Friday, January 5, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 5, 2001

'Baywatch' return to Hawai'i still undecided

By Elizabeth Kieszkowski
Assistant Features Editor

With would-be Hawaii staffers eager to learn whether they’ll 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 haven’t been picked up," said "Baywatch" publicist Kristin McIntee. "We don’t wan’t to give anyone the wrong idea. We don’t want to say, Yeah, we’re coming back,’ then have to say we’re 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.

"It’s 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 South’s attention after winning a script-writing contest at the Maui Writers Conference last year, is a new hire.

Under normal circumstances, McIntee said, scripts wouldn’t 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 show’s prospects.

But McIntee said the NATPE meet shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, because "Baywatch Hawaii" currently shows on TV stations that cover 95 percent of the country.

Also, while ratings aren’t huge — they’ve 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.

"We’re banging along; we’ve done well," South said. "We’re 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, Let’s prepare to begin production in February.’ "

South said he expects the final word from Pearson this month.

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