Looking for ways to increase its evening viewership, The Weather Channel will debut its first primetime series in August, a magazine show called Atmospheres.
"This is a different direction for us," senior vice president of programming and production Terry Connelly said. "Atmospheres is truly long-form programming."
The hour-long weekly series, which debuts Aug. 23, aims to spotlight weather and its effect on human life. Co-hosts will be TWC veteran Jim Cantore and Mishelle Michaels, the meteorologist for Boston's WHDH-TV.
TWC has been in the process of moving beyond its hourly program wheel by adding long-form shows to its schedule. For example, the network has already debuted two two-hour morning shows-First Outlook from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. and Your Weather Today from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
"The Weather Channel has had the traditional wheel format since it started," Connelly said. "The analogy for where we're going is like going from the [CNN] Headline News format to [Cable News Network's] format of programming."
TWC invests heavily in viewer research, and it has learned that while its audience in the morning just wants the weather basics-information that helps them to dress for the day and commute-at night, there are "weather enthusiasts" who crave more expansive coverage of the weather and its impact on people.
"In the evening, people have more time and want more depth," Connelly said.
TWC has aired primetime specials that did well in the ratings, but has never had a regularly scheduled series. The network is banking that its viewers will tune in to Atmospheres and stay tuned for its duration, which should give its ratings a boost.
From 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., TWC consistently ranks No. 1 in ratings among news and information services such as CNN, CNBC and MSNBC. But in the evening, it's a different story. "In primetime, there's a lot of room for growth," Connelly said.
In the second quarter, TWC's total-day and primetime ratings were flat, each at a 0.3, according to Nielsen Media Research.
TWC is also well aware that Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel have scored in the ratings with their primetime weather-disaster-related shows. But Atmospheres will take a different approach than Discovery and TLC.
"We will be upbeat," Connelly said. "You have to show the danger, but it's from the perspective of the wonders of science, being in awe of the power of the elements. You won't see bodies on The Weather Channel."
Atmospheres will include four segments: "Feature of the Week," which offers dramatic stories about rescue efforts during storms or bad weather; "Destinations," where viewers are taken to far-off places; "In the Elements," profiles of people who face the challenge of working or living in nature's extremes; and a final segment that showcases a unique weather story.
Early episodes of Atmospheres will include a segment on the design of the Sears Tower and the Hancock Building in Chicago, which were built to sway in the wind, sometimes causing workers to get nauseous. TWC also talks to a window washer for those buildings.
Other upcoming segments look at the rescue of a tugboat by the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, and how the weather affects space shuttle launches.
To fill the needs of viewers still turning to TWC in primetime just for weather updates, each Atmospheres episode will have three local and two national weather forecasts. "We can't alienate the people who only want that," Connelly said.
His only lament about Atmospheres is that its premiere puts it directly up against the two-hour finale of CBS' ratings powerhouse, Survivor. "We chose this date last April," he said.
But Connelly pointed out that with replays, Atmospheres will air five times per week on TWC, so it's not just depending on its 8 p.m. Wednesday play.