‘Baywatch’: David Hasselhoff Saved the Series With a Financial Gamble

When it comes to the series Baywatch, the tv show is mainly synonymous with one person: David Hasselhoff. While many attractive stars came and went during the show’s run, Hasselhoff served as Baywatch’s anchor and leader.

It should come as no surprise then that Hasselhoff had played an instrumental role in saving the show when it was at its lowest point. Let’s take a closer look at Baywatch, how it initially struggled, and how Hasselhoff saved it from the brink of extinction. 

What was the premise of “Baywatch?’

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According to IMDb, the show ran from 1989-2000 in syndication. Any show with a decade-plus run has to have some degree of popularity, and Baywatch certainly had its fair share of fans.

The show’s premise revolved around a team of lifeguards led by a man named Mitch Buchannon (played by Hasselhoff). The team fought crime, helped beachgoers, dealt with their own personal lives, and got into plenty of unbelievable adventures a gang of lifeguards likely wouldn’t ever experience. 

From L-R: Traci Bingham, Donna D'Errico, Yasmine Bleeth, Gena Lee Nolin And Nancy Valen
From L-R: Traci Bingham, Donna D’Errico, Yasmine Bleeth, Gena Lee Nolin And Nancy Valen | Getty Images

The show became popular for its portrayal of beautiful women in their trademark red bathing suits. Pamela Anderson rose to fame as a sex symbol as a result of her run on the show from 1992-1997. Other stars during the show’s run include Yasmine Bleeth, Erika Eleniak, and Gena Lee Nolin. 

The show spawned a much less successful spinoff called Baywatch Nights as well as a 2017 blockbuster movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. For all the show’s success, however, it wasn’t always a guarantee that it would be such a massive hit. 

What nearly brought on the demise of ‘Baywatch’

David Hasselhoff looks on as the Baywatch Cast is honored by The Red Cross on July 22, 1995 at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in Santa Monica, California.
David Hasselhoff | Ron Davis/Getty Images

Baywatch had a great run on the air, especially for a show that was syndicated. But the show didn’t start out as a syndicated one — it actually came back from the dead.

According to The Wrap, Baywatch’s first season aired on one of the major networks — NBC, to be precise. The show found itself as part of NBC’s lineup for the 1989-1990 season. But it flailed in the ratings, and the production studio shut the showdown. After only a year on the air, the network canceled the show. 

It’s not uncommon for many TV series to last a season or less. Some shows fail while others succeed. But Baywatch wasn’t like many other shows. They had one person invested in its long-term future: Hasselhoff. 

The financial gamble David Hasselhoff made on ‘Baywatch’

As the series lead, Hasselhoff still finds his name associated with the show. But he was so much more than just the star. It’s fair to say Hasselhoff is one of the main reasons the show made it back onto the air. 

According to Mental Floss, the show was 74 out of 111 in the ratings in its first season. That meant that in the U.S., it was a flop. Canceling the show was an easy decision for NBC. But what gave the creative team behind the show hope was its performance with international audiences. Baywatch was a smash hit in both the United Kingdom and Germany, which led the series co-creators to bring the show back for a deal in syndication. 

This meant that sacrifices had to be made from a financial perspective. That’s where Hasselhoff stepped in. He offered to take a pay cut on his per-episode salary to make the show’s budget work. In exchange, he’d receive a higher percentage of profit if the show were successful. The move was an unmitigated masterstroke. The show became a massive hit, both domestically and abroad. Hasselhoff’s gamble paid off in a big way, as he stayed on the show for the entirety of its run.