Quick: What does the “23.5 Degrees” in the name of Sam Champion’s new show on The Weather Channel refer to? If you guessed it was temperature related, you’re incorrect, though climate change does play a huge part in the new program.
In fact, 23.5 Degrees refers to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Champion said he hoped that fun fact might appeal to the “geeky core” of The Weather Channel’s audience—a group it’s trying to win back after a venture into less weather-related programming.
The hour-long 23.5 Degrees With Sam Champion debuts March 22 at 11 p.m. ET. Every week, Champion, former chief meteorologist at Good Morning America, sits with scientists, politicians, authors and other thought leaders for a long-form interview. Champion says familiar names such as Erin Brockovich, Moby and Mark Ruffalo will appear, as will less recognizable names such as Simran Sethi, author of Bread Wine Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love.
The first episode focuses on the tainted water situation in Flint, Michigan.
In the fall, Champion, managing editor at Weather Channel, moved off the morning program AMHQ as Weather Channel announced its effort to get back to its live weather roots, at the expense of non-weather reality programming. CEO Dave Shull hinted at Champion’s new role in a memo at the time. “[Champion] will take the lead in expanding increased weather coverage into our primetime schedule,” said Shull. “As part of this, he will work to create regular primetime shows that highlight the intersection of new technologies and weather.”
Champion had a tough time drawing viewers on AMHQ, and says 23.5 Degrees isn’t a ratings play per se. “If it’s a play at anything, it’s being a conversation leader,” he says.
David Clark, president of The Weather Channel, has big plans for the show. “There’s no consistent place on television for leaders and innovators to gather and share their ideas,” he said. “We felt The Weather Channel, with Sam, should be the natural place for this conversation to happen.”
Champion is not afraid to delve into the politics of climate science, and blasts both parties equally for failing to fully grasp the issue in their numerous primary debates. “I was disturbed,” he said. “Not surprised, but distressed about the lack of discussion on these issues.”
Champion would like to launch a few more topical weather shows, creating and hosting them at first before passing the baton to a new host. He plans to remain the host of 23.5 Degrees, however. “I like this idea,” he said. “I’m having a freakin’ blast.”