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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Financing said to be key to 'Baywatch ' Hawai'i reunion

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer

Apparently someone thinks there's still some life left in the old lifeguard shack.

"Baywatch" co-creator Douglas Schwartz said the 11-year-syndicated series, that spent its final two seasons filming here as "Baywatch Hawaii," will be returning next February in the guise of a multimillion-dollar Fox TV-movie reunion titled "Baywatch Blast." Assuming they can find the money, production of the two-hour film is to begin in early October at the Hawai'i Film Studios at Diamond Head and at various sites around O'ahu.

The movie would reunite longtime cast members including David Hasselhoff, Nicole Eggert, Yasmine Bleeth, Parker Stevenson and possibly Pamela Anderson. The telepic's executive producers will be Schwartz, Hasselhoff and Michael Berk. Berk, who along with Schwartz and Greg Bonann created the lifeguard rescue series in 1989 for NBC-TV, is writing the script. "Baywatch Hawaii" actors Michael Bergin, Jason Brooks and Stacey Kamano also are expected to suit up for duty. The film will be principally financed by Lions Gate Television, 20th Century Fox, or a partnership between the two.

Schwartz and Berk parted ways with "Baywatch" in 1998 when all three creators sold their rights to current series owners London-based Pearson Television. Bonann, who remained with the series as its executive producer until its cancellation in February, has not been asked to be a part of this reunion.

Schwartz declined comment on Bonann's absence or "Baywatch Blast's" production budget, but said the film's plot would revolve around the return of Hasselhoff's Mitch Buchanan character, supposedly killed at the end of the first Hawai'i season. In the high-camp tradition of the series, Buchanan will make his return to the living at a crew reunion/memorial service in his honor two years after his disappearance, Schwartz said.

Buchanan has been living "Tom Hanks in 'Cast Away' "-style on a remote atoll "off the Hawaiian coast." Found by a Japanese fishing trawler, he remembers nothing of his legendary career on the waves or the mysterious circumstances surrounding his disappearance. The crew remains in Hawai'i to help him sweat the details.

"We've gotten pretty much everybody but two people, Pam Anderson and Erika Eleniak," Schwartz said. "We're trying to get Pam, but she hasn't confirmed that she will be a part of this."

Schwartz said 90 percent of the movie would be filmed on O'ahu over nine weeks in October and November. Like their "Baywatch Hawaii" predecessors, the producers are seeking financial help from Hawaiian Airlines, the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau to help with costs.

"Without the additional funding and those deals, there's no way that we can come to Hawai'i," said Schwartz, who has commissioned the writing of a Los Angeles-based "Baywatch Blast" script in case Hawai'i negotiations fall through. "Those deals are not closed yet."

Schwartz confirmed that he had spoken to the convention bureau about partial production financing and discounted film studio rates, but declined to reveal specific figures he had asked for. Schwartz did say the amount he was asking for was substantially less than what the state has ponied up for the franchise in the past.

State officials were widely criticized in 1999 for handing over roughly $7 million in free air fares, hotel rooms, production and infrastructure to lure the floundering series to Hawai'i in the hope of attracting its viewers as tourists. The state took another critical hit when the show was canceled less than two years later, with little tourism-related windfall to show for it.

"On the money side, we're not asking for a lot," Schwartz said. "We're basically just saying that whatever we can't get for free from both the airline or the hotel, the tourism board can help pick up the difference. That's all."

The benefit to the state in production spending and tourism once the movie is aired would more than make up for these costs, he said.

Hawai'i film commissioner Donne Dawson could not offer any "Baywatch Blast" production details, but stressed that while the state has offered the producers a Hawai'i Film Studio rental rate 20 percent less than the standard $10,000 a month, it is not paying for this most recent "Baywatch" revival effort.

"We very much want them to come here for the production," said Dawson of "Baywatch Blast's" producers. "They've given us dates for the film studio, and we're going to try and accommodate them any way we can."

Dawson said that "Baywatch Blast" producers first approached the Hawai'i Film Office two weeks ago, asking about use of the Diamond Head facility's production cottages, main stage and a large water tank built by the "Baywatch Hawaii" production.

"There's still a chance that it may not work out financially at this point, but we're obviously hoping it will," Dawson said.

"We could shoot this show in Los Angeles," Schwartz said. "Everybody is here, and we don't have to pay for air fare or hotel. (But) we would like to do the show in Hawai'i." The Fox Network has agreed to broadcast the movie regardless of location, he added.

"If we can't get our (Hawai'i) deals locked in by the end of August, we'll have to start prepping in Los Angeles right after Labor Day," Schwartz said. "I'm out to prove that we can do this without the state having to put out millions of dollars."

Once an international ratings smash, "Baywatch" worldwide viewership floundered in its final seasons. By the time the series — redubbed "Baywatch Hawaii" for its local incarnation — was finally canceled in February, the show had lost almost half of its American audience over the course of two seasons here.

Schwartz, who blames a poor syndication market for "Baywatch Hawaii's" demise, hopes the potential ratings success of "Baywatch Blast" during a network sweeps month will lead to a new high-profile life as a weekly series on network TV. "'Baywatch' is a franchise that transcends everything," Schwartz said.