I’ve worked for years in an office where ESPN is mandatory viewing, which I’m sure sounds great to those of you who can’t watch TV at work. I am sympathetic to your plight but watching eight hours of “SportsCenter” is not all it’s cracked up to be. Oh, the tragic sameness of it all!
But after spending much of Saturday watching coverage of Hurricane Irene, I was struck by the similarities between the Weather Channel and ESPN.
Both are New York-centric. The Weather Channel’s coverage would have led you to believe Irene went from the Outer Banks right to Times Square. No question the New York area got hit harder than we did here in our nation’s capital, but it did affect us. That’s why I spent a lot of time flipping to the comforting faces on Channel 4.
Of course, Jim Cantore was in the New York area; I saw him on a boardwalk that was covered in water, saying, “The water is now over the boardwalk.” I guess the Coney Island boardwalk is sort of the “Brett Favre’s lawn” of the Weather Channel.
Video clips are essential to both networks, and if you watch long enough, you’ll see the same things over and over: the surf in North Carolina, the kids from California celebrating winning the Little League World Series.
Both networks love to make predictions. The Weather Channel uses scientists for theirs, to plot the hurricane’s strength and its potential path. They even use telestrators to draw routes, like scientific John Maddens. ESPN also makes predictions, but they are less important in the scheme of things and usually involve phone interviews with Adam Schefter regarding the Redskins’ quarterback situation.
Like much of what ESPN breathlessly promotes, Irene (thankfully) failed to live up to the hype.
Graphics are also heavily used by both networks. ESPN would have ranked Irene among the Top 10 hurricanes of all time before it ever got to North Carolina. The Weather Channel used graphs, including one with wavy lines that I could not for the life of me figure out.
Naturally, there are also differences. ESPN has far more bluster and self-promotion than the Weather Channel. Had Chris Berman been giving us weather highlights, the storm would have been called Hurricane “Good Night” Irene. When an ESPN announcer says the Little League World Series is “one of the marquee events on the sports calendar,” you have to marvel at the audacity (because of course, it was televised on ESPN).
Also, the Weather Channel has fewer beer commercials.
The Weather Channel reporters wear unflattering coats and sensible shoes and they don’t spend a lot of time in the hair and makeup trailer. They show us how bad conditions are by walking into high winds, like brave mimes. You wouldn’t catch an ESPN sideline reporter miming a mime.
The biggest risks ESPN reporters usually face is getting run over on the sideline or having their clothing stained during champagne celebrations, although in recent years they’ve started showing up in victorious locker rooms wearing waterproof jackets that would not be out of place on the Weather Channel.
But the biggest difference between the two, for me, is that ESPN is usually not talking to dead air. The irony of watching coverage of hurricanes or snowstorms or tornadoes, of course, is that when you most need it, you often can’t get it, because you don’t have power. So a lot of the Weather Channel’s work becomes talking to people who can’t hear you. (The ESPN equivalent would probably be the third day of the NFL draft.)
Of the two, I think I’ll stick with ESPN for Washington’s next hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster. (At the current rate, whatever it is ought to hit around Wednesday.) After this weekend, I think the sameness will be comforting.