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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 11/24/2008

Weather Channel Cuts Earn Mixed Reviews

Word that NBC had fired a handful of on camera meteorologists at The Weather Channel and canceled the network's only climate change news program struck a nerve with many Capital Weather Gang readers, who commented in droves during the weekend in response to our breaking news story that was posted on Friday afternoon. Out of nearly 260 comments that were filed as of Sunday night, not a single one supported the decision to fire popular longtime weathercaster Dave Schwartz, whose colorful weather presentations had made him stand out from the crowd of talent on that station.

Keep reading for more on reader reaction to the Weather Channel firings...

As the online outpouring of criticism demonstrated, Schwartz has an innate ability to present complicated weather information in an entertaining manner that is too rare among national TV weather personalities. He was TWC's resident late night talk show host, with Craig Ferguson's whimsical nature and the late Tom Snyder's eagerness to converse with viewers.

In contrast to the opinions of Schwartz, the vast majority of those who commented said good riddance (conveyed along with a large dosage of vitriolic hatred) to the now defunct "Forecast Earth," which was the only weekly climate change news show on basic cable. I strongly disagree with the anti-Forecast Earth sentiments, although I am somewhat biased since I have a connection to the show - in the past I wrote freelance articles for the program's Web site.

Judging from the level of anger expressed against it in the comments section, one might get the idea that Forecast Earth was a ubiquitous presence on TWC. However, the show aired primarily during poorly viewed weekend time slots, with extremely brief segments interwoven during the week. Its footprint was tiny compared to the outcry against it from the far right corner of the political spectrum, which may have made it vulnerable to the budgetary hatchet.

Hopefully the decision to cancel Forecast Earth does not signify that NBC/TWC is back peddling on climate change coverage, but it was clearly a boneheaded PR strategy to send the TWC employees who covered climate issues packing during the middle of NBC's "Green Week." NBC has said TWC will continue to cover environmental issues, but provided no specific details about what form that may take.

Many of those who commented this weekend said that the mere presence of Forecast Earth on The Weather Channel's programming schedule was so offensive that it had caused them to switch the network off altogether.

"I stopped watching the Weather Channel when they strayed from hard science and started preaching from the Global Warming alter," wrote "Baseball Fan."

Another commenter, "rat race escapee," wrote that Forecast Earth had caused "millions of viewers" to change channels, and this was why it was canceled.

No one who commented, of course, substantiated their claims of Forecast Earth-related ratings declines with data showing whether TWC's viewership had significantly declined since Forecast Earth was first broadcast, or that ratings dropped whenever the program came on each week. I have yet to see any such evidence.

As so often happens in online forums, blind rage dominated the discussion rather than facts, most of it directed this time at the former host of Forecast Earth, Heidi Cullen.

The anger spewed at Cullen harkened back to a controversy from two years ago, when, in response to a blog posting of mine at the previous incarnation of CWG (CapitalWeather.com), Cullen wrote that TV meteorologists needed to be more aware of the science of climate change and communicate this science to their viewers, even if they hold political opinions on the issue that run contrary to the scientific data.

For this well justified view she was subjected to an onslaught of criticism from listeners of conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh and others, who alleged she was trying to rid the TV weather community of skepticism about climate science. Clearly, for some readers she is still a controversial figure.

In addition to the invective that was thrown at Cullen, a few readers offered suggestions for where TWC should head in the wake of the NBC merger. One in particular caught my attention. "The thing that bugs me the most about the Weather Channel these days is that its "Weather Channel Lite," wrote "xjones." "We need TWC2 (that's more like the old TWC) for the hardcore weather geeks. There's a larger core audience out there than they realize, I think."

In my view, the audience for a more 'geeked out' TWC is already flocking to Web sites such as CWG. Speaking of which, I do hope that many of you who logged in over the weekend will return for our comprehensive weather coverage. And yes, we cover climate change too.

By  |  10:00 AM ET, 11/24/2008

Categories:  Freedman, Freedman, Freedman, Freedman

 
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