a new spin off show - "Baywatch Nights". The premise revolved around Mitch and Garner's detective agency and had a different atmosphere than it's daytime counterpart. The tone was darker and geared towards a late-night older audience.
Season Seven
Season Seven saw the introduction of four new cast members. Nancy Valen as the determined Captain Samantha Thomas, Donna D'Errico (who traded Baywatch Nights for days on the beach) as Donna Marco, Traci Bingham as African-American Jordan Tate and Jose Solano as the enthuastic Manny Gutierrez. In addition, Michael Newman's role as "Newmie" was substantially increased earning him an opening title credit. There were bound to be casualties, however. After guest starring in five of that Season's episodes, we bade farewell to Jaason Simmons. His character, Logan Fowler left Baywatch HQ to pursue a career in film-making. Nancy Valen as Sam Thomas
We saw another favourite leave in a very dramatic manner. The most evoking episode of the Season was "Chance of a lifetime" and it brought about the death of Stephanie Holden, when she was struck by part of a mast during a thunderstorm at sea. She died in the arms of the two men she loved most, Mitch and her new husband Tom. This was only the second time a major character had died in the history of Baywatch, and since Stephanie was such a long-serving Baywatch member, her death had extra impact with audiences. Typically controversial topics covered this Season included manic depression and teenage suicide. Donna D'Errico's real-life Playboy photoshoot was cleverly worked into a plot ("Buried") which saw her character Donna Marco suspended as a result of earning extra money in her spare time. Baywatch Nights went into it's second season with a cast reshuffle and a new direction. Cashing in on the popularity of genre shows like Poltergeist: The Legacy, PSI Factor and The X-files, we now saw Mitch and Co. enter into a world of the supernatural battling the forces of darkness. Midway through Season Seven, the newspapers trumpeted "Baywatch is dropped by ITV". This came as a shock as ITV was the TV company which saved Baywatch from being cancelled after Season One by investing money into it.
Sabrina and Harvey replaced Neely and Cody for a while ITV complained that they were receiving episodes from America at the very last minute and it made for scheduling difficulties. They announced that Sabrina the Teenage Witch would be Baywatch's replacement. In reality, ITV was screening episodes almost in tandem with America, and the custom of having a show take a break midway through a season to show repeats is not commonplace in the UK. When new episodes appeared in the US, Baywatch resumed on ITV amid newspaper announcements that "ITV decides to show Baywatch again."
However certain scenes deemed "not suitable for tea-time viewing" were censored and some "saucier" episodes were shown past midnight under the moniker "Baywatch Late". This was a repeat of the fiasco that happened with Beverly Hills 90210 a few years previously. ITV eventually abandoned the show and sold it to SKY.
Season Eight
Season Eight failed to make an appearance on ITV, but Baywatch soldiered on in America and all over the world. Five new characters were added. Angelica Bridges as Lieutenant Taylor Walsh, Michael Bergin as Jack "J.D." Darius (an old friend of Mitch and Newmy's), plus a trio of rookies. Skylar Bergmann was played by Marliece Andrada, MTV presenter Carmen Electra became the fiery Lani McKensie and former California Dreams actress Kelly Packard portrayed design student April Giminski. As per usual, a few characters got the chop. Carmen Electra caused sparks as Lani McKensie for one year
Nancy Valen exited and Pamela Anderson Lee left of her own accord. After a cliff-hanger proposal by Cody at the end of the last season, her non-appearance - even as a guest star - in Season Eight was puzzling. Most characters put in a few showings before they leave for good to tie up any loose ends. We didn't even discover why she was missing until a few episodes in when Cody nonchalantly announced that "C.J. had run away to Mexico to marry a rock star." Yasmine Bleeth also hung up her red swimsuit, but guest-starred in a number of episodes to finish up her storyline. Her character Caroline Holden had won a part in the fictional TV soap "Shannon's Hope" and she had to move to New York to take up her new career.
Angelica Bridges played Taylor Walsh, for one year also Michael Newman got his first major storyline in the episode "Diabolique". Newmie's nephew Todd suffered from Diabetes and Newman created a kite-flying contest to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. The most bizarre line from Season Eight featured in that same episode when Manny called April a "cheese-head from Wisconsin"(?!). Neely's baby and her marriage to Mitch ensured plenty of new surprises during Season Eight. Towards the end it's run, a major announcement was made regarding the cast. Angelica Bridges, Traci Bingham, Donna D'Errico and Marliece Andrada would not be returning next year.
In addition, Carmen Electra and Gena Lee Nolin had decided to leave. Carmen wished to pursue other avenues while Gena was not happy with her pay. Brooke Burns (Ally McBeal), Mitzi Kapture (Silk Stalkings) and Erin Gray (Buck Rogers, Silver Spoons) were touted as the faces for Season Nine's more "character-driven" storylines. Neely Capshaw would also return in the form of Heather Campbell, making Neely the only TV character to be played by three different actresses I know of (not counting the different stages of life type roles), apart from Lucy Robinson in Neighbours. Baywatch Nights did not return during 1997. Low ratings and the fact that people felt it's parent show was suffering ended in it's demise, although Nights enjoys healthy viewing figures through syndication.