This is another in a series of excerpts from my unpublished book INSIDE THE WEATHER CHANNEL. This particular 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 II
Forecasters, On-camera Meteorologists and Producers–Tenuous Allies
NO, I DON’T WANT TO SEE THE DAMN AP STORY
Back in the “Wild West” days of The Weather Channel, there were neither producers nor weather producers. Over time, however, the need for more professionally-polished shows became obvious, and producers were gradually hired onto the staff. Most had earned their spurs as news or sports producers at local television stations around the country. Occasionally, a CNN or CNN International refugee would drift in.
Television producers work in a blood-pressure-elevating environment. Days (or nights) are long; deadlines, omnipresent; and mistakes, visible. The burnout rate is high. At times, the producer turnover tempo seemed to rival that of sack stuffers at McDonalds. Producers would come and go before I could learn their names.
New-hire producers are offered a brief, basic course in meteorology. Some take to it readily; others get it, but perhaps without much emotional investment; and others, just a few, never catch on.
A number of years ago there was one such “clueless” producer whose meteorological descriptions and explanations would drive me to tears–both of laughter and frustration. I attempted to be patient with her, but she never seemed able or willing to grasp even the basic concepts of weather. She also had an annoying habit of leaning on the AP wire service to obtain meteorological details for her scripts. The AP is a fine operation, but when it comes to things atmospheric, its stories sometimes lack exactness. To this particular producer, however, the AP was infallible. So again and again, I and other WITs (members of the Weather Information Team) would have to change her scripts.
She became increasingly annoyed with this, as did we. It finally came to a head one day. I changed something major in her script, she got all red-faced and huffy and stormed off. Seconds later she called me. “I can show you the AP story that supports what I wrote,” she snapped.
I’d had it by then, too. I raised my voice, which I almost never do. “I don’t want to see the damn AP story,” I said. “I’m telling you what’s right.” Click.
I lobbied my superiors hard to find her another job after that. Still, it took months before she finally “moved on.”
Fortunately, that encounter was not typical of the producer-meteorologist relationship. For the most part, producers readily accept the input of the WITs. Some, such as executive producer Mike McMackin who oversaw morning programming (he left the channel in mid-2009), became quite skilled at finding their way around in the meteorological world: reading codes, interpreting radar imagery and understanding the fundamentals of the science.
Mike, a North Carolina native, worked at stations in Myrtle Beach, Birmingham and Atlanta before joining the channel where he quickly immersed himself in the world of weather. I got along well with Mike. We could not only talk weather easily, but sports and books, too. Our common interest was fiction, and we were constantly recommending novels and authors to each other.
Still, we had philosophical differences regarding Weather Channel programming. There was an instance in the fall of 2008 where the WITs and producers were at odds over what the lead story should be: a severe thunderstorm outbreak or a late-season heat wave.
The WITs argued for the severe weather threat on the basis that life and property would be at risk. Mike defended the heat wave. The warmth, he said, would affect more people. He also pointed out, quite correctly, that the anomalous heat would be a contributing factor to the development of the stormy weather. Storms first, the WITs countered. Let’s headline the action and the danger.
In the end, Mike prevailed. And that’s illustrative of how, in recent years, the balance of power regarding what goes on the air at The Weather Channel has shifted gradually from meteorologists to producers. The meteorologists believe it’s gotten out of balance–that they should have greater input. It’s a meaty issue and one I’ll address in greater detail later.
Photo: Executive Producer Mike McMackin at work at The Weather Channel.
Mike was one of the best in the business, but unfortunately he left the channel in mid-2009.