Rescuing Baywatch


Pity poor Hawaii. It sits alone in the great Pacific, so far from the mainland and, more important, from Hollywood and big production fees. Despite its exotic scenery and the onetime popularity of such shows as Hawaii Five-0 and Magnum P.I., the island state isn't a huge draw for film and TV units. Why drag your equipment, stars, and production crew 3,000 miles across the Pacific to a place known for its high costs when you can dress up a nearby California beach on the cheap?

So when the state had a chance last year to lure Baywatch's production team from Los Angeles to Oahu's North Shore, it offered a $3 million incentive package and pledged to pay cast and crew air fares and accommodations on top of that. Despite a similar offer from Australia, Baywatch decided to go Hawaiian.

What did Hawaii get out of the deal, besides some outside investment (estimated at $20 million per year) and a chance to spot celebrities around town? For one thing, the flesh-fest changed its name to Baywatch Hawaii, thus plugging the 50th state to 100 million viewers worldwide. The show also promised to hire and train local production workers.

State Rep. Mark Takai (D-Oahu) liked the arrangement so much that he introduced a bill in January to create a Hawaii television production committee, with a budget of as much as $5 million, to "assist the production of television programs to ultimately promote Hawaii to the world." The committee will hand out grants and loans both to local TV and film productions and to those from the mainland interested in a change of venue. (USA network's Pacific Blue is reportedly interested in moving to Hawaii.)

As lawmakers wrangled over the bill, Baywatch asked the state for another handout, claiming that a budget deficit might otherwise keep the show from shooting its second Hawaii season. When that hit the news, the local media gave Takai's proposal a nickname: the Baywatch Bailout Bill.