Podcast Episode 62: Thunder in Paradise

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Welcome to Episode 62 of the RetroWDW Podcast: “Thunder in Paradise” – We appreciate your support and hope you have been enjoying each and every episode. Be sure to check out some of our previous shows from over the years. We have visited multiple parks, resorts, and just about everything else in between.

Listener Mail

Right to the mailbag this month! The bag is full and we love that! Every month, you can possibly get on the show, so be sure to write to us at podcast@retrowdw.com. Also, top tier donors can even join us on a show! Take a look at how you can join us live on an episode.

  1. Shane is first with a comment about Alien Encounter. He was curious if Tyra Banks was the only host for the pre-show at Alien Encounter. Jerry Rees has spoken about hiring Tyra Banks, and the narration was used on both versions.  There is rumor that her voice was dubbed, but that is not confirmed.  
  2. Miranda sent us some new ephemera which is a ‘Vacation Kingdom’ brochure from 1984. Stick figure icons are really cool.    Take a look at these!
  3. Our next write in was Daniel, who discusses the talking elevator at The Contemporary Resort. He sent us a photo of the elevator and Daniel also has one at his office building. Mickey talks in at least some of the elevators now, but the old one sounded more like an old video game.  
  4. Jared wrote us a touching story about his father and attending RetroMagic before he passed away suddenly. We love hearing those stories and Jared has some great memories to remember.

  5. We heard from Gary regarding Tomorrowland and an area just past DreamFlight which looked like it was forgotten and it is now part of the Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin attraction Gift Shop.. We have the picture here and think you should take a look.

  6. Joe Barlow, our turnstile inspector, wrote in about the radio loops asking where they transmitted from. There were 2 separate stations on your am radio, one for the entry loop and one for the exit loop.  They guessed the transmitter either on the Contemporary or somewhere on World Drive.   There was also a message from EPCOT.  The original station was 1030am and it was from very early years of the park.  Another station, 810am was added when EPCOT opened.  The bonus radio station was 1200am and 900 am were the exit radio stations. 
  7. BONUS: We had a tweet about the AAA Comfort Lounge! Interesting area we don’t know much about..It was located between Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin attraction and the Tomorrowland Theatre, along that wall.  Recently, they had cabanas back there.  It was there in the early 2000’s and you were given a voucher if you bought your tickets through AAA.  Interesting area we don’t know much about.

Audio Rewind

Our audio rewind this month is from Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Hollywood Studios – Thank you for all the guesses and emails!

We have a winner! Congratulations Jason!

If you think you know the answer to this month’s audio rewind, email us! contest@retrowdw.com – This month, the winner will be getting a LBVHS & RetroWDW Pin, including bonus swag. All entries are due 11/17/2020 and a random winner will be selected.

Main Topic

This month…what can we say. Hulk Hogan is in the building. Well not yet, but hopefully soon. Instead, we are taking you to Paradise – Thunder in Paradise! Our crew takes a deep dive into this show that was almost entirely filmed on property at Walt Disney World. The idea behind this show, was a takeoff on Baywatch and various other 90s action stylized tv shows. We love watching these episodes though and trying to analyze where they filmed the show.

We get into the reason behind the show, production, storylines and so much more. Each member of the group has seen this show at various stages and years, so we all have a little bit to add. As we progress into this main topic, we get into the various episodes and discuss locations.  Some are absurd and others are cleverly done. The production team really had free rein to go wherever they needed including the Magic Kingdom, all over the Seven Seas Lagoon, The Grand Floridian and so much more. The one thing we are all curious about though, who was vacationing at WDW during the filming? We would love to see some behind the scenes footage of Thunder driving around the Rivers of America…

Enjoy this super random but super topical episode all about one of the more major film/tv productions that occurred at Walt Disney World.

