'Baywatch's' David Hasselhoff watches family values, while show's profits grow TURNED ON IN L.A. -- Fall Preview

July 30, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

LOS ANGELES -- David Hasselhoff says that at age 41 he has finally arrived: After four years of working in Malibu, he has made enough money to live there.

"It hit me the other day," Hasselhoff says. "I walked in this great place at Malibu, and said, "Hey, I can afford to buy this. . . . And I'm going to.' "

The Baltimore native and former star of NBC's "Knight Rider" is making most of his money these days by playing Lt. Mitch Buchannon in the syndicated series, "Baywatch," which airs at 7 Saturday nights on WBAL (Channel 11) in Baltimore.

About to start its third season next month with 22 new episodes, "Baywatch" is seen in 175 cities and is the third most-popular series in syndication behind "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine." That's just in America.

Internationally, it is seen in 40 countries. In England and Germany, to name two, it is the highest-rated of all American imports. It's a money machine, and Hasselhoff, as an executive producer, shares in the profits.

The formula for the action show about lifeguards on Malibu Beach is sun, sand and skin -- with the emphasis on skin.

The press release description of Hasselhoff's Lt. Buchannon, for example, begins by saying, "Mitch is the heart of the series. He's in great shape." The emphasis, from press release to final print, is on bods -- hard bodies, tan bodies.

When Hasselhoff is asked about that, one of his partners, Paul Siegel, interjects, saying, "But it's really about fantasy . . . romance, not sex. . . . It's not people jumping into bed with each other. You don't see that in our show."

"No, in our show, they kiss first and then they jump into bed," Has selhoff says, showing an unexpected sense of humor.

But that's not the main chord played by Hasselhoff during the interview. In fact, it seems to be somewhat at odds with how he really sees himself and the show. He says "Baywatch" is a family show, and he hits that note hard when asked about the issue of TV violence and action shows, like "Baywatch."

"My audience is the working class, action-adventure audience. It's not violence. . . . We've not killed anybody ever on 'Baywatch.'

"In fact, I remember a scene we were doing in a show last season about a little boy who drowned. And my producers had this graphic footage of this little boy under water.

"And when I saw it, I said, 'My God, are you crazy? Why show this? Why scare these kids?' The reason that 'Baywatch' is successful is because a grandfather can watch it with a granddaughter."

The Nielsen ratings offer some support for Hasselhoff's grandfather-to-granddaughter thesis: "Baywatch" does have some wide-ranging demographic appeal. But its key demo is men 18 to 34, the bod squad of TV viewers.

But, again, a few minutes later, he's back to family TV.

"The chance to have some creative input is what made doing this show in syndication so attractive to me, because I really wanted to get back to family values," Hasselhoff says.

"The Michael Landon School of Television is something I've always admired and something I think the world needs.

"There's the whole family thing. Everyone's got kids . . . and I want my kids to see stuff that's entertaining and fun."

Hasselhoff and his wife, actress Pamela Bach, have two daughters, ages 1 and 3.

It's probably unfair to sit down with someone for only an hour, go to a computer and then write a story that says, "I know what makes David Hasselhoff tick."

I don't. But I know the Michael Landon stuff is important to the way Hasselhoff sees himself. He mentioned Landon a couple of other times during the interview. He even had the Landon look. Tight pants, blousy shirt open at the chest showing a silver chain and deeply tanned skin. At 6 feet 4 inches, a tall Michael Landon.

Can he achieve the kind of financial independence Landon did so that he can make his own films?

Internationally, Hasselhoff is already a bigger star than Landon ever was, thanks to his recording and concert success as a pop singer. A few more years of the money from that and

"Baywatch," and he'll be able to start buying up Malibu property as fast as Barbra Streisand or Larry Hagman.

And, like Landon before his death, Hasselhoff seems able to both play the Hollywood game and understand its limits.

Hasselhoff tells a story about a man from Germany who recognized him on the beach from seeing him on "Baywatch."

"He came up to me and said, 'This is Malibu? I spent my entire vacation money to come here, and this is Malibu, a Jack in the Box and little pier.' "

"And I said, "That's it, pal. That's all there is. This is Hollywood.' "

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