Hulk Hogan’s TV Show at Disney World: Thunder in Paradise

Hulk Hogan’s TV Show at Disney World: Thunder in Paradise

TV Narrator: Knight Rider. A shadowy flight into the dangerous world
of a man- [Airwolf Theme Song] [Baywatch Theme Song] [Street Hawk Theme Song] [The Highwayman Theme Song] In 1993 Michael Berk, Greg Bonann, and Douglas
Schwartz had reason enough to be happy. They were the creators and producers of a
television program called Baywatch, and in its fourth season, the show was starting to
hit its stride. TV Announcer: Baywatch turns the tide, riding
a new wave of action, adventure, danger, drama, romance, and rescue! Catch the crest of excitement with David Hasslehoff
and men and women of Baywatch. Coming this Fall to WLBI-56 It’s initial season in 1989 did so poorly
that it’s network, NBC, dropped the series altogether. However after the three producers, along with
the show’s star, David Hasselhoff, worked to get a second season created for syndication,
the show started to pick up steam. The group had a gut feeling that television
viewers across the country and around the globe were interested in the day to day lives
of California lifeguards. That’s 100% definitely why the show took
off. The popularity of Baywatch was only growing. Looking to capitalize on its success, Berk,
Bonann, and Schwartz began to look ahead towards their next project. While Baywatch primarily resonated with female
audiences, their next television series would aim in the other direction. It would hold onto some of the elements that
made Baywatch work, the beach and attractive men and women in bathing suits, and add in
more action in hopes of appealing more towards men. And while the specifics of the new show weren’t
ironed out just yet, they did have a star in mind for the lead role. Crowd: Hulk! Hulk! Hulk! Hulk: I’ve had it! Narrator: And just when he thought it couldn’t
get any worse- Rocky: Hey why’d you get so crazy on me
out there? Thunderlips: That’s the name of the game. Ref Cartoon: Hulk Hogan, am I glad to see
you! By the early 1990’s Hulkamania was nothing
new. Hulk Hogan had already been in the wrestling
ring for over a decade and had even made an appearance on the big screen as Thunderlips
in 1982’s Rocky III. There were product endorsements. There was Hulk merch, amounting to over 300
different official Hulk Hogan products. There was even a Hulk Hogan cartoon. Then in 1989 Hogan stepped up his acting game
by starring in No Holds Barred, a film about… well… wrestling. From there he expanded to a more comedic role
with a film called Suburban Commando. Trailer Narrator: There are dangers he’s
never seen! Hulk: Whoa! Kid: Even my Mom can stay on longer than that! Berk, Bonann, and Schwartz approached Hogan
to star in their new action television series, which followed the adventures of two ex-Navy
SEALS who operated as mercenaries for hire. Following the trends of Knight Rider, Airwolf,
Streethawk, and other shows that featured super advanced vehicles, the two mercenaries
went off on their adventures in a high tech military speedboat. The boat would also make sure that most of
the action would take place on or near the water, tapping into the producers’ Baywatch
experience. On top of that, the show would introduce a
family element by giving Hogan’s character, a widower, a 9-year-old step-daughter whom
both the ex-SEALS look after. While they’re off on their action-packed
missions, Jessica, the daughter, is left in the care of Kelly LaRue, the manager of the
beachside bar and grill that the three frequent in their downtime. Hogan was game to star in the new show, but under
one condition. After years of traveling on the road for his
wrestling career, he wanted to work a little closer to home, which was in Clearwater Florida. So his stipulation was that he would only
do the show if the pilot was filmed in his hometown. This actually ended up working out well for
the show. The producers were looking to recapture that
glamorous Baywatch beach style, and Hogan happened to live on the gulf coast. With his inclusion, the details of the show
began to take shape. Initial titles varied from “Trouble in Paradise”
to “Hurricane in Paradise”, but the team eventually settled on “Thunder in Paradise”,
with the idea that it was more fitting with the show’s Tampa Bay setting. The show’s high tech boat, a 1,200 horsepower
Wellcraft Scarab Thunder capable of reaching speeds of over 110 mph, was aptly named ‘Thunder’. Hogan would play the role of Randolph “Hurricane”
Spencer. According to Hogan, the initial choice for
his co-star was professional boxer, George Foreman, in hopes that it would recreate the
chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon. However Foreman had scheduling issues that
prevented him from committing to the series, so the role of Martin “Bru” Brubaker went
to actor Chris Lemmon instead. So in April of 1993, with over 80 crew members,
the pilot for Thunder in Paradise began filming. The pilot, which was actually two hour-long
episodes, was budgeted at $3.5 million dollars. It was a cost that was split between CBS and
Italian distributor, Reteitalia. While CBS wanted to wait until the pilot was
finished to commit to more episodes, which was totally reasonable, Reteitalia was prepared
to order 13 more episodes. You had these three producers who were running
an increasingly popular television show, and you had an extremely popular athlete turned
actor. So it seemed like a safe bet. The shooting took place over a number of weeks
and the locals of Pinellas County were generally thrilled. Most notably, the show used the Don CeSar
