Friday, August 21, 2015

Too Many Cooks Spoiled The Stew

It was a simple idea, back on the 12th of May, 1982, when something called “The Weather Channel” first appeared on your TV screen. Cable channels were beginning to blossom.
ESPN, which went on the cable on the 7th of September in 1979 was born of a similar theory: now that this thing called cable TV is in a significant number of households, let’s start a service that highlights sports all the time. ESPN originally stood for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, but you’ll never see or hear it referred to that way.

The Weather Channel gave the weather. That’s all they did. TWC quickly found a niche in the scores of self-proclaimed weather geeks like me scattered all over the nation. Any time you wanted weather, you tuned in TWC, and you’d never be more than a few minutes from your local weather forecast. They promised “local weather on the 8’s” and they gave two minutes’ worth of it at 8, 18, 28, 38, 48, and 58 minutes past the hour.

Simplicity; utility; beauty.

Oldsters like me who began their TV life in the early ‘50’s watching two or three snowy channels pulled in via so-called rabbit ears on a huge, clunky receiver that barely rendered black and white pictures were enraptured when cable TV service arrived in our community. Cable started out as CATV, Community Antenna Television, an idea from Americans out in the Great Plains who, in their socialist fervor, pitched in to build a huge tower in their community to pull in TV signals and distribute them, via coaxial cable, to their homes.

On the first day of August in 1981, MTV was launched, and, as with ESPN, the rest is history. Both these “cable channels” spawned a number of offshoots, which now enable them to extort huge fees from the handful of giant cable operators left in our nation. Don’t blame the high cost of cable on your local station. ESPN is by far the biggest pig at the trough.

For years – decades, actually- TWC honored its promise and its premise: deliver weather information, and only weather information, every hour of every day. I was a heavy user, as the marketing folks say. Anchoring morning news on local radio and TV stations for four decades will do that to you, particularly if you live in the snowbelt and have to be in the studio at 3 AM. You need to know if you’re going to need extra time to get to work at that ungodly hour of the night. 3 AM is the middle of the night, not “early morning”, and it's long before the snow plow jockeys have their first cup of coffee for the morning.

TWC reliably gave weather geeks like me all we needed to know: what’s happening right now in the atmosphere, and what’s likely to be happening in the next day or so. We were able to catch the national weather information and the local information simply by having the TV on TWC for ten or twelve minutes.

Then, a decade or so ago, TWC lost its way. The corporate suits in the brass and glass towers in Gotham (TWC is actually headquartered in Atlanta) decided that TWC just wasn’t…well, wasn’t exciting enough, or something.

So they gradually added more and more programs which strayed from the core concept that had made TWC must-carry TV for every cable system in the nation. They began to add cheaply-produced “feature” shows to TWC. One of the first of these, which appeared in 2003, was called “Storm Stories”. TWC sent Jim Cantore, the biggest weather geek of them all, out into the wild with a camera crew and said “go chase some storms or something”. The show, when it premiered, wasn’t bad. Cantore was a hero to weather geeks, and he kept the focus on weather.

Gradually more such shows were added to the lineup. Shows with titles like “100 Biggest Weather Moments” (2007) and “When Weather Changed History” (2008).  It wasn’t so much that these shows were annoying; they were just off-mission.

Then, in 2008, TWC’s fate was sealed. NBC-Universal bought TWC, and swiftly applied the collective programming “genius” of all the suits in all the corner offices at 30 Rock. In ’09, they puked out a show called “Wake Up With Al”, featuring the once-rotund-but-now-slimmed-down has-been Al Roker, known more as a jokester and failed comedian than a meteorologist, and paired him (as is the fashion with network TV morning shows) with his granddaughter, a buxom young thing named Stephanie Abrams.

The picture at the top of the post shows Al and Stephanie in various poses for their fun-filled morning "weather" show.

At this point, to us core users – weather geeks of the world – we gave up hope on the weather channel. As the American Meteorological Association was spending millions of dollars to try and convince us that TV weather people are scientists with scads of math and physics courses in their training, Al and Steph clowned it up on what once was the premier televised weather service in the world.

Before long, shows like “Deadliest Space Weather” (2013) appeared; the same year brought us “Heavy Metal Monsters” and “Prospectors”. This crap, which does nothing but annoy the core users of TWC, culminated with the launch of “Fat Guys In The Woods” (I am NOT making this up) in 2014.

The boys in carpet corridor at 30 Rock must have been peeing themselves in excitement with the cheap programming they were able to produce and run; the synergy of using veteran NBC personality Al Roker on not one but TWO platforms (oh, the bean counters must have loved THAT); and the sheer genius of all that high-powered Gotham talent being brought to bear on TWC.

Except, their product stunk.

They were, no doubt, convinced that their market share would increase in leaps and bounds, and that they’d soon be right up there with ESPN and MTV in being able to charge confiscatory rates to the cable purveyors. Why, the number of clicks they dreamed of generating on TWC’s online platform must have been intoxicating!

The NBC brain trust said “hey – we got news; why don’t we stick a couple minutes of news on TWC; and while we’re at it, let’s add a couple minutes an hour of financial news…what a great idea”….NOT.

Except, their efforts failed.  As of this week, TWC is for sale.

Greedy corporate suits have ruined it. What started out as a place you could go to get the forecast any time of day or night became a dumping ground for poorly conceived and executed programs that had no appeal whatsoever to the core viewer, who cared only about the state of the atmosphere.

There’s a saying in TV programming called “Jumped The Shark”, which came from the great old TV show Happy Days. When an episode featured The Fonz on skis, jumping a shark, even the numbskulls in TV programming land knew that Happy Days was dead. When NBC-Universal bought TWC, two things happened immediately: they poured a lot of money into new weather technology for TWC, which was a good thing; but it was as predictable as the sunrise time that within a few years, TWC would jump the shark, as it has.

All those big time “cooks” have ruined the stew; they’ve made TWC essentially unwatchable by the very core of us who proved that there are enough of us out there that you can dedicate a TV channel to weather, and enough people will watch it that it will be a viable commercial enterprise.

Anybody wanna buy a cable weather channel?


  1. "The boys in carpet corridor at 30 Rock must have been peeing themselves in excitement with the cheap programming they were able to produce and run" LOL! I nearly peed MYSELF after reading that. I agree TWC has gone into the dumper with NBCs ownership, which is too bad because some very good meteorologists (and yes the female ones are quite attractive, too) are saddled with all this showbiz crap they have to do. Do we really need Al Roker on both the Today Show and TWC's morning show? Fortunately, The Weather Channel phone app is pretty good, so I can actually still get the weather when I need it. Here's hoping the new owners bring it back from the dead.

  2. Maybe they heard you: