Over nearly four decades, Scott Baio has carved out a career on TV. In the mid-70’s he played Chachi on the long-running TV series Happy Days, which led to the spin-off Joanie Loves Chachi. He went on to star on TV’s Charles in Charge and later the medical mystery drama Diagnosis Murder. Although he received two Emmy Award nominations for his role in the TV movie Stoned, he wasn’t one of those young actors who got sidelined by drugs or alcohol. A few years ago, he was featured on the VH1 reality series Scott Baio is 45… and Single, followed by Scott Baio is 46… and Pregnant, where his transition from single guy to married father was chronicled on the flat screen. Now the actor plays the lead on the Nick at Nite sitcom See Dad Run, where he also serves as a producer. Baio and his wife, Renee Sloan, are parents of 5-year-old Bailey and have established the Bailey Baio Angel Foundation.
Chet Cooper: So what kind of work do you do?
Cooper: Okay then, tell us about your latest show.
Scott Baio: It’s called See Dad Run and it’s on Sunday evenings. This is Nick at Nite’s first original scripted sitcom and it’s basically the story of a very famous television actor whose series ends. That’s when he goes home and finds that his wife, who’s also an actress, has decided to go back to work on a soap opera. Now he’s stuck with three kids that he doesn’t really know. It’s him trying to raise a family on his own. His wife is around, but he deals with the bulk of the childrearing. He’s a guy who’s not dumb, he just doesn’t know what to do and it’s based on my life.
Cooper: How does your daughter Bailey feel —
Baio: About the show?
Cooper: No, about you bringing her up.
Baio: (laughs) You’ve got to ask her. For my part, raising a kid is a unique gig. Do you have a kid?
Cooper: No, but in this job you have to kiss a lot of babies.
Baio: There’s no handbook for it. No one tells you how hard it is to be a parent. I love Bailey and I’d die for her, but it’s hard.
Cooper: How did See Dad Run come about?
Baio: Jason Hervey, who was an actor and now does a lot of television producing, is my partner on this show. He called one day and said, “Would you read something?” I said, “No.” He said, “Why not?” and I said, “Because I don’t really want to do anything” and he said, “Come on.” I said, “I just don’t want to get back into that game.” But then I asked him, “Do you like it?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “then you do what you want with it. I’ll see you later.”
A couple of weeks later, we were pitching it at the network and I still hadn’t read it, so I didn’t know what the hell I was pitching. And then it just snowballed. The opportunity came out of left field and here we are in our second season. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done and one of the most fun things. I sincerely enjoy going to work every day. Our cast has a great time. The producers are good people. The network has been fantastic to us. There are day-to-day creative differences, but overall it’s an absolute ball. I’ve been lucky in my career; I’ve always liked the things that I’ve done.
Cooper: So many child actors have had—
Baio: —drug problems?
Cooper: —issues in their lives.
Baio: Do you know a lot of them?
Cooper: I thought there was a club.
Baio: I’m not in it.
Cooper: How did you get through this industry without falling into the traps?
Baio: My parents. From a very young age, my father put a lot of fear in me and it worked. I think it’s important for children to have fear. I never was curious about drugs or alcohol. I was born in 1960 and back then the older kids were smoking pot. I wasn’t interested in that ever and I always had this thing in me, for some reason, that if God was kind enough to give me a healthy body and mind, I was not going to screw it up. I worked for Garry Marshall for 10 years and I don’t know what people did at home, but the Happy Days set was relatively clean and it was always fun. We were all—
Baio: We were happy people, good citizens. I was lucky. I would go out to a club with my friends in my 20s and 30s, guys would offer me drugs and I’d say, just get away from me, man. I’d see people get all screwed up and it was horrible.
Cooper: What was it like when they approached you and said, “Let’s do a spin-off of Happy Days?”
Baio: Oh, it was all very exciting and amazing. I was pumped about it, absolutely. And then it all went to crap, but that’s the nature of the business sometimes. The timing was wrong for that show. But I learned a lot.
Cooper: How’d you get through the rough times?
Baio: I just did.
Cooper: Your foundation helps parents going through rough times. Tell us about it.
Baio: It’s called the Bailey Baio Angel Foundation and it was created to bring awareness to children with metabolic disorders. It was started about four or five years ago, after our daughter was born. We took her home from the hospital and five days later we got a call back saying, “You have to bring your daughter in for more tests.” Bailey tested positive for a very rare metabolic disorder, glutaric acidemia type I, which is incredibly harmful and damaging to the body and the brain. So they had to punch a hole in her arm and take a skin graft and we had to wait three months to find out whether she really had it.
It was the worst three months of my life. Fortunately, it had been a false positive and Bailey was fine. The euphoria you feel when you find out that your child is not sick is indescribable. I was like, okay, we’re done. I grabbed my golf clubs and got ready to head out the door and my wife said, “No, no, we have to do something about this thing,” because while we were waiting to find out if my daughter was alright, we learned about all of these families out there whose children really did have the condition. That’s how our foundation came into being. My wife runs it and she’s raised quite a bit of money. She helps parents with supplies, equipment and other things they need. It’s not a sexy malady, but it’s out there and people need help.
Cooper: What would have happened if your daughter actually did have the condition?
