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Why Sam Champion Denounced Morning Show 'Hysteria'

Why Sam Champion Denounced Morning Show 'Hysteria'


The hottest weatherman on TV offers viewers a brighter way to start the day.

Right this minute, the headset-wearing, quick-talking producers of the three major network morning shows look less like the pale, sleep-deprived TV people they are and more like the gutsy animated characters in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare calling in reinforcements, armed with highly promoted special features, pulling out all the stops with less than two weeks left to win the fierce breakfast battle known as "November sweeps."

Although the network managers tell their staffs that every day is a fight for ratings, it intensifies three times a year at NBC's Today, CBS This Morning, and the number 1 rated Good Morning America on ABC. November is especially grueling, a nearly month-long slog in which they're locked in combat, maneuvering to achieve the highest average rating for the period of October 30 to November 26. The winner will secure its network not just bragging rights but also the highest rate it can charge advertisers.

And watching it all from his own bunker above the fray, armed with lightning bolts, hailstones, and other weapons of weather, Sam Champion -- the first openly gay cohost of a network morning show -- forecasts trouble is on the horizon.

"Morning television is even getting to the point where I need a costume malfunction moment -- it's getting to a hysteria," he told HuffPostLive Thursday. "Everything's gotta be flashing all the time, everything's gotta be moving all the time. I think you want to be smarter when you walk out the door, so let's talk about things that impact you, things that impact the community."

And that is what America's most-watched weatherman has been doing since March, as lead anchor and managing editor at the Weather Channel's own morning program, AMHQ. This week Champion took his show from Atlanta to New York, live from Today's backyard, to allow him to do some publicity in hopes of boosting his own numbers.

What a whirlwind couple of years it's been for Champion. The native of Paducah, Ky., came out in October 2012, and in the same breath, he announced his engagement to Brazilian artist Rubem Robierb. Less than two months later, he wed Robierb in New York City.

Almost exactly a year later, Champion graced Times Square with his trademark smile one last time as weather editor and coanchor of GMA. And three months after he left the airwaves, Champion launched a competitor to the broadcast network breakfast shows; eight months in, he's proud to say AMHQ allows him to do what he says he never could before.

"There are stories you're not going to find in mainstream media," Champion told HuffPost Live, "and I think we're about to change that." He's been on television presenting the weather for more than three decades, and even though industry insiders expect him to take over weather duties at Today when Al Roker retires, he now talks like an outsider who doesn't like what he sees.

"Let's just say, on any given day if you're watching a network morning show, I'm going to find the cast of Housewives, I'm going to find a Dancing star, I'm going to find a musical concert, I'm going to find shopping, 'Hey, you can get these earrings two for $9.99 if you order them now,'" he explained. "That's morning television. But it isn't, and it shouldn't be. Because that's not what I need to get ready for my day, and I don't think that's what people need to get ready for their day. What about stories that are about their community, about their lives, that get them out the door?"

As soon as Champion himself was out the door of the Huffington Post studio, despite having been up at the crack of dawn for his own show, the 53-year-old demonstrated he still has that legendary stamina by traveling across town to record an episode of Dr. Oz, and then he was live again from Rockefeller Center the next morning.

NBCUniversal is part owner of the Weather Channel, and that partnership gave Champion the opportunity to have Roker as his guest on AMHQ Friday morning. They talked about the kind of stunts typical for the Today show during sweeps: Roker's record-setting 34-hour live "Rokerthon" of uninterrupted weather forecasting to benefit the USO. Champion called his morning show rival turned colleague a "genuinely nice guy" but slipped when he encouraged viewers to see Roker in person in Times Square, where ABC's Good Morning America broadcast originates.

Before flying home to Miami, Champion chatted live via Skype with Marshall Shepherd, a Weather Channel colleague and professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia, about the weather's role in the health of asthma sufferers. "More and more we're connecting asthma to environmental concerns," Champion told HuffPost Live. "That's a story we would not get to do on a network morning show. We would not get to talk about things that are environmental science tech. Because they're going to say no, no, no, I need something that is going to explode or flash."

And one of this year's biggest weather stories took place at the end of January in the Weather Channel's backyard of Atlanta, a snow and ice storm that paralyzed the city for days. AMHQ was not yet on the air, and neither was Champion. But he's already envisioned what he would have done and will do when -- not if -- it happens again.

"Of course we're going to be live everywhere for that, but then we're going to dig down deeper," he said in the interview. "Why did this happen, why did one inch of snow [have that impact?] What's the real problem?" Champion blames the lack of an organized, tiered response to a weather emergency by both Atlanta and Georgia authorities.

"The problem is, everybody's starting to get on the road at the same time. You hadn't stepped the structure. So now the snow is starting to fall, everybody's on the road at the same time, the ramps are getting slippery so people can't get on or off the ramps, and because they're having accidents at the top of the ramp and the bottom of the ramp, you can't get snow treatment there, either. You can't clear it, you can't do anything, and people are stuck. Now they're running out of gas. Now they have to stay in their cars, because they can't abandon their cars and get out of there. You have this cascading effect because a plan needed to be put into place. ... It was a situation that was waiting to happen because you didn't have the structure."

Champion recalled one story the Weather Channel did during the event that stuck with him, a woman who organized her own rescue team. "She was wondering, What can I do? And on Facebook, she starts mobilizing hundreds of people to deliver food and water and talk to and help these people who are out on the interstate, stranded." That's the kind of story he says AMHQ will continue to pursue, in addition to the latest forecasting information. "So you're going to get more. And you're going to understand the situation."

Asked what surprises winter has in store this time, Champion explained, "We've got our first shot of arctic air now. We get another one coming in next week, according to the models. I have no reason to believe that we won't see more early in the season." And when will New York City see its first snowfall? Sam predicted Tuesday.

And although that was a guess, Champion is the first to admit he is not a climate scientist and makes no bones about his reliance on the team of meteorologists at the Weather Channel, the network he now calls home. "Our home is environment. Our home is climate. Our home is science. Our home is weather," he told HuffPost Live. "Are we a little geeky? You bet we are! And we think you are a little geeky -- everybody has a little bit inside them and we want you to walk out the door a little smarter."

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