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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Defending The Hoff...and Baywatch

A couple of nights ago, I was unwinding from a long work day with a little television. 

Well, okay, I watched Big Brother.  It is my guilty pleasure of the summer (one that I'll likely write about in this blog at some point during these hot and humid weeks).

It was the show that aired afterwards that admittedly inspired the subject for this blog entry.

It was a brand new show that premiered on Sunday night.  The show was called 'Same Name'.  The way I would best describe it is Undercover Boss meets Access Hollywood.  A person who happens to have the same exact name as a well-known celebrity trades lives with the celebrity in question for one whole week.  There, they'll get to experience the trials and the tribulations of their same named counterpart.  In some cases, they seem to fit in well, while in other cases, the culture shock is painfully present.

Why do I bring this show up?

The first episode of the series focused around television and German charts hit-maker David Hasselhoff.  In the show, he traded places with another man named David Hasselhoff Jr.  While the non-famous Hasselhoff lived the life of luxury, the famous Hasselhoff got up at six a.m., mowed dozens of lawns, and learned how hard the other Hasselhoff family worked.

I really liked watching the show, if for no other reason being that it sort of broke stereotypes that most of us may have had regarding the entertainment industry and celebrity world.  As the non-famous David Hasselhoff discovered, he had the idea that the celebrity world was snooty and stuck-up before embarking on this adventure.  What he found was that the celebrity David Hasselhoff's family, friends, fans, and contacts were nothing of the sort.  They treated him with love, respect, and kindness, which impressed him a lot.  At the end of his adventure, he was even allowed to take KITT (the car that he drove on Knight Rider) for a spin.

At the same time, celebrity David Hasselhoff really developed a friendship with the non-famous Hasselhoff family.  He pitched in and helped them out, he attended a family reunion, and he genuinely seemed to enjoy himself in this experience.  At the end of the episode, he even bought them two brand new lawn mowers, a scholarship for the Hasselhoff's young son, and a trip to see him in concert in Germany.  It appeared to me that he got just as much out of the experience as the non-famous Hasselhoff did, and it was really cool to see.

Granted, shows like Same Name are probably edited in such a way that they feature only the best or only the worst of everything, but I really do feel that David Hasselhoff managed to get a lot out of the experience.

Life hasn't always been so good to David Hasselhoff however.  It's hard to overlook the video of a drunk Hasselhoff attempting to scarf down a cheeseburger while his daughter filmed him.  It was almost painful to watch, really.  He has also had to deal with a boatload of personal problems such as the dissolution of two marriages, and a bizarre incident where he slashed his tendon in an accident involving a chandelier breaking above him, as well as alcohol-related problems. 

For now, he seems to be on the straight and narrow, and one thing that I can say about David Hasselhoff is that he does have a great sense of humour.  He played himself on the Spongebob Squarepants movie (and coincidentally has the bust of himself used in the movie prominently displayed inside his home), and he was the subject of a celebrity roast hosted by Seth MacFarlane on Comedy Central.

There's also his singing career, which really never took off in North America.  More often than not, it is mocked in North American culture, such as this literal video version of his cover of 'Hooked On A Feeling'.

And, you know, given his penchant for poking fun at himself, and his reaction to his own roast, I reckon he'd get a kick out of it.  But, in all honesty, his singing career did strike a chord in European fans, in particular, Germany.  Did you know that in 1989, he had two number one hits on the German music charts?  That's quite impressive, especially when you consider that well known artists like James Brown and Bruce Springsteen have never had number one hits of their own in their own country! 

Maybe there's more to the Hoff than we all thought, huh?

Of course, television made him a star in the first place, and his television resume was quite impressive.  One of his first roles on television was on the soap opera 'The Young and the Restless".  He played Snapper Foster for seven years!  Considering that many soap actors are lucky to get a contract for a year or two, that is definitely a good run.  Following his leaving the Y&R in 1982, he starred in 'Knight Rider', where he enjoyed a four season run.  I would love to talk about Knight Rider some more, but I was kind of young when it aired, and honestly, I don't even remember watching one full episode of it.

Though I do know KITT, and I loved that car.

No, instead I'll talk about his third big show.  A show that I myself watched for quite a few years.  A show that much like David Hasselhoff has gotten a bad rap, and is made fun of quite often.  A show that you all probably know.

Baywatch.  A show that found new life in syndication.  A show about lifeguards in California doing what they do best.  Saving lives, cleaning up pollution, managing work and personal relationships.

All in little red swimsuits.

I'll readily admit to watching this show the first few years it was on.  I think I was thirteen when I hit my peak of Baywatch watching.  The storylines were somewhat predictable, but I liked watching it.

Well, okay...I liked watching the female lifeguards.

Okay, okay, I had a Pamela Anderson poster of her in her Baywatch uniform hanging on my bedroom door for three years, are you satisfied now? 

(And, this is coming from someone who actually preferred Alexandra Paul and Yasmine Bleeth...)

Certainly, that was one of the main complaints that I heard about Baywatch when it was in its heyday.  It was too sexist.  Looking back on it now, I can see where they're coming from in some ways.  Did anyone find it a little too convenient that whenever Baywatch aired a classic slow motion sequence, Pamela Anderson featured in well over half of those shots?  I don't see it as much of a coincidence, really.

The show was often made fun of in popular culture.  The storylines were often panned as being everything from incredibly dull, to impossibly farfetched.  A lot of the actors on the show (in particular during its later seasons) were mostly cast for eye candy, and admittedly had about as much acting experience as a ninth grade drama student, and the show even relocated to Hawaii during the latter third of its entire run.

