Just how popular is David Hasselhoff, the star and executive producer of the syndicated TV series "Baywatch"? Enormously.
"Baywatch," which enters its fifth season this fall, is seen weekly by more than 1 billion viewers worldwide , and Hasselhoff recently signed a deal to produce and star in a spinoff of the series in 1995 or 1996.
Hasselhoff also is a hot commodity on the European circuit. He cut his first album while starring in the 1982-86 NBC series "Knight Rider," and though the record bombed in America, it became a hit in Austria. Then he teamed with German record producer Jack White. Their first collaboration, the single "Looking for Freedom," was No. 1 for eight weeks in 1989, and he went on to record five smash albums in Europe.
Now he's hoping to repeat his music success at home. On Friday, he headlines a pay-per-view special, "David Hasselhoff and His Baywatch Friends," which will be telecast live from Trump Castle in Atlantic City, N.J. *
Question: You've been a big recording artist in Europe for more than six years. Why has it taken so long for you to get a break in America? Do you feel like you don't get any respect here?
Answer: Those things have crossed my mind like every waking day.
Q: Do you think one of the reasons is that you are a TV-star-turned-recording-artist?
A: Well, no. I think that no one really knows what I do. I'm not singing little be-bop hit songs to capitalize on my success. I'm a legitimate entertainer. I believe I've got something to offer. The pay-per-view guys came over (to Europe) to see me and were absolutely blown away. They were so blown away that they bought my entire show, which is a $1-million show because I've slides, a band and four background singers. They said, "Not only is this show great, but we want people to see this because we want to be the first to show people what you can do." The reason I wasn't released in America is because my music was being produced by a German producer.
Q: But you sing in English.
A: Of course. I actually sang in German in my last album as kind of a "thank you" to my fans. They took the time to learn English; I thought I could learn German. I ended up cutting it in French as well for the French market. Now I'm going to be doing it in Spanish.
The music that I was doing really had a European German beat to it. It was kind of like marching music. They love that over there. But I could not get a release here. I sold 6 million records over there total, with singles and albums. It was driving me crazy. I had to make a decision: Do I want to stay with Jack and be the king of Germany the rest of my life, or attempt to break out?
So I went for a very different sound (last year). I went with (engineer) Bruce Swedein ("Dangerous") and "Miracle of Love" is the first album that's really on the road to who I am. The same thing happened with "Baywatch." Once I got my claws into "Baywatch" on a creative level, it became much more of me.
(The pay-per-view special) is just an introduction to people who are curious to see what I was doing over there. If we sell 10 tickets, great; if we sell 100,000 tickets, great. To me, it is just the awareness fact that I am here and this is a part of me.
Q: What will you be performing?
A: My new music is really geared to a big cross-section of the audience. I've a lot of hits that people don't really know. They are really geared for the kids. I'm going to try them out (at Trump Castle) Thursday night to see how the audience responds because the audiences will be infinitely different in Atlantic City. I'm hoping to get somebody in there under the age of 75! I'm used to 7-to-14-year-olds and their good-looking moms.
But the main thing is, I am getting awareness. I'm putting my ass on the line saying, "Take it or leave it, but I hope you like it." If they do, then it could really help kick off my career. I was planning on releasing ("Miracle of Love") this summer (in the United States), but I don't feel I have got the ultimate album. I've got six ultimate cuts, but I don't have the rest.
Q: What will the "Baywatch" spinoff be about?
A: Greg Alan-Williams, who plays Garner, a police officer, on the show, he's going to be leaving the service and opening a private eye agency down the beach. He'll ask me to join up with him to make a little extra money to support my kid. I don't think there are going to be that many swimsuits, but I am almost afraid not to put them in. We have taken so much heat for these swimsuits, but I tell you, there's an audience out there for them. I had a guy in an elevator in Hong Kong stop me and say, "My 6-year-old cries if he can't watch 'Baywatch.' " I said, "Thank you." And he said, " I watch it for the girls."
Q: You are going to do both series?
A: I'm going to be doing them both concurrently. It will be the season from hell.
Q: Why do you think more than 1 billion people tune into "Baywatch"? It can't just be the bathing suits.
A: A lot has to do with the weather. If you have spent time in Europe, you realize that sometimes sunshine is like the second coming of Christ.
The show has something for everybody. It's almost become a cult thing. I talked to a guy in Australia who said, "I turned on that show and thought it was just going to be a bunch of girls, but there were good stories." I could show you some real turkey shows we've done, but last year was a great year for really emotional story lines.
* "Baywatch" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 10 p.m. on KCOP-TV Channel 13; "David Hasselhoff and His Baywatch Friends" airs live at 5 p.m. Friday and repeats at 7 p.m. on pay-per-view.