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'Baywatch': A New Wave of Popularity Overseas : Television: The NBC series that drowned in low ratings gets new life in syndication. It has been sold to more than 40 nations.

December 25, 1990|STEVEN HERBERT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Baywatch" has become the latest television series to rise from the ashes of cancellation. The drama about Los Angeles County lifeguards, starring David Hasselhoff, will resume production next year with new episodes scheduled to begin airing in October.

"Baywatch" was canceled last spring by NBC after ending its first season ranked 74th among the 111 series to have aired on the three major networks, averaging a 10.5 rating, or about 9.6 million households, per episode.

Yet it proved to be a hit overseas. "Baywatch" is the No. 1 imported show in the United Kingdom and rates highly in Germany, said Henry Siegel, president of LBS Communications, which is handling the show's syndication.

"In the U.K., their rationale is that 'Baywatch' may be what people perceive that the U.S. is all about," Siegel said in explaining its popularity abroad. "It has good-looking people with good action."

"Baywatch" has been sold to more than 40 nations, with the strong foreign sales making new episodes possible, Siegel said.

A second key to "Baywatch's" revival is Hasselhoff, who has agreed to take a lower-than-usual salary in exchange for a share of the profits. Hasselhoff will also be involved in producing, Siegel said.

"Baywatch's" return was also facilitated by the end of the partnership between former NBC Chairman Grant Tinker and Gannett, the media conglomerate that had produced the show for NBC. Unlike most studios, which are reluctant to relinquish rights to defunct series, GTG is negotiating to permit producers Gregory Bonann, Douglas Schwartz and Michael Berk to repurchase the rights, and an agreement is expected soon, Bonann said.

The new arrangement will cut the production costs, Schwartz said. Each new episode is budgeted between $800,000 and $900,000. Each NBC episode had been budgeted at $1.25 million.

"We were locked into studio costs that were fairly expensive," Schwartz said. "Now we are able to make independent deals and are able to shoot the show off the studio lot."

KCOP Channel 13 in Los Angeles, four other Chris Craft-owned stations and New York-based super station WWOR have agreed to carry "Baywatch."

With cable networks and independent stations seeking to increase their amount of first-run programming, several series with short network runs have been revived in recent years.

LBS is currently distributing new episodes of "21 Jump Street," which was canceled by Fox earlier this year, and previously had distributed syndicated revivals of "Fame" and "Too Close for Comfort." Other series to have added lives in syndication have included "Charles in Charge," "Mama's Family" and "It's a Living."

Siegel cited poor promotion as the reason for "Baywatch's" rating woes on NBC.

"It's not a T & A show, but 'Emergency' on the beach," Siegel said, referring to the 1972-1977 NBC series about Los Angeles County paramedics. "It's also an issue-oriented show, but the issues happened on the beach."

Siegel said that he expects the former cast to return, with the exception of Parker Stevenson and Shawn Weatherly. Weatherly left the show midway though its NBC run.

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