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Undaunted By DirecTV Fracas, Weather Channel To Launch More Primetime Originals

Sam Champion, digital video get emphasis in early presentation geared toward coming upfronts

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The Weather Company said it would continue to invest in documentary series for primetime, even as that idea has drawn objections from DirecTV, which pulled the company’s Weather Channel network from its satellite service over objections to its pushes into broader entertainment.

In a presentation to advertisers Tuesday in preparation for the annual “upfront” advertising market, Weather executives articulated a strategy aimed to deliver not only customized weather forecasts and information but real-life looks at the phenomena of nature and climate.  The company spent a fair amount of time previewing its new program hosted by former “Good Morning America” meteorologist Sam Champion, who will be backed by a team of correspondents that will offer peeks at the news, sports and pop culture likely to drive the day ahead. Champion’s new program, “AMHQ with Sam Champion,” is set to debut at 7 a.m. eastern next Monday and run until 10 a.m.

But executives also vowed to continue to produce non-fiction series for primetime and Sundays that provide behind-the-scenes looks at extreme weather and the people it might affect.  There is good reason for the effort. Since November, when the company tweaked its on-air look by including an on-screen forecast at all times and introducing a new slogan. total-day viewership has risen 30% and viewership for the Weather Channel’s prime-time originals has increased 64%, noted Chris Raleigh, senior vice president, cable and cross-platform ad sales for The Weather Company, during the meeting.

The company unveiled four new original series for 2014:

“Tornado Alley” – Slated to debut Monday, April 28 at 9 p.m. eastern. Consists of eight 60-minute episodes. “Tornado Alley” will explore deadly tornadoes from every angle, through the eyes of both experts and survivors. Using cutting-edge CGI, the show will destroy cities, tell white-knuckle survival stories, and show in user-generated content just how devastating tornadoes can be. “Tornado Alley” is produced by Karga Seven Pictures.

“Catching Hell” – Slated to debut Sunday, June 1, at 9:00 p.m. eastern. Consists of 10 60-minute episodes. “Catching Hell” looks at the challenging world of commercial spearfishing.  The series follows the world’s most skillful hunters as they battle intense weather and ocean conditions, dive to astonishing depths, fight off the bends and man-eating sharks, and strike seemingly impossible shots on these valuable fish. . “Catching Hell” is produced by Stick Figure Studios (“Amish in the City,” HBO’s “Family Bonds”), a division of Ora TV (“Larry King Now,” “Wayward Nation”).

“Now What?” – Slated to premiere in the third quarter. Consists of eight 60-minute episodes. “Now What?” tackles weather-related emergencies and explores the choices people make when Mother Nature wreaks havoc on them. What should you do when your car is overtaken by flood waters? What do you do when you realize you’re in a tornado’s path?   Executive produced by Phil Gurin (“Shark Tank”).

“Wicked in the Weather” – Slated to launch in the fourth quarter. Consists of eight 60-minute episodes. “Wicked in the Weather” gives viewers a never-before-seen look into the Earth sciences as seen through the origins of Americana’s most frightening legends. Whether it’s a bad moon rising or a wicked wind blowing, this series peels back the layers of terrifying tales, examining their origins, the fascinating geographic and meteorological elements, and the modern-day experiences told by the people who lived through them. Produced by Sirens Media.

The company’s push into non-fiction primetime entertainment has been cited by DirecTV as one reason for taking Weather Channel off its 20-million subscriber service in January. DirecTV has maintained that The Weather Channel airs too many programs that have little to do with offering subscribers nitty-gritty on climate, weather and temperature – which they are able to get from other media sources with ease. The blackout is the first in Weather Channel’s 32-year history. Formed in 1982, the network previously had been available to about 100 million pay-TV households.

Weather executives said the company would continue to present “Video Minutes,” 60-second short-form video vignettes designed for digital media. But there will be a new emphasis on investigative efforts that will tackle such topics as homelessness in the coldest city in the country, smuggling and immigration across a perilous desert, and climate denial.

Additionally, the company’s digital staff will partner with the TV network to present “Will to Live,” a five-part series that will tell extreme stories of survival against the elements. Two of the series’ five hour-long episodes will originate with Weathers’ digital video team