By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
A video of a meteorologist completely breaking down on set after a cockroach crawled on his leg made the rounds on YouTube and other viral video sites last month, eventually showing up on “The Tonight Show” in the segment where host Jay Leno shares amusing clips and gaffes caught on film.
It’s not often that a weather report makes viewers laugh, but humor is just one of the elements the hosts of “Abrams & Bettes: Beyond the Forecast” hope to infuse into their nightly hour-long show, which debuted Sept. 25 on The Weather Channel.
“That clip would have been perfect for our show,” admitted Mike Bettes, a three-year veteran of the network who worked his way up the ranks beginning as a local meteorologist with WSYX-TV in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, where he won an Emmy for a series on tornado-chasing in the Great Plains.
“Beyond the Forecast” brings a breath of fresh air to normally staid weathercasting. Think “Anderson Cooper 360” meets “SportsCenter” (without the graphics package only an ESPN can afford). Mr. Bettes and his co-host, Stephanie Abrams, cover serious events-hurricanes, tropical storms, power outages, droughts-but do so from a human interest point of view. It’s a hybrid of a newsmagazine show crossed with the nightly weather report, done at a fairly breakneck pace that the MTV generation should appreciate.
“It’s a newsmagazine with a little bit of a lighter feel,” said Mr. Bettes. “We like to expand on topics and dive deep into current issues, but also have a little fun. Think of it as the weather meets pop culture.”
Each night features a top story that the duo will keep coming back to throughout the hour, looking at the story from different angles and points of view.
The premiere episode featured an in-depth report from New Orleans the day the Superdome reopened its doors to NFL football in a matchup between the hometown Saints and the Atlanta Falcons. Mr. Bettes reported from New Orleans, focusing on the celebration of the game as much as on Hurricane Katrina and the events that caused the Superdome’s 13-month closure.
The second telecast dove into Hurricane Rita during the week of its one-year anniversary. The destruction caused by Rita forced the evacuation of large portions of Louisiana and Texas, with damages estimated at $10 billion. But Rita is largely forgotten because it has been so overshadowed by Katrina.
“Beyond the Forecast” looked in on the effects of Rita on the fishing and shrimping industries in Louisiana, interviewing one of the few shrimp boat captains whose operation survived the storm because he took his boat out of the water the day before the storm hit.
The Weather Channel’s extensive team of meteorologists and weather experts is called on each night to provide background on a given story. In the “weather whip-around” the team members detail developing weather stories across the country. The “haboob of the week” (from the Arabic word meaning “strong wind”) will profile the biggest dust storm. Haboobs can kick up walls of sand more than 60 miles wide and several miles high.
Because the show is done live, the reporting has a more vibrant feel than taped specials done on weather issues. It also has an interactive element. In the nightly poll, viewers can respond via the Weather.com Web site, with results presented before the hour is up.
Ms. Abrams thinks the enthusiasm the hosts have for meteorology will help drive viewer interest in the stories that happen behind the scenes, away from the green wall beyond which most weather reporters never venture. She likens her approach to the show to her experience teaching a class on meteorology when she was a teaching assistant at Florida State University, where her enthusiasm was infectious.
“I want to change the perception that this science is geeky,” Ms. Abrams said. “We will be serious at times, or educational, but if we’re having fun, viewers will have fun as well.”