It even inspired a parody of the show called 'Son Of The Beach', which was created by Howard Stern in 2000.  I've seen a few episodes of this show, and well...let's just say that it's pretty raunchy stuff.  I'll leave it at that.

So, you would think that I would have a difficult time with this show.  I may have painted David Hasselhoff in a somewhat decent colour, but can I do the same with Baywatch?

The answer is...I will most certainly try.

First things first, one must realize that Baywatch wasn't just a one season show.  When it premiered on April 23, 1989 on NBC, many people didn't expect it to last one whole season.  As a matter of fact, after the first season, NBC wanted to pull the plug on the show.  It was through the efforts of Hasselhoff and the creators of the show that a new deal was reached to syndicate the show on cable television, because they believed in the show enough to see it last longer than one year.  The show took a break for one season, and debuted in syndication on September 23, 1991.

The decision to kick off the 1991/1992 season on cable television was a risky one, but as we would later see, it was a risk that paid off.  Not only did the show last an additional ten seasons (the show ended in 2001), but it was also the show that David Hasselhoff had the longest run on (he played Mitch Buchannon until the tenth season).  There was even a reunion movie that aired on television in 2003.

The show became a global phonomenon as well.  Not only was the show a hit in America, but at one point, the show was airing in every continent of the world except Antarctica.  The show even got recognized with a Guinness World Record, with a reported 1.1 BILLION people watching Baywatch all over the world.

Not bad for a show that was almost cancelled for good, wouldn't you say?

Now, for the acting.  It wasn't Shakespearian or even Broadway calibre, I must admit.  But, there were some acting diamonds in the rough.  I always thought Alexandra Paul (who played Stephanie) had some acting chops.  Other actors and actresses were either established actors before Baywatch, or had some minor success after the show.  These include Parker Stevenson, David Charvet, Yasmine Bleeth, Kelly Packard, Mitzi Kapture, and of course...Pamela Anderson.

And, say what you want about Pamela Anderson and all of her...assets.  People probably would not have watched the show as much if she hadn't have appeared on the show in the first place.  I get why some might have been annoyed at seeing her in the show, but to be honest with you, I really couldn't imagine the show without her.  Yes, the show premiered without her (Pamela Anderson joined the Baywatch cast in 1992 after leaving her role on the sitcom Home Improvement as the original Tool Time girl), but at the height of Baywatch, she was front and center in a lot of storylines.  I don't know if they necessarily worked in her favour, but I really never complained.  I know she tried her best, and that's all that really counted.

In fact, I'll let you in on a confession.  I actually stopped watching Baywatch the same year Pamela Anderson left.  Though in all fairness, she left in 1997, which is when most of the cast that was on when I began watching Baywatch left.  I kind of grew attached to the cast that was on when I started watching Baywatch in 1994, which is why I chose to post the video of the 1994/1995 season opener.  Mitch, CJ, Stephanie, Caroline, Matt, Logan, Hobie...they were what I remember about Baywatch.  They may not have had the most believable storylines, or even the most believable acting, but it's the cast that I most remember when I remember Baywatch.  It was a cast that really seemed to feed off of each other, and it was a cast that really seemed to have a lot of chemistry with each other.  There was no awkwardness that you might have seen on other shows.  In the reunion movie, most of the 1994 cast agreed to take part, even Alexandra Paul, whose character was killed off in 1997. 

When that 1994 cast was all but gone in 1998 (save for Mitch and Hobie), it just wasn't quite the same show for me, and by then, the plots kept getting recycled, and well, when the show relocated to Hawaii, that was the final nail in the Baywatch coffin.  That was the jump the shark moment for me as far as I was concerned.

It should be also made known that while the show could easily be seen as a live action version of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, it didn't exactly start that way.  During the first part of season one, there were only two female characters credited in the cast.  Shawn Weatherly and Erika Eleniak.

During season one, Weatherly's character of Jill was eaten by a shark, leaving Erika Eleniak as the only female leading character from 1990-1992.  And, rewatching those episodes, I actually find that I liked those shows better because the plots and the stories were more believable...but maybe that's just my opinion.

I guess my final opinion of Baywatch is that it set out to do what it accomplished.  The producers wanted a successful show about lifeguarding, and they got their wish.  But there was far more to it than that.  I thought the show was a bit underrated in a way.  Yeah, it did have some eye candy to gaze upon, I won't deny that...but it was fairly educational.  No, it didn't exactly teach you how to do CPR (or maybe it did and I missed that episode), but it did show a side to lifeguarding that seldom really saw.  Could you imagine being a lifeguard on a crowded California beach?  You would have to be on guard at all times, because on a beach that size, it would be very easy for someone to slip under the water and not be noticed.  In all actuality, I probably gained a whole new respect for the lifeguarding profession by watching Baywatch.  Before when I was kid, I used to not like the lifeguards for being so strict with the rules, but watching people in peril on that show (even though I knew they were actors) helped me understand why those rules were put into place. 

So in that sense, I salute Baywatch.  And, for that matter, I salute the Hoff as well, for showing us that there really is life out there beyond a red swimsuit and a viral video.

1 comment:

  1. Funny yidio movies but definitely "R" rated. Lewd, vulgar, and lots of obscenity. Not for anyone under 16. After saying popcornflix movies that I laughed my butt off!