Going back to the early- mid 1990s to talk about Terry “Hulk” Hogan in Thunder in Paradise.  It is Baywatch, Airwolf & Miami Vice all rolled into one, filmed almost entirely at WDW.  It is a family friendly, action adventure show which is a precursor to the silly action adventure movies that are now on the Sci Fi channel.  The premise is familiar to many of the action adventure shows that were on at the time.  The formula for these shows was also similar, a charismatic leader, a comedic sidekick, a love interest, a millionaire financer, a cool vehicle, beautiful locations, and girls in bikinis.  Thunder in Paradise had all of these and should have been a smash hit.  The producers of the show also produced Baywatch.  Some of the stations would not play this show during primetime kids’ hour because it was little too risqué.  It likely failed because it was trying to appeal to wrestling fans, teen and a younger audience as well, it became confusing.  It ran on a lot of smaller independent stations.  Initially CBS partnered Berlusconi Rittadalia Productions and ordered a 2-million-dollar movie.  They presold 13 episodes in Europe and then CBS had 30 days after the movie to commit to those episodes in 1991.  They never ran it on CBS.  It was seen in 44 countries and through syndication 88% of the US TV market. They expected it to run for 5-6 seasons, but it only ran for 1 (22 episodes).   There is a book called The Official Thunder in Paradise Annual which was printed in Italy but published in London.  A 46-page hardcover book with pictures and description of the show and characters.  stars Hulk Hogan, Chris Lemmon, Carol Alt, Patrick Macnee, and Ashley Gorell.  Thunder in Paradise follows the adventures of two ex-United States Navy SEALs, Randolph J. “Hurricane” Spencer and Martin “Bru” Brubaker, who developed a futuristic, high-tech boat prototype as a support vehicle for Navy Seals operations around the world, but the Navy never bought it. They work as mercenaries, with the the boat nicknamed Thunder, out of their tropical resort headquarters along Florida‘s Gulf Coast of the United States. They travel around the world fighting various criminals and villains. They must also balance their dangerous undercover work with their responsibilities of raising widower Spencer’s young stepdaughter Jessica, who lives with them.

Hogan was looking for a project, so he did not have to be away from home on the touring circuit all year long.  He was signed on by Douglas Schwartz, Michael Berk, & Gregory J. Bonan who were the producers of the very successful Baywatch.  Hogan convinced them to keep the production in Florida and signed on as Executive Producer.  They spent 2 million dollars to shoot a 2-hour pilot episode in the Tampa Bay area, but after that moved the production to the Disney MGM Studios in WDW where they got to use the soundstages and the entire resort for shooting.  The show had a million dollar per episode budget, a crew of 155, mostly local talent, and they used every department of Disney MGM.  Laura Nillen, Director of TV and Film at MGM was quoted as saying this is first group that came in and made use of all that we had to offer.  You could see production happening for the show sometimes when you rode the Backstage Tour. 

It is a great showcase of WDW parks and the resort the early 1990’s.  It is a bit difficult for some who know the parks really well, because the editing has allowed for locations to be spliced as if they were next to one another like the Moroccan Pavilion and the Indiana Jones area.  It was not used for a tourism promotion, because there is only 1 episode that identifies the scene as an attraction.

The main characters were RJ. “Hurricane” Spencer played by Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) was the heavy weight champion of WWF wrestling in 1984.  He set off Hulkamania , the name of the fan following.  The 4 commandments of Hulkamania were 1- Say Your Prayers, 2- Eat your vitamins, 3- Train, and 4- Believe in Yourself.  He became a pop culture icon and appeared in many things and had a Saturday morning cartoon.  He transitioned to film and was ThunderLips in Rocky 3, and then was in Suburban Commando, and Mr. Nanny.  The character in Thunder in Paradise continued the good guy action hero image that he had built.  In 1994 Hulk Hogan had a parade at Disney MGM Studios commemorating his signing a multi-year contract with WCW wrestling. He was given a 1995 Dodge Viper which was hulkafied (painted yellow and red) for the parade.  In 2020 it was auctioned for charity.  His handprints at Disney’s MGM Studios were dated November 1993. 