Baio: She might have had a short life, mental retardation, physical problems, been unable to walk, cerebral palsy—the list goes on. It’s brutal. Unfortunately for those kids who have it, it’s just not easy.
Cooper: Where do the funds that you raise go?
Baio: We address quality of life issues. We’re not big enough yet to really do anything else. The thing that my wife is trying to do now is get all 50 states to do a comprehensive blood test panel on children when they’re born. A lot of states don’t test for the disorder. It becomes a government thing. But the government is hard to take on. So she’s trying to get around it by doing other things.
Cooper: At the state or federal level?
Baio: Federal, but each state has a different test they do. You’d have to get it federally mandated to have all the states do the same test and trying to make that happen, I mean, you might as well dig a hole to China. I’m not a big government guy. I believe in private industries taking care of people. I think they do a better job.
Cooper: Great! Let’s talk politics
Personally, I think there are certain things that the government does better than the private sector. One of them is healthcare. If you look at Canada—
Baio: I can’t have this conversation.
Cooper: Let me give you my view and I’d love to hear yours. I don’t want to pay high taxes. The government should be more efficient and work for the people, not special interests. I think capitalism works, but with checks and balances. I don’t think we have the silent hand of business working in healthcare. There are a limited number of businesses that monopolize this industry and the client can’t go anywhere else.
Baio: I hear that.
Cooper: So because healthcare is monopolized, it needs to have certain regulations. Like, we don’t want to go to some countries to have an operation because they don’t have certain regulations in place. We’d rather be in the States and get operated on by licensed physicians, who are regulated by a governing body. And did you read the report where one hospital charges $90,000 for an operation and another charges $12,000? So if you’re not in that less expensive region, you might not be able to afford the operation. I think there should be some regulation within the system, so that people can get what they need.
Baio: You’re saying it’s monopolized, but when the government takes it over, it’s also monopolized. You’re going to have to go to where they want you to go.
Cooper: We have to do that now with the insurance companies.
Baio: That’s my other point; they need to open up insurance companies so that you can buy across state lines.
Baio: And if we do that, the cost of everything goes down.
Cooper: That would be great.
Baio: In California, there are only a handful of companies that you can get health insurance from, which is ridiculous. I’m coming at it from a business standpoint. It’s people’s health, but these people are in business to make money. So if there are 10 different companies to choose from, they’re going to compete and they’re going to give me the best service I can possibly get for the amount of money I’m willing to pay. To me, that’s how you fix it, because if you have one giant company run everything, they don’t care. That’s why when you get a tooth filled it’s $15,000, as opposed to $500. That’s my rub. Let the free market do what it’s supposed to do. I don’t think the free market has been able to operate within the healthcare business.
Cooper: But isn’t that basically the system we have now? The industry itself is making money and prices continue to go up.
Baio: They make tons of money, but—
Cooper: But it’s causing some people to go bankrupt. In reality we already have an example of government run healthcare—called Medicare; satisfaction studies show that recipients like it and it’s an efficient segment of our healthcare. And as it stands, you go into a hospital and they don’t really tell you what the bill’s going to be.
Baio: I can go into a hospital and negotiate with them.
Cooper: And what if you’re sick?
Baio: I can go into a hospital and say, here’s my credit card. What’s this going to cost me? And negotiate it.
Cooper: I don’t think most people know they can do that, if they even can. But when you’re sick and need an operation, you might not feel like it’s a good time to try to negotiate your bill.
Baio: Oh, you’re talking about an emergency situation. I thought maybe if I had a cold and they say, “It’s $500,” and I say, I’ll give you $350 cash. Then they’ll usually say, “Fine.”
Cooper: I’d love to go with you and video you doing that, but let’s get back to our regular programming. Tell me more about what kind of fundraisers your foundation holds.
Baio: My wife threw me a 50th birthday party that was a silent auction. We had entertainment by people we know, including comics and singers. It was quite successful. My wife runs marathons and people will run them with her, they’ll all get donations for each mile they complete. We’re about to start a golf tournament to raise money for the foundation. My wife’s fairly adventurous and comes up with different ideas for events; she enjoys it.
Our foundation is not very big; Renee and a couple of other people run it. She’s slowly building it, which takes time. It’s a grassroots thing. We have friends whose kids have metabolic disorders and some of their conditions are more manageable than others. Renee has a whole process that she goes through to verify the people who come to her for support, so they don’t abuse the resources. We’ve made friends with some of these people. Your life can become consumed by caring for these children, which is one reason why we started the foundation to help out.
Cooper: Good for you that you’re supporting Renee in supporting the children. And we support you in supporting her as she supports them.
Baio: (laughs) Yeah, it’s a long chain.
Articles in the Scott Baio Issue; Senator Harkin — Trying to Make it Work; Ashley Fiolek — Kickin’ up Dirt; Humor — Die Laughing; Geri Jewell — Pet Power; Eva Feldman, MD, PhD — ALS and Stem Cell Therapy; Beyond Silence — Deafness in India; Long Haul Paul — Q&A with a PA; Models of Diversity — Embrace it! ; Governor Markell — Blueprint to Employment; China — A Coach with Passion; EMPOWER — Global Inclusion; FREEJ — Grandmothers Rule; MIT — Leveraged Freedom Chair; Scott Baio — Happy Days; MADA — Global Assistive Technology; ABILITY’s Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences…subscribe