Weather Channel: riveting normalcy

If you've watched the Weather Channel lately, you've probably seen its newest on-air pregnancy. Sharon Resultan strolls back and forth across the national weather map, her expanding profile on display. Mind you, hers is not the first Weather Channel pregnancy to ride the airwaves so boldly - in fact, Ms. Resultan, herself, has been this route before. Unlike Demi Moore who flaunted her naked pregnant body in Vanity Fair a decade ago, this is just business as usual.

It's like everything else at the Weather Channel - contrarian; a case of real-life conducted so simply and matter-of-factly that it becomes almost mesmerizing.

In a medium that gets flashier by the moment, it's that absence of spectacle that keeps one glued to the set. Who knew that weather maps, walking heads, and scrolling text could be so riveting?

The great paradox of the Weather Channel is its ability to be part of the problem and part of the solution all at once.

In an age of information overload, a single-theme channel doubtless contributes to the data glut. But how bland and easily digestible the servings are. The Weather Channel delivers the most irrational of news - reports of hurricanes, ice storms, earthquakes - in the most even-handed, rational tone.

When you consider the alternative in most local TV markets, the appeal of the Weather Channel becomes obvious.

At many local stations, meteorologists are more like sportscasters - above all, they're fans. They love weather - the heavier, the better. They thrill to the prospect of a major storm; they delight in the tricky forecast.

Too often, local meteorologists bring a zeal to the job that seems better-suited to cheerleading. Not so at the Weather Channel. There, the approach is more like that of news anchors - straightforward, frank, reportorial. In place of local color, they offer global neutrality - a sort of meteorological Switzerland.

If all of this sounds remarkably dull, it is - and refreshingly so. It may well be that dull is the perfect antidote to so much news and information that comes at us all day long. Add to that the repetitive nature of the programming - the same forecasts over and over throughout the day, in the same unhurried, unfettered style - and the effect is tranquilizing. The Weather Channel is the one place on the dial where even disasters are played down, not up, and made to sound nearly soothing. As counter-programming goes, that's no small feat.

Back to Resultan. Her first on-air pregnancy, in 1997, provided more suspense than generally comes from the Weather Channel. Near the end of her term, she kept showing up for work, her size and discomfort notwithstanding. It was the most ordinary of circumstances, played out in the most extraordinary place - under the lens of a camera, day in, day out, over nine months.

Nor was this a sitcom pregnancy, or a talking head whose gravid belly sat hidden behind a desk. This was the real thing - a woman who showed up for work, pointing to jet streams and isobars. That she carted her enormousness from Boston to Boise each day for the whole world to see was a new kind of TV.

Three years later, it still is.

* Joan Silverman is a Boston-based writer.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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