You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Tom Brokaw Says Donald Trump Will Become a Climate Change Believer

Less than a day after covering the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Tom Brokaw braved a snowstorm to travel to the Sundance Film Festival. The veteran newsman wasn’t there to report on the indie film market. He touched down in Utah to promote “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman,” a Discovery Channel documentary he narrates about a group of Red Staters who become global warming believers as they try to stem the effects of climate change.

“It’s about citizens who become environmentalists and who become political activists for the right reason,” Brokaw told Variety, as he sat at a steakhouse table that offered up a tableau of the winter storm blanketing Park City. “They do it because it’s their life. It’s their livelihoods. It’s their legacy. It’s what their families have done all their lives.”

It’s an issue and a way of life that resonates with Brokaw. He grew up in South Dakota, in the heart of America’s agricultural center, and he returns frequently to a ranch he’s owned in Montana since 1989. There he’s raised sheep, cattle, and other animals, and put easements on his land to keep it preserved.

“Tom’s connection to the story was unique,” said Rich Ross, president of the Discovery Channel. “We wanted someone who had a connection to these type of people.”

Brokaw’s interest in conservation dovetailed with Discovery’s recent focus on shows and films that deal with environmental issues. Last year, for instance, Discovery bought the documentary “Racing Extinction” out of the festival and debuted it on its channel. As part of the premiere, the channel created a social advocacy campaign designed to educate Americans about animal species that could be eradicated by human behavior.

“Discovery is a purpose-driven company and we have to be a moral voice for a lot of these issues,” said David Zaslav, president and chief executive officer of Discovery Communications, and a former colleague of Brokaw’s at NBC.

Even half-a-continent away from D.C., politics loom large at Sundance. Brokaw sat down with Variety an hour after 8,000 protesters marched through the streets of Park City in opposition to the new president. The former NBC News anchor acknowledged that Trump had done little in his inaugural to temper his pugilistic message or to reach out to his political foes.

“It was much more of a campaign speech than I expected,” he said. “I thought he might make some transition. On the other hand, I’ve been talking to people inside the organization and they were pretty clear that even if he had changed his rhetoric, they’re not going to change what they intend to do or his style. It’s a big roll of the dice.”

Brokaw said that Trump’s political stock will never be higher than it is right now, but he stressed that the working class discontent he harnessed to get into the White House cuts both ways.

“The best political strength he’s got right now is his message that he’s going to turn the country back to you, but he doesn’t have forever to do it,” said Brokaw. “People at some point are going to say, ‘okay, show me the money.'”

On the stump, Trump has stressed a series of protectionist policies he claims will bring back the automobile industry and the manufacturing sector. Brokaw sounds unconvinced.

“Working class people are losing ground, not gaining ground,” he said. “But the answer, I believe, is to make a much greater investment in new work programs and in community colleges to train people for the new economy. We’re not going to have big steel companies in Ohio again. That’s not going to happen.”

Trump’s ascent could be problematic for the ranchers and farmers in the Discovery documentary, and for others feeling the effects of a warming planet. The president has expressed skepticism about climate change, at one point tweeting that it was a hoax perpetrated by China. Brokaw thinks that at some point, despite his dismissals, Trump will become a convert.

“The president’s going to hear from the military, because they think it is a potential conflict issue,” said Brokaw. “The water gets higher, countries lose ground.” He adds that he talked to a Trump economic adviser who told him, “he’s very enthusiastic about Trump, but he said he’s going to have to get this.”

Brokaw believes that Trump’s election was also a repudiation of the mainstream media, and noted that in the wake of his upset victory NBC News had committed to sending more correspondents out into the middle of the country.

“There are lessons to be learned from the media in all this,” said Brokaw.  “They’re also voting against us. People in fancy suits who think we have all the answers.”

With shows like “Gold Rush” and “Deadliest Catch,” Zaslav and Ross say that Discovery gets the concerns and aspirations of the people who fueled Trump’s rise. That’s not to say the company didn’t take stock of their programming in the wake of the country’s rightward lurch.

“If there’s any programer in America who programs to Middle America it’s Discovery,” said Zaslav. “But we did have a number of meetings where we said are we hearing that voice enough? Are we telling enough of their stories? Are we talking about every day Americans living a life that people can relate to, fighting to get the best life that they can?”

More TV

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    John Singleton, the two-time Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as “mild.” According to TMZ, which first broke the news, [...]

  • Adam Lambert, of Queen, performs at

    Adam Lambert Back to 'Idol' to Mentor Finalists Through Queen's Catalog

    Adam Lambert famously launched his career on “American Idol” a decade ago performing a brilliant audition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He wrapped that amazing eighth season performing with the band on the season finale, and years later earned his current spot as the front man touring as Queen + Adam Lambert. On April 28, Lambert comes full circle as he steps [...]

  • Lily Tomlin SAG Lifetime Acheivement Award

    TV News Roundup: Netflix's 'Laugh-In' 50th Anniversary Tribute Sets Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Netflix sets the premiere date for its 50th anniversary special of “Laugh-In.” DATES “Laugh-In: The Stars Celebrate,” the 50th anniversary tribute to the original series by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, will premiere on Netflix on May 14. The special, which was taped at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, pays [...]

  • Texas Tech's Norense Odiase (32) shoots

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of April 8: NCAA Championship Game Dunks on Competition

    The final of the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament, in which Virginia triumphed over a spirited Texas Tech team, unsurprisingly finished way out in front in the Live+3 ratings for the week of April 8. Although the sports broadcast’s scripted competition made some gains, its 5.4 ratings still more than doubled that of “Grey’s Anatomy” in [...]

  • Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million

    Mueller Report Release Draws 11 Million Total Viewers Across TV News

    Coverage of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into whether President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice unsurprisingly caused a ratings bump across TV news yesterday. In terms of overall viewership, around 11 million people tuned in to see Attorney General William Barr’s news conference regarding the report’s release, and the news coverage surrounding it. According [...]

  • Neilsons Measurment Problems TV Digital

    WarnerMedia Pulls Out of Audience-Targeting Alliance Open A.P.

    WarnerMedia is going its own way when it comes to helping advertisers find specific groups of TV-watchers. The company, a founding member of the audience-targeting media alliance known as Open A.P., said Friday it would withdraw from the group, citing its desire to pursue its own strategy under owner AT&T. AT&T purchased Time Warner in [...]

  • BLESS THIS MESS - "The Chicken

    Listen: Lake Bell, Dax Shepard on Returning to Broadcast TV With 'Bless This Mess'

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s installment, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, chats with Lake Bell and Dax Shepard, stars of ABC’s “Bless This Mess,” which debuted on Monday. The show centers around a newly married couple, played by Bell and Shepard, who decide to ditch their shoebox New York City [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content