A Beach Boy he isn't, but Hasselhoff hopes to make it in music

July 11, 1995|By R. D. Heldenfels | R. D. Heldenfels,Knight-Ridder News Service

David Hasselhoff told his driver to back up.

Struggling with a new cellular phone "that I'm about to return," Mr. Hasselhoff did not want to head into a canyon that might cut off his link to a TV writer hundreds of miles away.

It was 6 a.m. in California, but Mr. Hasselhoff had been up for hours. He had hit the gym at 4:30 a.m. to tone up the 42-year-old body on display in his international hit series "Baywatch."

And what could have been a quiet ride afterward was instead time for an interview. There was publicity to be made, for his series, its planned fall spinoff "Baywatch Nights," related ventures such as the "Baywatch" stunt show at Sea World, and -- most important to Mr. Hasselhoff on this day -- his musical career.

Whatever you may think of the quality of Mr. Hasselhoff's work, he has defied critics and skeptics with a combination of marketing savvy -- he frankly admits that "Baywatch" reaches out to viewers from age 5 on up -- and hustle.

When NBC canceled "Baywatch" after just one season in 1990, Mr. Hasselhoff and his partners found the financing for syndication and an audience not only in America but in more than 100 other countries.

And The series' success has not stopped the drive. "You've got to work," he said. "We're not on a network, so we don't get the exposure you do with a network show. And my wife [actress Pamela Bach] says 'Don't ever say the word 'no' to my husband.' "

Mr. Hasselhoff already is looking at life after "Baywatch." 'I'm getting offers for features [theatrical films]," he said. "I want to phase out of TV in the next few years, except for "Baywatch Nights," which will be a much more sophisticated show, more of an "I Spy" or "Moonlighting" kind of thing. And I want to be in features before I have to play character parts."

He's also begun an extended campaign to become a singing star in the United States with an album, "David Hasselhoff," and single, a remake of the 1975 Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds hit "Fallin' in Love."

But as someone best known for running down a beach and making a star out of Pamela Anderson, Mr. Hasselhoff is hearing a lot of no's to his music career based on issues other than quality.

It both helps and hurts that he's a success overseas -- with 6 million records sold in Germany -- since that is often used to suggest that Europeans are crazy. LaToya Jackson also claims to be a hit in Europe.

"LaToya Jackson has a good press agent," Mr. Hasselhoff said, "but she isn't really a star over there. We had a No. 1 song in Germany for eight weeks." He also suspects that being a TV star hurts him. "I think program directors figure, 'He's had "Knight Rider," he had "Baywatch," why should we help him?' "

Or maybe they just remember records by William Shatner, Robert Conrad and John Travolta.

"I'm going to give this a year," he said. "And if it doesn't work, then I can just catch the next flight to Munich."

Not that he's ignoring the industry that is "Baywatch." Mr. Hasselhoff has seen the Sea World show in San Diego and conceded, "It seemed a little slow. It needed more audience participation. I hope they'll make some changes."

He said reports of conflict with Pamela Anderson, especially since her marriage to rock star Tommy Lee, are wrong.

"Pamela and I are very good friends," he said.

Ms. Anderson's contract guaranteed 15 "Baywatch" episodes in the coming season, Mr. Hasselhoff said. And other producers might worry a great deal about losing her.

But "Baywatch" has survived cast departures -- Mr. Hasselhoff is the only original star remaining -- and even as he praised Ms. Anderson, he started talking up new cast members.

"Every time the cast changes, the ratings seem to go up," he said. Just as Mr. Hasselhoff hopes his career keeps going up. And no dip into a canyon, or balky telephone, is allowed to interfere.

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