hotel as Hurricane and Bru’s local hangout between action packed missions. The county itself felt that the exposure from
the pilot, not to mention the potential rest of the show which could run for six to seven
years, would be a benefit to their local economy. For the pilot alone Hogan later claimed that
the production spent $120,000 on hotel rooms in the area, and $56,000 on catering. As the pilot came together, the producers
began to sell European distribution for the series, fully expecting CBS to pick up the
show for the United States. They didn’t. Initial rumors were that executives at CBS
thought the pilot was so bad that they were prepared to drop the show altogether. In reality, CBS offered to order six episodes
of the show, with the possibility of ordering more later. The producers, however, felt that deal would
be too slow, allowing too much of a gap between the sets of episodes. So they instead decided to pursue first-run
syndication. After all, it had already worked for Baywatch
so they were confident that they’d find enough buyers in enough markets across the
country to make the show a reality. Television syndication is when a program is
sold separately to smaller affiliate channels across various different markets, rather than
being carried by one broadcast network across the entire country. Historically, shows would try to enter syndication
after 100 episodes. At that point the show is clearly successful,
and the large number of episodes make for a convenient and low-risk package to sell
to channels. First-run syndication is when a show skips
that step of being carried by a network for 100 episodes, and tries to enter syndication
right off the bat. It’s a harder sell because maybe the show
will be good and maybe it won’t. However thanks to Hulk Hogan, and the creators
of Baywatch, this show didn’t have any trouble selling. Before the pilot had even aired, Thunder in
Paradise was picked up in enough markets to be viewable in 88% of US homes, and had also
found distribution in 45 countries overseas. It was starting to look like CBS had made
a mistake. In the meantime the producers hedged their
bets by releasing the pilot episodes as a direct-to-video movie, also called Thunder
in Paradise. With 20 more episodes of Thunder in Paradise
locked down, the question of where to film the series was brought up once more. The producers initially began to work out
deals for warehouse and office space in Pinellas County, where the pilot was shot. However other regions looking to win over
the potential publicity and economic boost that came with the production, began offering
incentives to move the show. For a while it was rumored that the rest of
the series would take place in Hawaii. The producers were open to the idea of moving
the series, realizing that if the show were to continue for the next five to seven years,
Tampa might quickly run dry of interesting locations As it would turn out, the location that would
win over the attention of the producers, was just under 100 miles away at Walt Disney World. TV Host: Now this is where the Disney-MGM
Studios backstage tour begins, where you can watch actual television, motion picture, and
animation productions in progress! Narrator: This fully equipped studio complex
can accommodate everything from major stunts to major stars. “We’ve created a state-of-the-art motion
picture and television studio that rivals anything in Hollywood. And with that kind of support structure, anyone
can come down here and make a movie or a television product competitively with Hollywood. Disney was aiming to stay competitive with
Universal Studios, who just down the road were busy producing their own shows and winning
over tourists who wanted to see how films and television shows were made. To keep up, that meant putting their
newest theme park, Disney-MGM Studios, to use and bringing in more productions. While the specific details were never made
public, producers of Thunder in Paradise let the Pinellas County officials know they wouldn’t
be filming there anymore, claiming that the deals Disney offered were just too good to
refuse. Producer Douglas Schwartz claimed that Disney
World was “virtually the biggest movie backlot in history.” Beyond that, Orlando and Orange County made
their own offers to win over the business. The county was prepared to offer free use
of personnel, equipment, and office space as well as $210,000 towards the production
of the show. In return the show needed to hire a certain
amount of crew from the Orlando area and spend a certain amount with local businesses. The show also needed to feature one episode
in which Orlando was painted in a positive light for tourism. Thunder in Paradise moved to its new home
of Walt Disney World, and with a seasonal budget of $20 million dollars and a crew of
155, the team got to work on filming the additional 20 episodes of the series. On average, the production only filmed outside
of Disney property for two days a week, meaning the lion’s share of the show was filmed
at Disney World. While a good portion of the show was interior
sets, underwater, or in generic jungle and forest, a surprising number of recognizable
Disney World locations were also used. The Don CeSar hotel was replaced with the
Grand Floridian, with the “Scuttlebutt Bar ‘n’ Grill” being placed on the beach
of the Seven Seas Lagoon. However beyond that the season is littered
with other Disney spots. In episode three, as well as plenty of other
episodes, you can catch glimpses of the Polynesian Resort across the Seven Seas Lagoon. A majority of episode four, Sea Quentin, is
