Sunday, August 23, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: The Epic Badness of Baywatch Nights

L-R: Eddie Cibrian, Angie Harmon, David Hasselhoff, Donna D'Errico, Dorian Gregory
During the '90s, the number one TV show in the world for the majority of the decade was Baywatch. The skein, which spent one season on NBC before going into first-run syndication, starred David Hasselhoff as heroic lifeguard Mitch Buchannon, alongside a rotating cast of toned beach bods patrolling the California coast. Launching the careers of Erika Eleniak, Pamela Anderson, Carmen Electra, and countless others, anyone who was aware of its existence knew the *ahem* real reason for its success. Everyone, that is, except for the Hoff, who saw the global Baywatch phenomenon as confirmation of what he'd known in his mind all along: "The world loves David Hasselhoff."

And so, not wanting to deprive us of his gifts, Hasselhoff got to work putting a spin-off into motion to premiere in syndication in fall of '95, one that would feature less of everything else and more...him. The star reprised Buchannon for the show, Baywatch Nights, with the conceit -- like something out of "The Simpsons' Spin-off Showcase" -- that when he's not running along the water in slow motion, Mitch also puts in time as a private detective alongside fellow Baywatch cast member GregAlan Williams. If that sounds pretty dopey, guess what, it gets dopier. Here's the intro, featuring a hard-sell by Hasselhoff, and the song "After The Sun Goes Down" performed by the star and Lou Rawls:

Needless to say (and entirely predictably) audiences looked right past the Hoff and focused on the distinct lack of bathing-suit clad...well, anyone, and gave it a pass. Imagine that. Faced with falling numbers, the producers went into triage mode for the preordained second season. Given the popularity of the Baywatch brand and what audiences associated with it, they came to the realization that if the numbers were going to go up, they need to add...monsters. Huh? Yep, you read that right. Taking a cue from The X-Files' success and buzz, Baywatch Nights was retooled in year two to abruptly become all about about demons, vampires, and various other creepy-crawlies, in the process shooting straight past "forgettable garbage" to "glorious garbage."

That's...kind of amazing, isn't it? Bear in mind, this was all set in the same universe as the other series, where the biggest concern was usually lifeguard love lives, and whether kids were swimming without supervision. The sheer over-the-moon nuttiness that birthed this thing has to make it worthy of some kind of a prize. And it didn't help the overall quality even a little bit. It was still entirely terrible, and if anything it called even more attention to its terrible-ness. In the course of two seasons, Mitch went from lifeguard, to private dick, to Fox Mulder, spouting off ridiculous arcana and ancient folklore like he'd been cramming between beach shifts. Watch these promos. Seriously, watch them all.

I have to admit, I feel a perverse fascination at the mere existence of this series. Presumably Williams took one look at the retooled premise and took a powder, which explains his absence for year two. Along for the ride in both seasons, however, was Angie Harmon, still a few years from Law & Order and Rizzoli & Isles, who I assume has quietly excised all reference to this from her CV. No big shock, but the new, "bad sci-fi" Baywatch Nights didn't do any better than the previous, "bad P.I." Baywatch Nights, and the spin-off quietly went away at the end of the 1996-'97 season. Nighty-night, Nights.

One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Freaking Out Over Freakazoid!

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Nintendo Cereal -- It's For Breakfast Now!

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Unmasking M.A.S.K.

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