New Reality Show Hopefuls Vie for TV Weather Job

TBS series from Mark Burnett and Funny Or Die brings meteorologist wannabes together
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One of the defining jobs in local television, the meteorologist, is the focus of a new reality-meets-comedy series in which the winner is handed a prominent TV forecasting appearance. Funny Or Die Presents America’s Next Weatherman is produced by, as the name indicates, humor outfit Funny Or Die, along with reality godfather Mark Burnett, and debuts Aug. 8 on TBS. America’s Next Weatherman will aim to balance the silly and the serious as 12 competitors vie for a one-off weather segment on CNN, with a chance for more.

“The TV weatherperson is an iconic figure for most viewers, and in a great era for reality competitions based around unusual jobs, this seemed like a very fruitful one,” says David Eilenberg, senior VP of unscripted development at TBS. “Plus, a job grounded in predicting the unpredictable is a great way to get at both comedy and drama.”

TV news has been the focus of reality series in the past. In 2007 Fox aired Anchorwoman, about a blonde swimsuit model, Lauren Jones, who learns to be an anchor in 30 days. Last winter, truTV aired Breaking Greenville, which depicted the local news battles, many of them comical, between two stations in Greenville, Miss.

The Tribe Has Spoken

America’s Next Weatherman is a satire of the Burnett reality staples, including physical challenges and a vote-off similar to the tribal council on Survivor. In press materials, Burnett acknowledged a “real wink” at the audience. Joe Farrell, director of development at Funny Or Die, said the Burnett camp approached them with the concept. “They wanted to poke fun at the tropes [Burnett] is so well known for,” says Farrell, an exec producer on the show. “We loved that.”

Farrell says the weather forecasters are an ideal subject because they balance the serious with the lighthearted, and often show more personality than the anchors. Competitions include pulling off the walk and talk and showing a cool head under pressure. “What we do is make it fun and exciting in the Mark Burnett/Funny Or Die way,” says Farrell.

The winner gets $100,000 and an appearance on CNN, doing the weather for New Day. The TV experience of the contestants ranges from moderate to non-existent. Michelle Rotella is the chief meteorologist at cable channel HMTV 6 in Hagerstown, Md. Christina Faraone is a marine meteorologist technician, while Frank Margini has “only 5% body fat.” They get tutelage from real-life meteorologists such as Jackie Johnson of KCBS Los Angeles and Jim Castillo of KTLA Los Angeles.

TV meteorologists have worked hard to change the stereotypes of weathermen as goofballs and weatherwomen as airheads. No review copies were available, so time will tell if America’s Next Weatherman reinforces these stereotypes or not.

Mike Cavender, executive director of the trade association RTDNA, is reserving judgment until the show airs. He says it seems like it will be obvious when America’s Next Weatherman is going for satire, and when it’s playing it straight.

“My only hope,” Cavender says, “is that as an 11 p.m. show, it doesn’t draw viewers away from stations’ newscasts.”

DELAWARE STATION TAKES ON TITAN

For a self-proclaimed unimportant guy, Bob Backman, president, general manager and co-owner of WRDE, a tiny NBC affiliate in Lewes, Del., is getting his share of adulation. Backman voices a radio spot airing in the Salisbury- Ocean City (Md.) market, which covers southern Delaware. In it, the plainspoken Backman identifies himself as “not an important guy,” then goes on to implore viewers to watch NBC on his year-old station, not on WBAL Baltimore.

Backman does not identify WBAL owner Hearst TV by name, but says the station is owned by “really important people who work in big, tall buildings in New York, and own around 30 stations in great big cities.” He adds, “I just have this one.”

WBAL did not comment, but Backman says he’s gotten an enormous reaction around the market, even signing autographs for fans of the spot at the Ocean City Car Show. “I really feel that, if you go on the radio, you go on with the truth,” he says. “Everybody goes on with a bunch of hype.”

One of the defining jobs in local television, the meteorologist, is the focus of a new reality-meets-comedy series in which the winner is handed a prominent TV forecasting appearance. Funny Or Die Presents America’s Next Weatherman is produced by, as the name indicates, humor outfit Funny Or Die, along with reality godfather Mark Burnett, and debuts Aug. 8 on TBS. America’s Next Weatherman will aim to balance the silly and the serious as 12 competitors vie for a one-off weather segment on CNN, with a chance for more.

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