The Weather Channel will debut its first weekday stripped reality series in January, but network executives said the weather-news service is not planning to abandon its live coverage of storms for scripted and documentary fare.
The one-hour series, Storm Stories
— to start Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. EST — will focus on real tales of heroism involving people involved in severe weather situations, The Weather Channel Networks president Patrick Scott said. Weather has ordered 41 episodes, with an additional 25 set for production later in the year.
It's the first primetime show the network has ever scheduled outside the weather-news format.
Weather, available in more than 85 million households, currently offers the newsmagazine Atmospheres
three times a week. But Storm Stories
is the channel's first attempt to build a must-see, primetime destination, said Scott.
"We actually found that people wanted to see this type of programming at a set hour," he said. "We're going to offer Storm Stories
every night at 8 p.m., so you know that when you tune in you'll get the weather, as well as something more interesting."
The network will continue to provide weather updates during the show, via a continuous graphic set appearing in the lower right corner of the screen.
"You will always be able to get the weather when you check in The Weather Channel," he said. "And we will pre-empt the show when we have significant weather events."
Network research found that viewers wanted to see more "smart" documentary programming on the channel, said Scott. Weather isn't concerned about alienating dedicated viewers who like its current format, he added.
The network hopes the series will build on its ratings momentum. During October, the network averaged a 0.3 household rating — 50 percent above last year's numbers, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Scott declined to make a rating projection for the show, but said other documentary fare — like Weather's annual "Storm Week" programming stunt each summer — indexes "at least 120 percent of our average for the [specific] daypart."
Even if Storm Stories
proves to be a success, Scott said the network would not look to fill other primetime slots with more series programming.
"We're not planning to be the weather documentary channel," he said. "We know from the research that our viewers want us to provide documentaries, but that does not mean around-the-clock documentaries."
Nevertheless, he believes the show could become a breakthrough hit for the channel: "It could become our Trading Spaces
or Biography, and be a signature show for the network," he said.
Weather will tout the show through heavy on-air promotion, as well as some print advertising.
"We have this huge reach, which other networks do not get, so promotion on our air is more valuable than promotion on a lot of other people's air," he said.