How It All Works Together–Part IV

This is another in a series of excerpts from my unpublished book INSIDE THE WEATHER CHANNEL.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.  The show being discussed here is “Your Weather Today” as it was in late 2008.


Forecasters, On-camera Meteorologists and Producers–Tenuous Allies


A couple of hours prior to the start of “Your Weather Today,” Marshall Seese, Heather Tesch and Nicole Mitchell gather for a detailed weather briefing from Mark Avery.  Marshall takes a seat next to a computer so he can call up data from various cities during the briefing; Heather plops down at a desk next to mine and begins munching on a cup of Cheerios drizzled with soy milk; and Nicole, the youngest of the group but also the mother hen, gets everything started.  “Let’s go,” she says, knowing she has a lot of preparation ahead of her.  Sometimes, if Mark goes off on a tangent during the briefing– “Hey, that reminds me of a story…”–Nicole nudges him back on course.

Nicole is a captain in the Air Force Reserve and an Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer with the Hurricane Hunters.  I asked her once if her military experience led her to being a stickler for getting the briefing going on time and keeping it on track–something I appreciated being ex-Air Force myself–but she said, “No, that’s just the way I am.”

Heather, because of her friendliness and easy-going personality, qualifies as the The Weather Channel’s sweetheart.  That, in turn, allows her to be Queen of the Double Entendre without any prurient connotations.  Leave it to Heather to get everyone laughing, especially if it’s been a tough day.  Her comments can verge on risqué, but she never crosses the line into off-color.  Still, she gets away with stuff that probably no one else could, because she’s, well, Heather.

“It was a little thing,” Marshall said once, referencing a small error made during a demanding day on a very busy show.

Heather couldn’t resist it.  “And how’s your little thing, Marshall?” she piped up at a post-show discussion.

Another time, on the air, when NBC meteorologist Jeff Ranieri was in Derry, New Hampshire, covering the aftermath of an ice storm, Heather seized on the opportunity as the live shot opened: “And how’s the Derry air this morning, Jeff?” she asked.

Marshall, now retired, is every bit as smooth and friendly in person as he was on the air.  He seemed to me to be the white-maned equivalent of Cary Grant.  Although he didn’t have a degree in atmospheric science, he took correspondence courses offered through the Department of Agriculture and made himself into a quality meteorologist, one respected by his degreed peers.

He and Heather, coanchors of “Your Weather Today,” had a unique on-camera chemistry, a sort of easy-going King and Queen of the Junior Prom rapport.  Marshall thinks a lot of this was lost a few years ago when the show became more highly produced (scripted), precluding a lot of the natural banter that worked so well for him and Heather.  This was concomitant with a slide in the ratings, but that decline probably was due to a combination of factors, not just the diminished spontaneity between the coanchors.

Heather confirms that she and Marshall got along well both on and off camera.  “We looked out for each other and tried to make the other one look and sound good on the air,” she told me.  Still, at Marshall’s company-wide retirement ceremony, she couldn’t hold back.  “We were like an old married couple,” she said, a grin sliding across her face, “we fought all the time and never had sex.”

After Mark’s briefing, Marshall, Heather and Nicole continue a process they began earlier, “stacking” their shows.  That is, selecting, using a computer, the sequence of graphics, animations and imagery they’ll use in their respective segments.  The sequences, including commercial breaks and Local on the 8s, are automatically timed to the second.  If the talent fails to finish whatever they are saying within the alloted time, a computer-driven switch knocks them off the air.

At 7 a.m., “Your Weather Today” kicks off with Lisa Watkins synchronizing things from a control room.  She stays in virtually continuous voice contact with the on-air people, weather producer and show director (who calls the camera shots). Mike McMackin, as needed, coordinates with field producers and “phoners.”  Phoners are people such a sheriff deputies and emergency operations managers who provide reports via telephone.

From behind a partition in the studio, Sean, the weather producer today, controls the meteorological content of the broadcast, switching from one graphics/animation source to another, and monitoring and displaying active weather warnings and storm reports on the fly.  He’s managing five Titans, a Google Earth and at least three other systems.

At times, Lisa and he, or whoever the weather producer is, may get busier than rodeo clowns with red capes in a bull ring.

And almost invariably, something goes wrong.  A live shot dies, an animation freezes, a graphic fails to come up or incorrect information gets on the air.  It’s Lisa who has to make such glitches invisible to viewers.  To do that, much like a quarterback who comes out of a huddle and sees a different defense than what was expected, she has to be adept at calling audibles–coming up with a new play at the line of scrimmage.

It’s not a whole lot less hectic in the studio.  Marshall, Heather and Nicole, based on the rundown or new directions from Lisa, must stay on schedule, recalling where to stand, walk to or sit and remembering who to “toss” to.  And of course, they have to do all of this with a smile on their face and Lisa yammering in their ear.

Yet somehow, it all works.

Photo: Nicole Mitchell, Marshall Seese and Heather Tesch (l to r).
These were the popular personalities who headlined “Your Weather Today” in late 2008.

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