TV Column: Anderson Cooper, Weather Channel at Summer TV Press Tour 2011

July 27, 2011

“It’s TV, so it’s not real work,” Anderson Cooper prattled on happily at Summer TV Press Tour 2011 about his complete confidence in his ability to continue anchoring his nightly CNN show, while also doing six segments a year for CBS newsmag “60 Minutes” and — starting Sept. 12 — hosting a new daily talk show.

TV critics, columnists and bloggers, returning wearily to the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel after a day-long field trip to far-flung studios and networks to hear actors talk about their ideals and when best to tweet, were assured by Cooper that he will continue at the same pace to parachute into exotic locales for CNN, dressed in his keep-’em-honest tight black T-shirt and jeans.

This, despite the demands of booking celebrities and big “gets” for his syndicated talk show, “Anderson” — not to be confused with his CNN show, “AC360.”

“I’ve left just about every vacation I’ve ever had — after about three days, I’m bored. . . . I’d just as soon go somewhere and . . . tell a story,” Cooper preened.

“I tend now to use my weekends to shoot stuff I wouldn’t be able to shoot during the week.”

One critic noted that by being here, at the Beverly Hills Hilton, Cooper was missing his CNN show and a very big news story. It was unclear whether the critic was referring to the debt-ceiling standoff in Washington or the latest flare-up in the Did CNN Host Piers Morgan Allegedly Possibly Order Phone Hacks During His Fleet Street Days? story.

“There are always trade-offs, but I felt you guys were worth it,” Cooper said with a smile.

“If I were away someplace, we could have [‘Anderson’] shows . . . that we would run, or we could actually do live shows from an event I was at,” he said of the logistical challenges of his two TV careers, noting that, in the past year, he has flown to Egypt, Japan and Joplin, Mo.

“I’m not worried about it at all. It’s very doable because I manage my time really well.”

In fact, Cooper said, he already has plans for his next show: “Anderson on Ice.” Yes, folks, ice skating.

On his new talk show, Cooper said, he will not feature politicians and pundits; he will feature “real people talking about real situations” — and Lady Gaga, of course.

Cooper told one critic he would break his lifelong rule about not reading what people wrote about him and read their coverage of this sparkling conversation. His famous mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, he said, taught him at an early age, “never read anything about yourself.”

“It is a very difficult thing to do,” Cooper said, growing serious as he spoke of the people in their pajamas, drinking cocoa, who are “intent upon hurling whatever stuff they can at you.

“I am successful about 70 percent of the time,” he added.

“It’s good advice. It’s tough advice.”

But wait — at the start of his press-tour appearance, Cooper assured his captive audience that reading viewers’ tweets about him is “now the first thing I check in the morning,” because, “I like having that ongoing conversation.”

Growing up in the house of Vanderbilt was “hugely impactful” on his career path. Because of his mother’s connections, he said, “I once was scheduled to appear in a [‘Wizard of Oz’] Munchkin outfit on ‘The Mike Douglas Show.’ ”

And, he revealed, “I also once appeared on ‘To Tell the Truth’ when I was 9 . . . pretending to be the world’s youngest bear trainer.” He reports he fooled regular “Truth” truth-seeker Kitty Carlisle Hart — from which we can deduce the New York socialite/actress/celebrity was not on Vanderbilt’s Dinner Guest List.

Other famous people, however, were, and growing up surrounded by some of the brightest stars in the cultural firmament left Cooper utterly unflapped by A-listers. At a young age, he explained, he learned they are “real people” and are “just as desperate as everyone else.”

This, he explained, freed him from the nagging urge to seek fame that afflicts so many others. And yet, listening to him talk on the opening day of the press tour, you got the feeling that if ever the day should come when people took away his TV shows, they might just as well hit him over the head with something hard and heavy, and make a clean job of it.

Weather Channel chatter

The Weather Channel is very hot these days because of, well, weather.

With the record heat, flooding, drought, tornado outbreaks, etc., about 100,000 people a day are downloading the Weather Channel app onto their mobile devices. And May was the network’s highest-rated month in five years: Nearly 50 million people watched the channel’s coverage of the catastrophic destruction in Joplin, Mo., a result of the seventh-deadliest tornado on record in U.S. history.

Weather Channel General Manager Bob Walker, meteorologists Jim Cantore and Stephanie Abrams, and hurricane expert Rick Knabb came to Day 2 of Summer TV Press Tour 2011 to walk that very fine line between talking about all this severe weather and gloating about it. They dodged the dangerous question from TV critics and others on the tour as to whether they subscribe to global warming.

“We’re trying to use the words ‘climate change’ as opposed to ‘global warming,’ ” Stephanie tippity-tap-tapped. “It’s not all about warming.”

“We focus on the science and the facts of what’s going on and let others worry about the politics,” added GM Bob.

Standing in the middle of hurricanes is something best left to experts — like them, the panelists agreed.

It’s those other bits of on-air talent, who strap themselves to rooftops and stand on storm walls when the skies have opened up and the winds have hit 120 mph who are giving talking-heads-in-hurricanes a bad name.

“You will not see me standing on a storm wall,” Stephanie vowed. “That’s crazy. We get given a bad name because . . . other people out there are not as knowledgeable.”

But it’s important to send talking heads into the eye of the storm, with a camera crew in tow, she hastened to add, because it helps the talking head better understand severe weather.

“People need to know the power of these storms, and there is no way to get across to the folks the dangers the weather presents unless we see what it looks like,” concurred Rick, calling it “very important educational . . . material.”

Besides, back in the days when the Weather Channel was just map-of-storm-area-here/map-of-tornado-path-there, viewers told the channel, “That’s great but show us how intense they are,” said Jim, who is a Weather Channel old-timer.

“That really was the birth of our live coverage back in the ’80s,” he explained.

In the ’90s, he told the room, a woman walked up to him in some bad-weather-infested place and said, “I’m glad you’re here to take us through it.”

“I never forgot that,” Jim said.

“We’re helping people,” Stephanie jumped in.

Bob the GM went with “keeping people safe.” Yet, he noted proudly, although the network has many professional crews deployed to locations of extreme weather, “increasingly” they are hearing from citizen weathermen who are sending their own videos from weather-stricken places.

One TV critic worried about ice. “We’re all very concerned about global warming, if things get hot,” the critic began, seguing to, “We haven’t seen an ice age in a while. . . . Are we going to have another ice age?”

“Climatology is the study of weather going out over a long period of time; meteorology is what we do,” Jim explained patiently. “Those are questions my expertise can’t answer.” But, he added, he has seen glaciers with stakes, which show how far a glacier has retreated. “That’s alarming to me. . . . The ice is melting.”

Another critic wondered out loud why the Weather Channel covers earthquakes.

GM Bob was glad the critic asked. Weather Channel customers define “weather” as “all things affecting the natural world in which we live,” he explained. That includes earthquakes such as those in Haiti and Japan — and tsunamis, too.

Another critic complained that meteorologists have become the rock stars of local news instead of crime reporters, like God intended. These days, the critic whined, If It Drizzles, It Leads.

GM Bob gave it to the critic like a slap in the face: 90 percent of the country’s population checks the weather — every day.

“Is there any safe haven” from weather? wondered another critic.

There is not.

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