Our initial euphoria gradually dissipated as the Baywatch script became a problem because NBC wanted murders

Dear Greek and international readers welcome to the February 2020 issue of the “Sport Lifesaver” magazine. My article for this month is about the obstacles we had to overcome in order to satisfy the network and at the same time to salvage some of the real aspects that we wanted Baywatch to contain.  

In traditional network television, a series concept evolves into an actual living, breathing weekly series through one or two different means, often based around the pilot. One-hour pilots are the most common. The network commissions the producer to create a one-hour super-episode, which will introduce the audience to series elements, A to Z. After taking a look, the network will decide if this one-hour pilot merits being made into a series. The less promising one-hour pilots are put on the shelf, permanently, never to be seen by the viewing public.


The network sometimes commissions a mammoth two-hour Movie of the Week. This movie is shown-the ratings tabulated. If the rating numbers are good, or if someone in power at the network decides the concept has merit, the producer is given an order for a certain number of episodes, usually a 13-episode order. When a Movie of the Week is used for audience -testing purposes, with an eye toward it being made into a series, the movie is called a “back door pilot.”

For a producer, a back door pilot is always preferred to the one-hour variety. The back door has roughly twice the chance of success, since it’s guaranteed to be shown to the two audiences, the network execs and the viewing audience.

If this pilot whets someone’s appetite for more, a 13-episode order will be given by the network. If those 13 episodes generate decent ratings, they’ll order another 9 episodes. At the end of the year, the network will evaluate the show-its ratings and its costs-and decide whether to renew it or not for a second season.

The number of episodes per season has changed dramatically over the years. For example, in the 1950s, a full season of Gunsmoke meant 40 new episodes. Over the years, the number was reduced – a full season of Sea Hunt consisted of 32 new episodes. Eventually the number came down to 26 – half the year – so that each episode would be rerun once to fill a whole 52-week year. Today the number of new episodes needed to fill a season is a mere 22. They are rerun once, with the remaining eight weeks filled with assorted specials, from “The American Accordion Music Awards” to “The Making of Cindy Crawford’s Fitness Video Special.”

The concept, from the producer’s perspective, is to make as few episodes as possible – to keep the costs down – and still get a full season’s order.

Over the next two months, our initial euphoria gradually dissipated as the Baywatch script became a problem. In simplest terms, NBC wanted murders; NBC wanted the lifeguards to wear guns like policemen. Doug, Michael and I tried to accommodate the wishes of NBC and at the same time keep the aspects of the show we wanted – the lifeguard’s world, which in reality has nothing to do with murders, committed or solved. Before long, a sense of alienation developed between NBC and Michael Berk, Doug Schwartz, and myself.

Being our designated point man, I typically received the phone call from GTG’s designated point man, Stu Erwin. Stu wanted to get both sides together without jeopardizing the integrity of the project. Over and over he asked me, “What is wrong with your guys? Why can’t they make the network happy?”

For the most part, Grant was detached. At GTG, Stu was in charge of developing new shows. Grant, in his tried-and-true managerial style, left Stu alone. Also, Grant had other projects going at the same time, including at least four series in production: Dick Van Dyke, Raising Miranda, TV 101, Why on Earth plus USA Today, the daily newsmagazine. Grant was concerned with keeping those shows on the air and keeping the company afloat. Stu’s job was to get new shows up and running, which he’d done successfully many times with Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and Remington Steele.

Finally NBC, specifically Branton Tartikoff, Warren Littlefield, and Perry Simon, approved our script, “Baywatch, Panic at Malibu Pier.”

Brandon Tartikoff was well known in the industry as the man who led NBC. But he didn’t work alone. With him were Warren Littlefield, head of programming (and now hear of the network, Brandon’s old job), and Perry Simon, in charge of drama development.

While I had little contact with either Brandon or Warren,  I had daily contact with Perry Simon. We got along very well – I greatly enjoyed his boundless energy and his enthusiasm for the show. Development guys, I knew, did not cancel shows. They want them to be successful. Perry gradually came to understand and to appreciate what we were trying to do with Baywatch. In the big picture, were lucky to have Perry as our main ally at NBC.

The script had what Brandon Tartikoff wanted: Fatal Attraction Goes to the Beach. In the main storyline, Laurie Harris, a character played by Madchen Amick (a beautiful actress who went on to star in Twin Peaks) is dramatically rescued by lifeguard Craig Pomeroy, played by Parker Stevenson. After fantasizing about the Stevenson character and then stalking him, she finally tries to kill him. Brandon considered this Fatal Attraction story line to be highly promote-able, and therefore a necessary element of the pilot.

Within the secondary story line, an older lifeguard, Ben Edwards, played by Richard Jaeckel, dies while trying to save people on a fishing boat that has exploded. The Ben Edwards character was based on Hal Dunnigan, the legendary lifeguard who was my teacher during rookie school. This story line, and some of the other minor ones, salvaged at least some of the real lifeguarding aspects that Doug, Michael, and I wanted the show to contain.

Also, we managed to keep the title. NBC had wanted to change it to something other than Baywatch. Their reasoning was the viewers would be confused – is the show taking place in a bay? Finally I convinced them that the title, which my mother had suggested at the dinner table one night, came from a nickname given to the rescue boats that patrolled the huge Santa Monica Bay. This bay stretches 50 miles, from Point Vincente in the south to Point Dume in the north, and is hardly baylike since it is wide open to the Pacific Ocean. Like all good titles, Baywatch is easy to remember, easy to say, and unusual enough to capture the interest of viewers.

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.

Like all good titles,

Baywatch is easy to remember,

easy to say,

and unusual enough

to capture the interest

of viewers


Write a response

Αφήστε μια απάντηση

Η ηλ. διεύθυνση σας δεν δημοσιεύεται. Τα υποχρεωτικά πεδία σημειώνονται με *

Αυτός ο ιστότοπος χρησιμοποιεί το Akismet για να μειώσει τα ανεπιθύμητα σχόλια. Μάθετε πώς υφίστανται επεξεργασία τα δεδομένα των σχολίων σας.

Your custom text © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.
Αρέσει σε %d bloggers: