Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, March 26, 1999

A sinking feeling
about ‘Baywatch’

WHEN we leave this island rock for business or on vacation, people often react to learning our home state by exclaiming with delight: "Hawaii Five-O!" or "Magnum, P.I.!" In response, we smile and secretly bask in such recognition. That's right, we live where the late Jack Lord and Tom Selleck busted bad guys

Hawaii may soon be famous for busts of a different nature. "Baywatch," a popular TV series featuring good-looking lifeguards scampering around in swimsuits, doesn't want to film in L.A. anymore.

Initially, the No. 1 syndicated show in the world considered moving to Australia. That country reportedly offered all kinds of goodies, including free air fare and hotel rooms, and a million bucks from the Australian government.

It looked like a go, until Avalon Beach residents publicly complained about "Baywatch" and its alleged heavy-handed security tactics while filming there last year.

That's when this recession-weary state smelled an opportunity. Players such as Governor Cayetano, HVCB President Tony Vericella and Miss Universe planners Al and April Masini began lobbying "Baywatch" to snub Aussieville in favor of Hawaii nei.

The prospect of having Carmen Electra, David Hasselhoff and other babes cavorting around the North Shore appeared good, until a beach-party pooper materialized in the person of Leo Reed.

The former Hawaii resident and Teamsters chief, who heads Local 399 in Hollywood, says his drivers won't accept wage cuts and other concessions for the "Baywatch" gig, as unions for actors, crew members and directors are willing to do. Reed is painted as the heavy in this scenario, but that's an oversimplification.

Actually, this might be an appropriate time to scrutinize the good news/bad news aspects of this riveting issue. Of the following two sentiments, which do you agree with more?

1) It's GREAT that "Baywatch" will film here because:

Bullet It means jobs, jobs, jobs for local residents.

Bullet It will bring the state an estimated $17 million annually for two to six years (do the math, hon).

Bullet It will lead to international publicity, which is priceless.

2) It's AWFUL that "Baywatch" will film here since:

Bullet It will block off public access to beaches wherever and whenever it wants.

Bullet It is pitting Hawaii against Australia in an open bidding war for its favors.

Bullet It is depicting Reed as a goon, when all he is doing is looking out for his members' paychecks. How would you like your boss agreeing to wage concessions for you -- for as long as six years?

Bullet It is contrary to the image these islands are trying to cultivate. How many times have the leaders of this state said that Hawaii must strive to be more than just a pretty face, that it must shed its "fun-in-the-sun" persona to be taken seriously as a place to conduct business and international affairs?

The decision on "Baywatch" was unknown, at least as of yesterday. If we do "win" the TV series, however, it will not be reason for unmitigated jubilation.

Don't be surprised by restricted access to beaches whenever Hasselhoff and Electra feel like romping on the sand. Get ready, when traveling outside of Hawaii, for this reaction from outsiders: "You live in Baywatch!" Oh joy.

If Hawaii does ending up "losing" the show, maybe it hasn't lost much after all.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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