This entry begins a new series of excerpts from my unpublished book INSIDE THE WEATHER CHANNEL. The series details how forecasters, on-camera talent and producers work together–well, most of the time–to get a show on the air.
HOW IT ALL WORKS TOGETHER–Part I
Forecasters, On-camera Meteorologists and Producers–Tenuous Allies
It’s three-thirty in the morning, I haven’t had my coffee yet, and I’m barreling down an eight-lane freeway at 70 mph heading for The Weather Channel. It’s a god-awful time of day to be going to work. But in Atlanta, it’s a great hour to be commuting: the road is virtually empty. That is, until I hit I-285, the beltway, and have to fall in with a convoy of eighteen-wheelers fleeing the capital of the New South before the sunrise snarl. Depending on my mood, I may have anything from Jimmie Hendrix to Franz Joseph Haydn blasting on the car stereo.
But I’m not the only one stirring while roosters are still in REM sleep. The on-camera members of the channel’s popular and highly-rated morning show, “Your Weather Today,” are also making their bleary-eyed drives to work. (No limos for Weather Channel stars.) In late 2008, the on-camera crew consisted of Marshall Seese, Heather Tesch and Nicole Mitchell.
BEFORE DAWN AT THE WEATHER CHANNEL
Using my key card to badge myself into the channel’s corporate headquarters, I say hello to the security guard, trade a few words about the weather (well, what else?) with her, then use my card on two more doors before entering the stale, dead air of the sprawling basement operations area.
There isn’t much activity there at 4 a.m. All television broadcasting now emanates from the new high-definition (HD) studio located in a different wing of the building. So that’s where the on-air meteorologists are now as the initial live show of the day, “First Outlook,” kicks off. (The 3 to 4 a.m. program is taped during the 2 to 3 a.m. segment.) The producers also work in the basement, but they’re separated from the meteorologists by a long hallway. Contact is typically by telephone.
(In the Weather Channel’s previous digs, meteorologists and producers worked side-by-side, which allowed meteorology to be integrated seamlessly into programming. Our physical separation in the new building, however, never made sense to me and many others and is a detriment to operations. But since retiring, I’ve learned that plans are afoot to create pods that will allow all those working on a particular show–producers, meteorologists, and on-camera personalities–to be seated together.)
There’s a couple of meteorologists on duty in the Global Forecast Center. Outside the center, in the open operations workspace, only my overnight counterpart is holding down the fort. Mark Avery, a St. Louis native and former TV weathercaster in Wilmington, North Carolina, is nearing the end of a 10-hour shift.
We trade good morning grunts and I start my workday. Mark and I and a few other experienced meteorologists are members of what’s known as the Weather Information Team or WIT. Team members are called WITs. Or sometimes half-WITs if things are going badly.
A WIT’s primary job is briefing the on-camera personalities and producers to make certain everyone is singing from the same sheet of meteorological music. Each briefing highlights the major weather stories of the day and goes into much more technical detail than you’ll ever see on the air.
Other WIT duties include churning out brief articles for weather.com; proofreading TV scripts for meteorological accuracy; giving occasional media interviews; talking daily with USA Today’s weather editor; helping to determine if, where and when to deploy field crews; and once a week, generating the seven-day outlook I talked about in the previous chapter. WITs, in effect, are The Weather Channel’s behind-the-scenes ringmasters. But without whips.
Other o-dark-thirty arrivals include the producers and weather producers. There is a distinction between the two. Producers are non-meteorologists who plan, put together and oversee the various shows, such as “Your Weather Today,” while weather producers are meteorologists who assist in the development of and “drive” the graphics that support the shows.
In the next entry, subtitled “No, I Don’t Want to See the Damn AP Story,” I’ll address how things don’t always go smoothly.
Photo: The Weather Channel’s briefing area
On-camera meteorologist Marshall Seese is in the foreground; WIT Wayne Verno (standing) is the briefer du jour.