When CBS rejected Baywatch it was a miserable, sad day

Dear Greek and international readers welcome to the December 2019 issue of the “Sport Lifesaver” magazine. My article for this month is about how we celebrated the great news of going to have Baywatch on the air and how later we were told that this was not going to happen …. yet!

Timing is everything. At the time, Grant, because of his track record at MTM and NBC, had an unprecedented deal: CBS had promised to buy 10 new shows from Grant over a five-year period, no matter what he might propose.

The significance of the 10-show deal cannot be overestimated. Any series that Grant supported would be made. Period. No messing around, no pilot, no “maybe we will buy six episodes.” With this deal in mind, a commitment by Grant meant that years of hassles could be leaped over in a single bound. It’s no surprise that every creative person in town wanted to work for Grant. In all the years since then, only Steven Bochco and Aaron Spelling have had anything to compare with this remarkable deal.

In early spring 1988, CBS found itself in need of a show to fill its fall, Friday night, 10:00 time slot. And just as we completed the Baywatch presentation, several new shows that GTG had been developing (including one that I conceived called Laugh Trackers) were discontinued. After seeing the new presentation, Stu said, “The time is right for Baywatch.” Stu told us to start developing Baywatch for CBS. We promised to do our best.

After a month of development, Stu called us into his office. Grant was already sitting on the couch. Jay Sandrich sat next to him. With Doug, Michael and me looking on, anxious as school-boys, Stu said, “Okey, this season Baywatch is going to be one of our CBS shows, and it’s going to be a hit!”

Champaign. Everything was great. Baywatch was going to be on the air. This particular CBS version of Baywatch did not match my original vision, but I didn’t care, not after 10 years of pitching Baywatch and getting nowhere. We walked out of Stu’s office hardly bothering to touch the ground. The feeling was almost as good as winning the rookie lifeguard tryouts.

CBS had all manner of caveats: No nicknames. No CPR. No mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. They were intent on making Baywatch into a very serious, very dramatic show.

I had always thought that Baywatch should be an action-adventure show set on a fantasy beach. In real life, L.A. County beaches have some degree of urban problems. How could it be otherwise when the beaches are adjacent to 13 million people? We have a few fights, some drugs, no shortage of homeless people. But overall, our beaches are not like a hospital emergency room or a police station. The beach is where people go to have fun. Under the circumstances, however, I kept my opinion mostly to myself.

Using the guidelines set down by CBS, we developed a script for a two-hour television movie. Then we met with CBS, handed them the script, and waited. And waited and waited. We waited for weeks but never heard back.

Finally, on Friday, July 1, 1988, Stu told us that CBS had passed. I was stunned. I said to Stu, “What do you mean CBS passed? Grant has a 10-show deal. Guaranteed. He can do any show he wants. I read it in The Hollywood Reporter. I read it in Variety. Grand told me himself.”

“Well,” Stu said, “that’s the way it is.” While Stu kept his cool when breaking the news to me , I later discovered that he had taken the CBS rejection to heart. Not only was the network rejecting a show he’d nurtured from the beginning, but CBS was not fulfilling their 10-show agreement with GTG.

Eventually we found out that the lower-tier executives at CBS resented the fact that Bill Paley, the chairman of the network, had given Grant his unprecedented deal. Yes, Grant had a 10-show deal, but the lower-tier executives at CBS found ways to derail it. If Grant had insisted, CBS would have bought Baywatch. Then they would have promptly thrown it away, putting it up against NBC’s Cosby, where our ratings would certainly have suffered and the show would soon have perished. In the process Grant and GTG would have lost millions.

That was a miserable, sad day.

© Photo: Greg Bonann. Note: Reproduced by: Bonann, G.J. (2000). Baywatch: Rescued from Prime Time: the Official, Behind-the-scenes Story of the World’s Most Popular TV Show. USA: New Millennium Press.

“CBS wanted to make Baywatch
a very dramatic show,
but eventually rejected it.”

By Greg Bonann

Πηγή: e-Περιοδικό “O Αθλοσώστης” (Δεκέμβριος 2019)


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