Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Despite state loot, 'Baywatch' no sunken treasure

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

It felt like there was an unspoken rule about "Baywatch Hawaii," like the one about the emperor’s new clothes. People were so hesitant to just tell it like it was about that show.

But now that it’s dead, maybe we can speak our minds about how that emperor was parading around butt-naked making all of us ashamed.

"Baywatch" was on its way down the drain when it moved to Hawaii. The ratings were sagging, the novelty was gone and several of the "name" actors had already bailed. The big fuss about how hard we had to work to compete with Australia to snag the production was like two cheerleaders fighting over who gets to take the ugly dude to the prom. Hawaii made promises and concessions and deals as if life itself depended on it, like we were actually getting something of great value when it was really "Baywatch" that scored. We got played.

The state tossed money by the bucketful at "Baywatch," spinning it up like it was going to bring a bazillion new visitors to Hawaii.

Nobody ever asked about the demographics of the viewers. Nobody ever asked, "Who’s watching this thing? Professionals with expendable income to take pricey vacations to Hawaii? Or is the fan base closer to trailer-park denizens looking for quarters in the cracks of the sofa to raise enough cash to buy a six pack?" Nobody ever asked for accounting on the other end, like hiring some kid with a clipboard to stand at the airport and ask tourists, "Did Baywatch’ bring you here?"

And, incredulously, the state government just GAVE the money to "Baywatch." It was called an investment, but the state got no promises of returns other than the "great exposure" worldwide of Hawaii beaches (and people almost drowning on them). Investing in a TV project means getting a percentage of the profit. But will the state be getting royalty checks as the two years’ worth of episodes sidle into syndication? Heck no. Not a dime. Some investment.

But the bottom line about "Baywatch Hawaii" was that it was an embarrassment. Our provincial lawmakers and star-struck media fawned all over the production like it was respected art, quality TV.

But it just wasn’t. The stories were dumb, the acting was bad, the pidgin was off, the Hawaiiana was forced. But, oh, the scenery was good and that’s what counts in swimsuit shoots, nature documentaries and international television hits.

It’s too bad that talented Hawaii cast and crew are losing their jobs because of this. But what’s worse is those talented people had little choice but to work on a show that was so devoid of soul. They had to make wage concessions for the privilege. Our local film and TV industry professionals deserve a product they can be proud of, something up to their standards, our very own "West Wing" or "Law and Order." Or better. A TV series that rings true to our way of life in these islands. At the very least, something that doesn’t make us cringe because it’s so lame.

Am I just jealous? Are my views colored by my own struggles in the industry? You bet. I’m insanely jealous that such a substandard product got so much state support. I’m sick to think that local writers and producers will never see that kind of red carpet treatment in this state.

I’m disgusted that hacks from the Mainland get more respect than professionals from home (but that segues into a whole different rant that I’ll save for later.)

"Baywatch" was more than a waste of money for Hawaii. It did further damage to our international image, suggesting again that Hawaii is a place not to be taken seriously. Business? High-tech? Art? Nah, all they got is sand and surf and bikinis and people who need to be rescued every 8 1/2 minutes.

If Hawaii is going to keep playing the game of trying to lure a television series to the Islands, let’s try for something a little higher on the food chain. Otherwise, we’ll be known as the place where bad TV series go to die and where we’ll give up the farm to help them do it.

Lee Cataluna’s column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Her e-mail address is

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