By Elizabeth Kieszkowski
Assistant Features Editor
With would-be Hawaii staffers eager to learn whether theyll have work in 2001, and potential strikes looming for film-industry writers and actors, the pressure is building to decide whether "Baywatch Hawaii" remains here.
Signs look reasonably good for the series, which has completed its second season of filming on the Islands.
Pearson International, the U.K.-based entertainment company that calls the financial shots for "Baywatch Hawaii," released funds early in December to start writing scripts for a new season.
Prepping for an accelerated shooting schedule could begin as soon as Pearson gives the word. That may happen by the end of January, allowing a few months to get episodes in the can before a threatened writers strike on May 1 and a threatened actors strike July 1.
But a final decision on the multimillion-dollar show has not been transmitted.
"We havent been picked up," said "Baywatch" publicist Kristin McIntee. "We dont want to give anyone the wrong idea. We dont want to say, Yeah, were coming back, then have to say were not, having given everyone false hope. A lot of people are depending on us."
During a typical five- or six-month, 22-episode filming schedule, "Baywatch Hawaii" provides jobs for approximately 200 people, including production staff and crew, spending about $900,000 on each episode.
"Its conservative to say we hire about 85 percent local," McIntee said.
However, the money was authorized for scripts for eight episodes, though 11 actually have been written, said "Baywatch Hawaii" co-producer and chief writer Frank South.
South, who declined to give a dollar figure that Pearson released for scriptwriting, said it was enough to hire three writer "units." Andre and Maria Jacquemetton, a husband-and-wife team who work as one unit, and Bob Gookin are returning to the show. Honolulu Star-Bulletin columnist Charles Memminger, who came to Souths attention after winning a script-writing contest at the Maui Writers Conference last year, is a new hire.
Under normal circumstances, McIntee said, scripts wouldnt be started until the end of January, after "Baywatch" reps shop the series to the National Association of Television Programming Executives at its annual trade show. The NATPE results help determine the shows prospects.
But McIntee said the NATPE meet shouldnt be a deal-breaker, because "Baywatch Hawaii" currently shows on TV stations that cover 95 percent of the country.
Also, while ratings arent huge theyve been hovering at about 2.3 points, meaning an average 2.3 million households in a regional "market" of the United States catch it weekly they are holding steady or rising slightly, said South.
"Were banging along; weve done well," South said. "Were doing better, in a world where there are a lot of 1.7s and 1.5s."
International syndication is likely to be a factor in determining the future of "Baywatch Hawaii," said South and "Baywatch" creator Greg Bonann. The international focus is a logical one, since "Baywatch" is overseen financially by Pearson, a U.K company, which is itself owned by Bertelsmann, a giant German company.
South indicated that he believes the series will be renewed. "My feeling is it looks good," he said. "There is a lot of excitement in the company about the show, and (with the threatened industry strikes), they said, Lets prepare to begin production in February. "
South said he expects the final word from Pearson this month.
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