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TV Review

'L.A. Lifeguards' Rescues the Facts From the Fiction

June 13, 1998|STEVE LINAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not quite as enjoyable as a day at the beach, but the TBS documentary "L.A. Lifeguards" reminds us that these skilled individuals have more on their minds than merely soaking up a few rays of sunshine.

Los Angeles County is home to the world's largest, most elite lifeguard service, made up of part-time and year-round guardians of the water who are responsible for nearly 10,000 rescues each year along 71 miles of shore covering Venice Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu.

Narrated by "Baywatch" actor Michael Newman, the one-hour report spotlights the endurance and quick-thinking that are integral aspects of a demanding job whose proper execution can be the difference between life and death.

"Never let your guard down" serves as a motto of sorts for the well-conditioned men and women ever on the lookout for errant swimmers, lost children or inebriated troublemakers.

Inevitably, the show compares these commendable real-life efforts to the saucy, splashy world of "Baywatch," the enduring surf-and-sand series populated by beautiful bods attired in tight swimsuits.

Opting to sink or swim with its own depiction of reality, the hour includes engrossing segments on the ocean training academy, underwater rescues, the junior lifeguard program and the lifeguard Olympics, an annual test of skill for both rookies and seasoned veterans.

The show also features flattering glimpses of these county employees away from the beach, which turns out to be its least interesting element. After all, do we really care about the things they do in their spare time?

But let's face the bare facts. Much as someone might want to be saved by the toned and tanned Carmen Electra or David Hasselhoff when facing a perilous situation, it's good to know there are competent, dedicated people watching our backs and willing to sacrifice themselves when we need them the most. It's something to think about the next time the brine beckons.

*

* "L.A. Lifeguards" airs at 6 p.m. Sunday on cable's TBS. The network has rated it TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children).

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