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The Weather Channel as Weak King

Back in mid-January, the Weather Channel went dark on DirecTV. There’s been a great deal of drama since then. Losing 20M viewers is one helluva kick in the crotch when you have, at best, 100M viewers and are struggling to keep the ones you have. If online comments can be believed, they’re bleeding eyeballs bigtime.

Carol and I are two of them.

I’m not a big fan of TV, which eventually turns everything it touches to crap. Carol and I never even had cable until we moved to Colorado ten years ago. The Weather Channel was a pleasant surprise. It was founded by John Coleman (of “thunderboomers” fame in Chicago) and Frank Batten in 1981. We appreciated having a detailed forecast with radar every ten minutes, and some of their people were inexplicably likeable, especially Mark Mancuso, Mike Bettes and Stephanie Abrams. We’d put it on during breakfast or anytime it looked like things were getting ugly outside.

In 2008, NBC bought TWC. That was the beginning of the end. They fired about 10% of their on-air staff, started airing content-free MSNBC news, began pushing weather/climate hysteria of every species every chance they got, and then…the coup de gras…went to the Reality TV Model. They weren’t the first; Discovery Channel and others had pounded that unmistakable path in the grass long before TWC ever found it. One lame series after another began airing anytime there wasn’t a storm that they could get breathless about. I almost understand “Storm Stories,” which at least had photos of things you’d just as soon not see every day, or maybe ever. After that, each season got weirder and weirder. “Turbine Cowboys” croaked early, because there are only so many shots you can get of daredevils repairing 100-foot-tall wind turbines. But…”Prospectors”? It’s “Duck Dynasty” with pickaxes. Now their big deal is “Highways Through Hell,” which is about roughneck Canadian tow-truck operators pulling semis out of ditches in the Canadian Rockies and getting in arguments. There’s no Local on the 8’s during any of these increasingly irrelevant reality shows. Nor, I’ll tell you with fair confidence, is there a great deal of reality.

That’s my big gripe. There are others. People online seem peculiarly agitated by TWC’s recent gimmick of naming winter storms. After Creon and Dion I was expecting Eon, Freon, Leon, Neon and Peon, and perhaps Xenon before this long, cold, ugly winter peters out. No luck so far. (After all the high-end mythological characters, the “W” storm is named “Wiley.” The hell?) Naming winter storms may be dumb. Getting upset about it is dumber.

The business model puzzles me a little. Is it cheaper to buy episodes about trash-talking Canadian truck drivers than just present the weather? Perhaps it is, once you lay out major cash for irritating New York celebrities like Al Roker. However, the people are on staff, the studios are paid for…where’s the win in reality TV? TWC seems to think that people turn on their TVs and sit down to watch The Weather Channel as a species of entertainment. For the most part, they don’t.

Anyway. DirecTV replaced TWC with WeatherNation, which resembles what TWC was when they first started out. The formula is simple: all weather, all the time. The cameras are on tripods rather than dollies, the studio is small, and there are no expensive celebrities. The computer graphics are good, and if I could get it on cable I’d wave bye-bye to TWC. I’ve begun to experiment with streaming video, now that our local Blockbuster has closed down. Said experiments have shown that I can stream WeatherNation, and once the new technology is all in place (more on which in an upcoming entry) I will.

Most of this wouldn’t even be worth mentioning at length if The Weather Channel had not begun to throw increasingly desperate tantrums, slandering DirecTV by name in house ads and claiming to be some sort of essential disaster management information service; i.e., if we don’t have a monopoly on weathercasting, people will die.


This is typical behavior of the Coastal Elite: We know what’s good for you, and if you don’t like it you’re an evil something-or-other funded by the infinitely rich Koch Brothers, or maybe the Illuminati. NBC has long had that sort of internal culture. I smell the presence of one or more Right Men–and maybe a few Right Women, though women are generally too smart for that sort of BS. Leaders earn our respect by acting with calm confidence. Calm confidence is what wins. Leaders who throw tantrums are the archetype of The Weak King. Once the tantrums start, those wooden-wheeled gallows carts can’t be far away.

What broke it all open for me was this video, which shows some guy acting like a Jack Nicholson-class psycho, tearing his DirecTV dish out by the roots and beating it with a baseball bat, until the neighbor kids run screaming and local mothers start to cover their toddlers’ eyes. C’mon. I’m supposed to flee back to The Weather Channel after seeing a revenge fantasy like this? Not fracking likely.

Being a strong king means taking your lumps, learning from your mistakes, and turning the situation around by setting ego aside and just making things work–all with calm confidence. In TWC’s case, this means dumping the unreality shows, firing Al Roker and Sam Champion, and just presenting the damned weather.

Sheesh. How hard could that be?


  1. Tom Roderick says:

    Jeff, this is the BEST rant on any subject I have ever read and you could extend it far beyond just The Weather Channel. Virtually ALL of the cable channels that I used to watch have become pure sludge and with each increase in the TV portion of my cable/ISP bill I am thinking more and more of dumping the TV part.

    What you said could apply equally well to many other channels. The Learning Channel, Arts and Entertainment, The Discovery Channel are just a few. They all abandoned their roots and sunk to the depths of reality TV.

    One bit of trivia about the naming of storms, the novel Storm by George R. Stewart was the first time that a storm was given a name in a story and it was the first time that a storm was the main character in a story. The storm was called Maria. The book was published in 1941 and this was long before hurricanes were given names. I first read this in high school, and decades later searched for it in used book stores until I found a good copy.

  2. Barbara says:

    Agreed. I used to be able to watch TWC to determine when it would be safe to drive from MD to IL in late December. Now, I have to rely on the brief forecast details I can find on the internet. Unless there is a storm somewhere. Then there’s a chance of getting the info I’m looking for from TWC.

    Just like we used to be able to turn on CNN or CNN Headline News to find news. Now, you can’t find news on any CNN channel in the evenings.

  3. Bill Meyer says:

    I try to ignore all the crud they put on their website, and I never watch them on cable, as we don’t have any. We just passed our second year cable-free. But what is very hard to ignore is how often their predictions are just out to lunch. Oh, sure, most of the year they do well enough. But when the weather turns nasty, apparently all the models are wrong? Hmmm…

    Of course, in spite of the general inability of computer models to predict the next 6 hours, we are still to believe in their ability to predict the next century… but I digress.

    TWC has been shooting its toes off. When a company can’t do well what it is supposed to be known for, then perhaps it should just move on?

  4. Bob Fegert says:

    I have sat TV but never seem to watch it much these days. I find so much to watch on the internet that I have little time left to even check what’s on all the cable channels.

    I hooked a 42″ LCD to the computer and I love it!

    I’m hooked on documentaries and a quick check of this link always finds a few good ones for me.

    I’m ordering a ROKU box and signing up for HULU to see if I like that.

    Cable and Sat TV are so last century…everything that is worthwhile is on the network.

  5. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    I don’t know much about Al Roker. Why do you want him fired?

    1. He’s not a meteorologist, and, being a celebrity, probably costs the organization a fortune. I honestly don’t see what value he adds. Ditto Sam Champion; again, not a meteorologist and probably a horrendous money sink. TWC’s staff meteorologists do just fine (when they’re actually given a chance to talk about weather) and there are plenty to do weather at least 18/7.

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