Sure, it’s still a year away from the Dwayne Johnson-Zac Efron big-screen adaptation of Baywatch, and even longer before the Baywatch musical debuts on London’s West End (sometime in 2018). But it’s summer, so what better time to revisit the most successful beach-set drama about lifeguards ever to bounce and jiggle across the small screen?
At its peak in the mid 1990s, the show — with David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson squeezed into red swim suits — drew a weekly audience of 1.1 billion viewers in 158 countries, winning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most watched TV show of all time. The Hollywood Reporter sat down with the series’ original producers, cousins Michael Berk and Douglas Schwartz (both nephews of Sherwood Schwartz, creator of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch) and challenged them to tell us something we didn’t already know about Baywatch. Boy, did they deliver.
1. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally cast as Hasselhoff’s son. DiCaprio was just 15 years old when he auditioned for the role of Mitch Buchannon’s son, but Hasselhoff nixed the actor for the part. “We actually had DiCaprio ready to be cast,” says Berk. “But David thought he was too old to play his son.” Says Schwartz, “David thought it would make him look older. He had a lot of concerns of that type.” Instead, 9-year-old Jeremy Jackson got the part.
2. Hasselhoff also tried to nix Pamela Anderson on the show. Anderson came onboard in the second season, but Hasselhoff was against her casting, arguing that a former Playboy pinup and Home Improvement Tool Time girl would alienate fans. “David said, ‘I don’t want a girl that’s been in Playboy,'” Berk recalls. “He said, ‘Children watch this show.'” Schwartz thinks Hasselhoff had slightly different concerns. “She had these enormous breasts,” he says, “and David thought he would be upstaged by everyone looking at her breasts. Which is what happened.”
3. About 40 episodes were directed by a legally blind man. At 20, Schwartz was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that left him with tunnel vision. Nevertheless, he continued to work both as a producer (he co-created such ’80s classics as Manimal and The Wizard) and director. Even with 90 percent of his vision gone in the 1990s, he stepped behind the camera for five or six Baywatch episodes a season. “Everything I could see was in-camera,” he says. “I am the only legally blind member of the Directors Guild of America — ever.”
4. Anderson got paid peanuts — at least at first. Baywatch all but invented the first-run syndication business model for one-hour TV dramas, paying production costs without network backing and negotiating broadcast deals with individual stations and distributors. That meant they could keep production costs down, including star salaries. “I think Pam got $5,000 or $7,500 an episode,” Berk recalls of the actress’ first-season pay. “But when Pam left [in 1997], her salary had gone up to $40,000.”
5. Nicole Eggert’s breast enhancement surgery was a continuity nightmare. After a brief production break during season seven, Eggert turned up on the set with a completely new body. “She felt a little bit competitive with Pam,” says Berk. “She had a beautiful athletic body but didn’t have big boobs at all. Maybe she was feeling a little bit of pressure. There was a holiday weekend and for a couple of days she called in sick afterward. Then she showed up back on the set having gotten a boob job.” Schwartz picks up the narrative: “I had already shot scenes with her with small breasts,” he says. “She came in and was wearing a jacket. I said, ‘Nicole, you can’t wear that. We already shot part of that scene before and you don’t have a jacket on, remember?’ She wanted to wear that jacket and I couldn’t figure out why. And then finally, when she took off the jacket, she had these giant double Ds. I didn’t know what to do. I had to put things in front of her and hide her for the rest of the episode.”
6. Gena Lee Nolin needed hypnosis to act. “We saw Gena Lee Nolin on The Price is Right,” says Schwartz. “She was brought in because we were worried about losing Pam. We needed another hot, busty blonde. And she was tall and very stunning. We also thought that would help us with Pam. Like, ‘There’s others that can take your place.'” There was just one problem; Nolin had intense stage fright. “She was not an actress so she would memorize her lines and really work hard on them,” Berk says. “When Hasselhoff would ad lib in a scene, it would really throw her off. So after her first season, she wanted to quit the show. She said, ‘I love it but it’s just too uncomfortable.'” Berk and Schwartz took her to a hypnotist and the therapy helped. “I said, ‘I’m not going to let you leave the show,'” says Berk.
7. Anderson’s sex tape boosted the ratings. In 1995, after an explicit video of Anderson and her then-husband Tommy Lee in flagrante dilecto was made public — the world’s first celebrity sex tape — foreign distributors and broadcast affiliates became nervous. “They came to us and said, ‘What are we gonna do? Should we leave her out of the next episode?'” remembers Berk. “We had to figure out how to deal with it. So we just kept going.” Says Schwartz, “The ratings doubled. That was a big thing for Baywatch.”