Millenials are probably more familiar with Hulk Hogan as the man who cuckolded a shock jock and destroyer of Gawker Media than the sports entertainment icon who ruled the entertainment industry for the better part of two decades. After several attempts at Hollywood stardom and an acrimonious break from the WWF in 1993, the Hulkster ended up in Florida where he was considering his options both in and out of the ring.
Later that year Hogan was approached by the producers of Baywatch for a starring vehicle that can be best described as Knight Rider in a boat. That show became Thunder in Paradise, a series that followed the adventures of two ex-Navy Seals, RJ “Hurricane” Spencer (Hogan) and his best friend Martin Brubaker (Chris Lemmon), who are mercenaries for hire with a privately financed stealth boat in the distant tropical paradise known as South Florida.
Where as there was a modicum of secrecy in Knight Rider, pretty much everyone is aware that Spencer and Brubaker are mercs with a talking boat that was ostensibly smarter than both of them combined.
The pilot is a mess and is thankfully on YouTube in its entirety for you to endure. There’s a subplot involving a wealthy hotel heiress that Spencer has to marry. At the same time Spencer owes the bank $90K or they will repossess his illegal stealth boat. They get fake married to stave off a bid by the evil uncle to seize the hotel and she will pay off his debts. Carol Alt’s character has a terrible New York accent that is completely out of place. For me, the best part of the pilot is that Sam Jones (Flash Gordon) shows up as the bad guy.
Now, one of the weirder things going on in the pilot is that Hogan is wearing an eye patch for half of it. According to a write up in IMPACT – The Action Movie Magazine, stems from an injury from the end of his WWF run.
“a quick script rewrite was undertaken to explain that Spence had been suckerpunched just before the episode began. This explains the use of an eyepatch, sunglasses and the angling of Terry’s face so the left eye is less prominent”
After the pilot was completed and a syndication order was made production moved to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Nearly all of the 24 episodes were filmed on the back lot there along with other Disney properties used as shooting locations. Anyone who has spent time at Walt Disney World will be able to pick out that places like Epcot, Seven Seas Lagoon and the Grand Floridian Resorts as they standout rather prominently.
By the time the series went to order, Spencer’s stepdaughter was recast, his wife was killed of screen and Carol Alt ditched the terrible accent. Chris Lemmon’s constant mugging however, remained.
Every episode has at least three of the following elements:
- ALL of the action sequences take place in the daytime. You have a stealth boat, that is invisible to radar, but people can still see it with their eyes, in daylight.
- Hulk Hogan performs an uncanny feat of strength under water
- Hulk Hogan wears a speedo
- Chris Lemmon awkwardly flirts with Carol Alt.
- Hulk Hogan & Chris Lemmon say “brother” to each other at least 14 times
- “Thunder” fires a missile at a boat, but the bad guys jump out before it explodes
- Hulk Hogan lifts a female over his shoulder
- Wrestler cameo as villain of the week and/or bar patron
The most enduring aspect ofThunder in Paradise is that it may be directly responsible for Hulk Hogan going to wrestle for the WCW. At the time that the series was in production, WCW was also using Disney Hollywood Studios to tape some of their syndicated programming.
As legend would have it Ric Flair arranged a meeting between WCW management and Hulk Hogan on the set of Thunder in Paradise. Once the terms of the contract and the large amount of money that that WCW was offering, Hogan signed on rather quickly. A second season was planned, but Hogan was tired of the shooting schedule and production problems and pulled the plug.