set in an underwater prison, which was filmed at Epcot’s Living Seas pavilion. Episode six and seven, Sealed with a Kismet
Parts one and two, make heavy use of the Morocco pavilion at Epcot to create the fictional
country of Northern Tananasia, which sounds like Tunisia but I guess isn’t? They also use the sets from the Indiana Jones
Stunt Spectacular as an action sequence, even mimicking the stunts performed at the show. Bru: Well now where do we go?! Spence: Down! All: AhhhhHHHHHHHhhhhhh! Episode eight, Changing of the Guard, is my
favorite. It’s set in England, and uses a combination
of the bottom portion of Cinderella Castle, the UK pavilion at Epcot, and even parts of
the Canada pavilion to create the English countryside. In episode eleven, Nature of the Beast, they
use the greenhouses of The Land Pavilion in Epcot for a… well a greenhouse. In episode fourteen, Plunder in Paradise,
the show uses Pleasure Island’s famous Adventurer’s Club as a secret room in a mansion. The Canada pavilion makes a return in episode
seventeen. The rear area by the Oh Canada show building
is used as a mountainous cove area. I mean, they didn’t even try to hide the
Oh Canada sign! Episode nineteen, Blast Off, uses the Walt
Disney Casting building as the location of a high tech Russian facility. Later in the episode they use the Magic Kingdom
for… well, the Magic Kingdom. It was part of their deal to show Orlando
tourism in a positive light. A deal, by the way, that they ended up disqualified
for due to not meeting the spending the hiring requires set forth by Orange County. Finally, in episodes 21 and 22, The Major
and the Minor Part 1 and 2, the Streets of New York at Disney-MGM Studios are used for a
city setting. It’s actually not that bad either, until you see the flat Empire State Building in the background.. I guess it also gets a pass because it’s
ultimately revealed to be a “holographic battlefield” so none of it is real anyway. Later in the episode they travel to a private
island that was, according to the story, built to look like Japan. So naturally they filmed at the Japan pavilion in Epcot. Oh and that island also had a water park that
happened to look a lot like Typhoon Lagoon. On March 25th, 1994, Thunder in Paradise premiered
to the public and it was… well, it wasn’t very well received. While ratings in the central Florida area
were decent, perhaps driven by the novelty of being filmed locally, the show suffered
abroad. It was kind of trying to do too much all at
once. It was attempting to be a macho action show
that appealed to guys, while also focusing on a single father parenting his step-daughter. It tried to capture the appeal of Baywatch while also working in some wacky family-friendly comedy. In researching this show I had found the producers
and stars describing Thunder in Paradise as everything from Lethal Weapon to Knight Rider
to the A-Team to Baywatch to Miami Vice to even Indiana Jones. It was either trying to be everything, or
it didn’t know what it wanted to be. Locally, stations carrying the show began
to push it’s time slot to later in the evening, suggesting that they weren’t buying the
idea that it was a family-friendly action series. That, combined with an overall tepid reception,
resulted in the distributors of the show passing on a second season. With that news, the producers decided to shop
around for new distributors, but nothing ever came of it. They eventually released episodes 6 and 7
as Thunder in Paradise 2, a sequel to the direct-to-video release they had put out earlier. They’d repeat the process once more, releasing
episodes 17 and 18 as Thunder in Paradise 3. They even managed to work episodes 21 and 22 into an interactive CD-i game called Thunder in Paradise. None of the efforts, though, were enough to
revive the series. Hulk Hogan would go on to return to wrestling,
moving to the WCW that same year the show was cancelled. His career outside of the sport would include
more roles in film, some reality television, and even some voice-over work. Action Figure Hulk: Roddy, we need your stealth! Go take out the guard REAL quiet like and
the rest of us will sneak past- Action Figure Roddy Piper: Got ya Hogan! HEY HEY HEY! Berk, Bonann, and Schwartz worked on a few
other series’ that never really took off, but their initial hit, Baywatch, would continue
to run for 11 seasons, airing until May of 2001. Today it’s widely regarded as one of the
most watched television shows in history. So while Thunder in Paradise didn’t get
the five to seven seasons they had hoped for, they had still left their mark on American
pop-culture. As for Disney World, television and film productions
eventually wound down over the following decade. As it turns out, trying to transplant a hundred-year-old
industry to the other side of the country was difficult, and while this is speculative
on my part, I believe the rise in behind-the-scenes featurettes on television and home releases
slowly eroded the public’s desire to see the magic of movie-making with their own eyes. It went from a rare sight to just another
part of a film’s marketing. Disney-MGM Studios eventually became Disney’s
Hollywood Studios, and the park shifted from a place where you could see real productions
made, to a park in which you could immerse yourself in those films and shows you loved. Thunder in Paradise was short-lived. It mostly goes forgotten, but it stands as
an example of a time in which Disney wanted to turn their theme park resort into more
than just a theme park resort. It was a brief moment in history in which,
as Douglas Schwartz put it, Disney World was the biggest movie backlot in history.

