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One well-oiled ratings machine

Plot? Dialogue? Saving lives? Think `Baywatch' and odds are none of those come to mind.

October 29, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

SHE was known, in the opening credits, as Pamela Denise Anderson. Note the girl-next-door quality of the middle name, how it conjures the bombshell as a former tomboy on the Canadian prairie, her mother ordering her inside for dinner: "Pamela Denise, put down the BB gun and get in here for supper!"

When did she lose the Denise? OK, I digress, for "Baywatch" is finally out on DVD. No, I didn't realize it either. But it's here, all right, the first two seasons in syndication.

The show retains a certain campiness as an action series, though I will confess to fast-forwarding through the Mitch Buchannon parts. He is, of course, the menschy hunk and lifesaver played by David Hasselhoff, the paterfamilias of this merry band of socially and physically responsible abs and breasts.

See Mitch give CPR. See a younger man's gymnast's body. See slow pans up the bikini-clad lubricated female form -- first the feet, now the knees, now the thighs, hold on, wait for it ... excellent.

Pamela Denise didn't join the series until Season 2, the first of 10 seasons the show aired in syndication. In addition to the first two syndicated years, this DVD package includes the "Baywatch" pilot, which first ran in 1989 as a made-for-TV movie on NBC, "Panic at Malibu Pier," and costarred Parker Stevenson as one of the lifeguards, in a B story that seems to owe a debt to the Sam Elliott classic "Lifeguard."

NBC canceled "Baywatch" after one season, at which point co-creator/executive producer Greg Bonann says he bought back the rights for 10 bucks from Grant Tinker, the former NBC chief whose production company GTG (Grant Tinker-Gannett) was going under (see extras, "Baywatch: How It All Started").

The rest, as they say, is TV history. Though "Baywatch" came after the great run of prime-time soaps such as "Dallas" and "The Love Boat" and "Charlie's Angels" and "Fantasy Island," it belongs in the same pantheon, under the same heading: Viagra for 12-year-olds. Anderson's enduring appeal is again invoked in the new film "Borat."

Nowadays it's all on the Internet and in lad magazines such as FHM, but back then sanctioned voyeurism was still kind of in its stagecoach era. I give you the episode in which lifeguards C.J. (Anderson) and Stephanie (Alexandra Paul) are "forced to share an apartment." Or the episode called "Kicks," in which C.J. falls for a slimy French photographer (is there any other kind?) during a series of provocative beach shoots.

He pronounces her name "Say-Gee," as in "Say-Gee, look at me."

C.J.: "I can't, I have to watch my water."

Photographer: "Say-Gee, we leave for Puerto Rico in sree hours to shoot zee cover."

C.J.: "I know, but I have to finish my shift. I'm responsible for everybody on this beach."

Photographer: "Say-Gee, I am on zis beach ... "

C.J.: "Well, yeah, but you're not in any danger of drowning."

Photographer: "Yes I am, Say-Gee. I am drowning in my love for you."

There were, of course, other scenarios (and other issues, such as evil plastics corporations polluting the beach). There were Erika Eleniak and Nicole Eggert and Yasmine Bleeth (who is pictured on the back cover of the Season 2 discs here, but in fact isn't in the episodes).

There were guest stars -- Elizabeth Berkley, for instance, post-"Saved by the Bell" and pre-"Showgirls," as a snooty Malibu rich girl.

There were dudes too. And there was Hasselhoff. Hasselhoff running. Swimming. Saving lives. It was, after all, his show too.

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