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Shifting Winds at TWC

9/08/2006 8:00 PM Eastern

The Weather Channel’s fall programming forecast includes a revamped primetime lineup with more talking heads and fewer charts.

In an effort to draw new and potentially younger viewers, the 90 million-subscriber network will launch over the next month a nightly news show and an original series focusing on climate change.

But The Weather Channel Cos. president Debora Wilson said the new programming initiatives will not move the network away from its primary task of forecasting the weather.

“It’s more an evolution of the network,” Wilson said. “We’re far more layered in terms of our format and our talent and the content than we’ve ever been.”

ON THE MOVE

The Weather Channel will move two of its more prominent meteorologists, Stephanie Abrams and Mike Bettes, from the weather map to the couch when the network launches Beyond the Forecast on Sept. 25. The one-hour series, which will air daily at 8 p.m., will cover topical stories and go behind the scenes of high-profile weather events, according to Weather Channel senior vice president of programming Terry Connelly.

The show will feature remote reports — on the initial show, Bettes will go to New Orleans for the first National Football League game from the Louisiana Superdome, one year after the stadium was damaged by Hurricane Katrina — as well as opportunities for viewers to interact with the hosts via e-mail and call-ins.

Connelly said the more casual format correlates with The Weather Channel’s desire to not only predict weather, but also provide greater insight and information in the aftermath of such events.

“This is a very big departure from the standard format that we’ve had in our programming,” he said. “Now, we’re branching out and building on that strategy of developing different formats and approaches that will offer more reasons to watch more often.”

BROADBAND TIE-IN

Similarly, The Climate Code With Dr. Heidi Cullen, to debut Oct. 1, will provide a platform to discuss the hot topics of global warming and climate changes. The show will feature field experts, plus opinions and perspectives from policy-makers and celebrities such as Ted Turner, who are both knowledgeable and passionate about changes affecting our planet.

Connelly said the series — complemented by a companion broadband-video Web site dubbed One Degree — will provide information about global warming viewers of the network have requested.

“When you ask people what they want and what they think The Weather Channel can give to them, they express an interest in climate,” he said. “It’s an extension of The Weather Channel, which owns meteorology as an identity, to The Weather Channel that owns meteorology and climate change as an identity.”

YOUNGER TARGET AUDIENCE

The network also hopes the show will further endear the channel to younger viewers, who tend to be more environmentally conscious. With a primetime median viewing age of 52, Connelly said Weather is already the youngest-skewing cable-news service. For instance, both Fox News Channel and CNN have a median viewing age of over 65, according to an analysis of Nielsen Media Research data by media agency Magna Global.

“Every network thinks about how to introduce the next generation to their programming,” Wilson said. “It’s not the reason we’re doing this, but we do know that our children are very focused on caring about the broader universe — probably more so than our own generation. So it helps broaden the appeal of the network.”

Going forward, the network is planning several other original series for next year, including Epic Conditions, a five-episode show that will focus on the optimal weather conditions for extreme sports like surfing, skiing, and whitewater rafting.

Next April, Weather will premiere 100 Biggest Weather Moments, a five-part series examining major climate developments from the launch of the first weather satellite to the invention of air conditioning and windshield wipers.

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