Martin “Bru” Brubaker was played by Chris Lemmon, Jack Lemmon’s son.  Chris made his movie debut starring with his father in Airport 77.  He was in comedies including The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood, 2 Goldie Hawn films, and Cannonball Run 2.  In 1987 he was in the TV show Duets on the Fox network. 

Carol Alt as former model Kelly LaRue, who owns and manages the Scuttlebutt Bar & Grill on the beach in front of the Paradise Beach Hotel Resort, which was The Don Cesar hotel in the pilot and the Grand Floridian for the other episodes.  Brian questioned why Disney never recreated that bar, because it is a tiki bar on the beach that could have been part of the DVC building.  Carol Alt was selected as the cover model for the 1982 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.  She was in over 500 magazines and appeared in ad campaigns for Pepsi, GM, and CoverGirl makeup.  She was cast in Italian produced English language films and possibly a connection to Berlusconi Productions.  She married NY Rangers Hockey Player Ron Greschner and helped fuel the Rangers/Flyers rivalry of Hollywood type vs blue collar hockey players.  She was the first model to control her poster business. 

Patrick Macnee played Edward Whitaker, Jessica’s uncle, owns the beach resort and makes semi-regular appearances in the series, primarily for comic relief.  Whittaker played Jonathan Steed in the 1960’s English TV spy thriller, The Avengers.  He also appeared in guest roles in many popular 1970’s TV shows, Hart to Hart, Magnum PI, Murder She Wrote and The Love Boat. He was in the James Bond movie, A View to A Kill, did voice overs of Imperious Leader Battlestar Galactica and was in Spinal Tap. 

Ashley Gorell played Jessica Whittaker, the little girl.  She was very professional on the set.

Episodes 1 & 2 were named Thunder In Paradise Part 1 & Part 2.  This was the pilot.  It was filmed at the Don Cesar in Saint Petersburg, Florida.  They were thinking this show would have a 5 or 7 year run.  The owner of the Don Cesar did not want a full 22-episode season filmed on his property, so they decided to move the remainder of the episodes to WDW.  The episode titles were very tongue in cheek like “Strange Bru”, “Gettysburg Change of Address”           and “Plunder in Paradise”.  And then there were boring names like “Deadly Lessons: Part 1”.  When they started filming in WDW, the Grand Floridian was a focal point for filming of every episode except for Episode 16. 

Episode 3, “Tug of War” and Episode 4, “Sea Quentin” also had interior shots of the grand Floridian.  Victoria & Alberts was in Episode 5.  All of the business as usual of WDEW, ferry boats, monorails was going on in the background of the scenes, but they were very creative with the angles so that you did not see to much.  Episode 4, “Sea Quentin” takes place at The Living Seas and the original Sea Base Alpha which is an underwater prison.  The hydrolaters are the prison cells with the doors open.  Hogan goes up the lockout chamber, the prisoner comes down the lockout chamber.  The top of the aquarium and the dolphin keyboard is in a couple shots.  The Living Seas Lounge is also shown.  There is a distortion in the acrylic on the lower level aquarium from a hot light that was set up during the filming.  In Episode 5, “Strange Bru”, there are scenes in Victoria & Alberts and in a Grand Floridian room.

They discussed that there would have been a location scout attached to the production who went around WDW and generated a list of all the possible locations that could be used for filming.   Episodes 6 & 7 we “Sealed with a Kismet: Part 1 & 2″ were shot in the Moroccan Pavilion.  It had in it a magic headdress that was from the woods that looked like it was near the Grand Floridian parking lot.  This episode featured El Gigante, a basketball player turned wrestler after an injury.  The episode also included some amazing technology, a Radio Shack walkie talkie that apparently had the range to transmit from Morocco to Florida, and the speed boat doing 500mph which they called hyper speed and turbo pursuit.  They filmed all over the Moroccan Pavilion and suddenly moved to the Indiana Jones stunt theater and they used the stunts from the show. The boat is in World Showcase Lagoon and they used the Friendship Dock. 

