MovieMonday: Baywatch as Seen by a Baywatch Expert

A discussion with film veteran David Braff, who spent eight years writing and producing the 1990s Baywatch television series.  He agreed to evaluate the new Baywatch movie and compare the two.  

Q:  How about some context for TVBaywatch? 
At its height, Baywatch was seen in 120 countries and by one billion people — remarkable for a story about the weekly exploits of a small group of Southern California lifeguards.
         Naturally, there was early talk of a movie.  I first heard mention of it when Arnold Schwarzenegger broached the subject with David Hasselhoff at Arnold’s old Santa Monica hangout, Schatzi.
         Now, 20 years and several discarded scripts later, the movie is out.  Unlike the series, which was sold originally to NBC as “St. Elsewhere at the beach,” the movie is a full-on parody in the “Police Academy” mold.  Quite an evolution.

Q: You saw the movie.  How would you describe it? 
A: It’s a collection of stunts, pranks and raunchy sex jokes.  The plot is nonsensical, but the cast, led by the omnipresent Dwayne Johnson, somehow manages to pull it off.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film got off to a sluggish opening, but that’s domestically.  It opens worldwide on June 2.  Paramount is hoping that the global audience will flock to Baywatch-the-movie as it did to TVBaywatch in the 1990s.
Some critics are already questioning the timing of the film’s release.  Not sure if it’s coincidence or connection, but we got our best television ratings in February.  When it was cold and snowing and people were stuck inside, they apparently enjoyed watching a sun-drenched, blue sky fantasy.
Q: Did you enjoy the movie?
Yes, I enjoyed watching it.  But not because it was a good movie.  To be fair — full disclosure — I do have a vested interest.  The big hope is that the television reruns start streaming on Netflix or Hulu, which pay a lot more than the digital substation that currently airs the show.
       The big surprise for me is that I will be getting residuals for creating one Baywatch character, even though the movie character is nothing like the one in the series.  One of the reasons I still love Hollywood.

Q:  What was missing from this version?
California.  It hit me in the first shot.  The sun doesn’t rise on Baywatch or in California — it sets.  Baywatch was always a show about a very specific area between Zuma Beach in Malibu and Marina Del Rey, just south of Venice Beach.
       The water, the sand and the lighting are all very different on the East Coast, where the movie was filmed.
Also, many of the television stories were rooted in Southern California mythology.  Interestingly, there was hardly any surfing in the movie.

Q:  Is the movie too long for a Baywatch television plot? 
A:  Yes, two hours is too long for a Baywatch story.  We did several two-hour episodes and always had to pad them with some hokey bad-guy caper, but none of them was as bad as the one in the movie.
       An interesting side note:  No one ever used a gun on TVBaywatch.  The reason was London Weekend Television was a part owner of the show and it forbade the use of handguns, given British law.

Q: Any differences between the television audience and the people seeing the R-rated 
movie version?
A:  Let’s take the TV audience first. The setting and the prurient image helped, aided by attention from Howard Stern’s radio show.  Remember, this was pre-internet porn, pre-quality shows with nudity on cable, pre post-modern feminism.
         Another thing that was unusual about the show was that if it got mentioned, everyone knew about it.  Even if you didn’t watch the show, an image instantly formed in your mind.
         We got savaged by the critics, but the show became a guilty pleasure — not to mention a cultural phenomenon.  Celebrities called wanting to be on the show.  Mike Piazza, Geraldo Rivera and Richard Branson all appeared on camera.
          Research toward the end of the run showed that the largest group of viewers tuned in because of David Hasselhoff, the original Mitch Buchannon.  He was a major star with three generations of fans who knew him from “Baywatch,” “Knight Rider” and as Snapper on “The Young and the Restless.” In short, women loved him.
          And then there was Pamela Anderson, who became probably the last Hollywood sex symbol.   Men watched the show for her.  Bought “Playboy” to see her naked.  It was a simpler time, and, like Hasselhoff, she became one of the most famous people in the world, which gave the show a huge boost.

Q:   And the film audience?  When I saw it, the only people in the theater were older guys.
 A:   Clearly, the intended audience for the movie is too young to have watched the series.  This movie has been in development for 20 years.  Several scripts were rejected, including ones that played it straight, as the show did; the show is now considered camp.
         One of the TVBaywatch creators, a former lifeguard, was very upset that the film team settled on the Police Academy-style parody.  Once the film people decided to go raunchy, though, the R rating was inevitable.

Q: One last thing — how many penis and ballsack jokes can one movie plot support?
Six to nine, according to the Pew Institute.
Actually, you’re asking the wrong person.  I had to look up “taint” in the urban dictionary.

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