Weather Channel adds show with nerd appeal

The Weather Channel is hoping to take advantage of the nerdy hipness of its sister operation Weather Underground by creating a branded evening show under that name hosted by Mike Bettes.

“Weather Underground” debuts from 6-8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 24.

Bettes, a meteorologist at the Atlanta-based company for nearly 12 years, hopes to delve deeper into how weather works, but when he talks to viewers, he’ll be doing so in a significantly more casual atmosphere. Part of that atmosphere is the set, a “man cave” of sorts. There’s the faux brick, two leather recliners, a basement-style bar and a showcase vintage 1996 Sega pinball machine themed to the Helen Hunt/Bill Paxton disaster film “Twister.”

“Amazing what you can find on eBay!” said Bettes, 43, referencing the “Twister” pinball prop, which was his top request for a cool prop. The machine, by the way, still works.

“Geekiness has become this sort of mass counterculture,” said Nora Zimmett, the Weather Channel’s senior vice president of live programming. “We’re the ultimate geeks. We want to show that off on an everyday basis. This will be where our passion lives. It’s meant to give a different feel than our more formal sets.”

Weather Underground is a commercial weather service founded in 1995 during the early days of the Internet for weather aficionados. The more mainstream Weather Company purchased Weather Underground in 2012 but keeps an arm’s distance, leaving its core operations in San Francisco.

“They were the first weather website that started at the University of Michigan,” Bettes said. “As the Internet grew, it grew.”

He said the Weather Channel and Weather Underground were “polar opposites” at one point. “We are now becoming more intertwined,” he said. “This show will hold to their brand. That is our goal.”

Bettes hopes the show will not alienate the casual viewers while drawing in the “uber weather enthusiasts.”

The show is part of the Weather Channel’s commitment to offer more science in its programming. In fact, the Weather Channel approached Weather Underground with the show idea.

“Initially, there may have been some resistance, but we have promised to hold true to what they are,” Bettes said. While the Weather Channel will have primacy in terms of editorial control, Weather Underground executives are actively involved.

“We’ll participate in the various daily programming meetings,” said Jim Menard, Weather Underground general manager who had worked at the Weather Company’s business-to-business division more than a quarter century before moving to Weather Underground 18 months ago. “They’ve been really, really good about maintaining our brand and being sensitive to what we consider important.”

Bettes was a little reticent in terms of what elements will be on the show though technology will be front and center. They have an interactive touch screen and will use 3-D augmented reality. “Tornadoes will pop out of the floor, hologram-esque,” Bettes said. On the other end, some experts will go old school and use chalkboards.

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