77 thoughts on “Hulk Hogan’s TV Show at Disney World: Thunder in Paradise

  • Rob…the "boooop!" at the end of the intro is missing. I always do the boop! My disappointment is immeasurable and my day is ruined. UNSUBSCRIBE

  • I was definitely the age and demographic this show was going for but boy was this show bad. The only thing I remember about it is that Hulk Hogan was in it and that it was filled st Disney. I think I watched more making of than the actual show in the end.

  • I don't know if I am more impressed with the research you put into this fascinating video, or that you clearly watched each & every episode of 'Thunder in Paradise' and noted all the Walt Disney World references. You, sir, are one dedicated Disney enthusiast and we are the fortunate recipient of your efforts. THANK YOU!

  • Talk about a blast from the past. Baywatch was one of my favorite shows. No clue why my parents let me watch it….but yeah.

  • Can I just say that watching this I noticed Rob works so hard on his captions and that is super sweet of him to care for hearing impaired viewers that much. Rock on man

  • I remember watching the show because it was my type of cheese. I also got a real kick out of recognizing the various locations they used (they used the "hydrolators" from The Living Seas as prison cells…complete with Star Trek style energy barriers 🙂 ). There was a generous amount of filming going on in those days in this area ( I remember SeaQuest and Mortal Combat also being filmed in Orlando). I was kind of sad as the fad faded. Those shows were fun. Stupid, but fun. 🙂

  • Does anyone else wish they had audio of all the B roll at the end of Rob’s videos strung together to be played on a loop, or is that just me? If I close my eyes, I can almost convince myself I’m there.

  • DUDE! I freaking LOVED “Thunder in Paradise” as a kid! Always geeking out because it was shot at GF, and WDW in general!

  • Thank you so much for doing this one. I never saw a single episode, but I remember it being a big deal that the show was filmed at WDW. I mostly just assumed it was all set around the Grand Floridian, as those were the only clips. I remember riding the ferry passed it, looking for any signs of filming, but nothing. Quickly the show was forgotten.