Episode 8, “Changing of the Guard” featured British characters and they show a low shot of Cinderella’s Castle and label its London, England.  They film at the UK Pavilion in EPCOT and possibly some at The Living Seas.  There’s also a shot at the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village outside the Empress Lily. 

“Gettysburg Change of Address”  Bru and Spence are in the deep woods and meet up with a Gettysburg reenactment group.  Some shots of where the Wedding Pavilion is now.  Episode 10, 13, and 15 have shots at the Grand Floridian.  Episode 11, “Nature of the Beast” believe has shots of The Land Pavilion greenhouses.  Episode 12, “Identity Crisis” has a lot of shots of the Polynesian walkways.  Episode 14, Plunder in Paradise was shot in a millionaire’s mansion or secret lair and it is the Adventurer’s Club and they use the falling organ trick. The millionaire also owns a water park which uses footage from Typhoon Lagoon.  Episode 16,”Endangered Species” is at the Living Seas and the manatees are filmed and there is a fight scene in the MGM Studios residential street in Thunder In Paradise II was later released, it was “Sealed With a Kismet, Part 1 & 2”backlot.  Episodes 17 & 18, “Deadly Lessons: Part 1 & 2″ is shot in The Living Seas, Discovery Island, and the Canada Pavilion.  The Canada Pavilion is an outpost for the bad guys, shot from every possible angle to make it look larger than it is. Episode 19, “Blast Off” has a missile silo and they used the Team Disney Building.  In the middle of the episode Hogan’s character takes his daughter to the Magic Kingdom and they go on a lot of the rides.  On Splash Mountain, Bru jumps into the ride from Thunder which is in the Rivers of America and you can see Tom Sawyer’s Island and MK guests in the background.  Episode 20,”Dead Reckoning” had portions filmed at the MGM Bungalows.  The last episodes, 21 & 22,        “The M.A.J.O.R. and the Minor: Parts 1 & 2” were shot in the streets of NY in the backlot, the future location of the wedding pavilion, The Japan Pavilion and the shark tank at Typhoon Lagoon, which is now gone,  In Part 2, there is a fight on top of the wave machine at Typhoon Lagoon, and they end at the red gate in the Japan Pavilion and the shot blocks out the rest of EPCOT.  An article will be published listing all the locations that can be seen in the show.  The Ferry boat dry dock and the flamingo habitat at Discovery Island are also used in episodes. 

Episodes 1 & 2 were bound together with a scene from Episode 15 was initially released as the full-length movie.  Thunder in Paradise II was later released, it was “Sealed with a Kismet, Part 1 & 2”.  Thunder in Paradise 3 was “Deadly Lessons, Part 1 & 2”.  “The M.A.J.O.R. and the Minor” was used as the basis for the Thunder in Paradise CD-I interactive game for a Philips machine. In addition to the episode itself, additional footage was filmed for use at different stages in the game and was shot at the same time as the episode.   Take screen shots, pull out as much information as possible and edit some clips together for a possible RetroMagic segment. 

The theme song the keyboardist from the band Pablo Cruz as a side thing started doing TV and movie soundtracks.  He wrote the soundtrack and Pablo Cruz recorded it. 


2020: The Year of Film

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RetroWDW Merchandise

How will do a couple of T shirts from Thunder in Paradise.  There are now 3 Alien Encounter t-shirts available.

Be sure to get your shirt, iPhone case, tote bag, pillow or coffee mug today: www.retrowdw.com/supportus

Some of Our Latest Designs

Next Month

  • Join us next time for Episode 63, where we take you back on another fun episode about WDW history!
  • We have another movie night coming soon too…  Subscribe on YouTube so you are ready. 

Enhanced show notes by Donna (June 2021)

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