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The Syfy-cation of The Weather Channel

By admin Published: November 2, 2009

(You could pronounce that as "suffocation," if you'd like.)

Readers here have heard me complain before about at least one of the changes in the Weather Channel: the addition of the jokey, jarring "Wake Up With Al" in the early morning. Since that's the time when I am awake and checking the weather -- and since I like to do it while getting dressed, instead of going to the computer -- I have found "Wake Up" unavoidable, to my continuing irritation.

If that was the only thing bothering me, I could live with that. Even if that and the removal or moving of some of the anchors were the only things, I might get by. But it's not. As even a commentator on NPR observed, the Weather Channel turned over some prime-time hours to an airing of "The Perfect Storm," the nine-year-old movie starring George Clooney. And here we get to the larger trend from NBC Universal, which now owns The Weather Channel. It's turning the network into Syfy.

In other words, it is taking a channel with a clearly defined mission, aiming at a specific audience, and throwing out the precise definition in favor of something that is more vague -- and therefore, theoretically, more broadly appealing.

Syfy used to be the Sci Fi Channel. And it was a place for science fiction and fantasy programming. It still is, in some respects, through shows like "Warehouse 13," not to mention the various incarnations of "Battlestar Galactica." But it is also not so much that; the death toll for the Sci Fi Channel as we knew it most likely came with the introduction of wrestling to its lineup. By that time, Sci Fi/Syfy was redefining itself as a channel appealing to the imagination -- which, after all, is what any entertainment channel does.

It's not unreasonable for a channel to want to expand its audience, but why kill a decent concept to do so? And NBC U has a history of that tactic; remember when Bravo was a cultural channel? (To be fair, A&E, which is not an NBC property, has also wandered far from its roots. And The Nashville Network went through some odd permutations before its concept was dropped entirely.)

Now, you might argue that the Sci Fi situation is galling to its hard-core old fans because that audience was singularly passionate in its admiration of what it considered appropriate programming, as opposed to what the folks from NBC U thought. (Need I remind you of the nuanced and detailed debates about content and tone that accompany just about anything in the S/F realm?) But as low-key as The Weather Channel presented itself on the air, I was pretty passionate about it, too; I rarely traveled without watching it in the days leading up to the trip, and during the trip itself. I lived by "Local on the 8s." Yes, I got to know the personalities, and to have judgments about them, but it was as a source of information that I was drawn to it and to its online companion,

I still use, and I still turn on TWC first thing in the morning. But, as I said, I do so with considerable annoyance because if I cared what Vivica A. Fox had to say at that time of the morning, I would be watching E! or waiting for the "Today" show or "GMA." Same thing if I wanted to hear tired jokes and unconvincingly hearty banter. I began watching TWC because I didn't want that sort of thing. I wanted the weather. And now I worry that I am going to wake up one morning to wrestling -- wrestling in a hurricane, maybe, but still not what I had come to like.

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