    PS: I also had those Hulk Hogan children’s chewable vitamins. They tasted like flintstones, which I also did not care for, only the least favorite flavor.

  • “That’s 100% definitely why the show took off.”

    I laughed. It’s probably also 100% definitely why the show got rebooted.

  • Funny that they originally wanted George Foreman. A few years later, he would cohost Inside Out, a show where they showed you the “inside out” of the WDW resort. I absolutely LOVED that show! Could you do a video on that one?

  • My father worked maintenance at the Grand Floridian and said one of the housekeepers was in Hulk Hogan's room while he was in there and he was making one of those work out shakes and he ran the blender without the lid and commented, "The maids will clean that up." That's when I lost what little respect I ever had for him.

  • I also heard that the sounds of the rides really threw off other things being filmed at Disney MGM Studios. The Hulk Hogan stuff was usually filmed in the mornings before things were open.

  • I watched every episode of this unique show when it first aired. I liked to think of it as Knight Rider on water, so good first clip there, Rob!

  • What a beautifully 90's concept, would be a fun little game to sit through the series with some Disney Parks fans and see who can spot the most WDW filming locations!

  • You should make a video of when they had WCW shows at Disneyworld. I was at Disney at one of the shows and even got to meet some of the wrestlers. It was awesome my two favorite things together at the same place.

  • Love your channel! I was also wondering if you had any insight or would know where to research why Disneyland got rid of it’s Billy Hill and his hillbillies show?

  • How do you find this stuff?? Fun & informative, I enjoyed watching!! I vaguely remember commercials or ads for this show.

  • LMAO I had forgotten all about this show, interesting story! I do kinda like how they incorporated various areas of the resort into the filming though, I wonder if I can find it on Amazon?

  • Very interesting video – I must confess I didn't watch a lot of TV during those years and I hadn't heard of most of those shows. I had no idea where you were going but that was such a funny surprise when they started filming there. We both cracked up when we saw the castle – great storytelling on your part, as usual!!!

  • I remember this terrible show well. A few of my friends got jobs helping with sets.
    I lived five minutes down the road from the Don Cesar on Pass-A-Grill in St. Pete Beach, FL.
    Other parts were filmed around Boatyard Village in Clearwater, his boat was kept (on the show) in Tierra Verde. Other parts were filmed around Fort DeSoto.
    It was sooo '90s terrible. But it was so bad it was good to watch.

  • Very interesting video as always, Rob! I never saw this show, but it was so cool seeing those clearly-recognizable WDW locations in those clips!

    One thing I wondered throughout most of the video, and I'm surprised you never mentioned was: how did they pull off filming during the day at one of the world's busiest amusement parks?! Did they just close the area they were using for the whole day? Surely they didn't close the whole park, did they? How much of an impact did filming have on park-goers?

    Thanks for the great work: keep it up! 🙂

  • Just a question. I don't know if you've been asked recently, but Rob, are you ever going to play on McMagic (or whatever its called now) again?

  • Growing up i loved this show but it certainly hasn’t aged well. I still think it’s a good concept and could be reworked into a modern decent series using story telling similar to “the blacklist”.

    The knightrider like “turbo mode” of travel could be ditched for a knightrider mobile base like aircraft that could transport the team into hot zones world wide. Those that have seen jack ryan season 2 know how sick a boat airdrop can be.

    What im really curious about tho is where you found all the episodes. I got the 3 part dvd awhile ago but it’s only got about 1/4 of the season.

  • Also would love to see a SeaQuest episode, pretty sure they shot some of that at disney as well. Another show that had a great concept but quickly went off the rails yet could be a great show using today’s tv standards.

  • I used to bring that up over the years sometimes to the employees at The Living Seas that Thunder in Paradise was filmed right there. None of them have any idea what I was talking about…

  • The Disney World locations are so hilariously obvious Disney locations to me. I love it! The Indy set even used one of the same stunts! The New York set is the closest to working, but…yeah, that Empire State Building… Thanks for the video. I remember the show, but did not know about the Disney World connection.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *