Jewish World Review Sept. 23, 2003 / 26 Elul, 5763

Burt Prelutsky

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Much ado about the dew | It wasn't Mark Twain, but a friend of his named Charles Dudley Warner who actually observed that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. But even the late Mr. Warner, were he to pay us a return visit, would be dumbfounded to discover how much time and attention we Americans waste on a topic so mind-numbingly dull.

Who would ever have imagined that weather would one day have its very own TV station? Well, actually I would have, but I have that sort of imagination. When you get right down to it, though, it was inevitable. One merely had to look at local television news to realize that the weather was destined for big things.

In theory, you realize, the five o'clock news is a one-hour show. However, once you eliminate commercials, teasers and all the chatter between the anchors and their cohorts, you're left with roughly thirty minutes of what they amusingly refer to as the news. At least five or six of those minutes are turned over to some shmoe with a pointer and a blue screen showing you satellite pictures of cold fronts, isobars and high pressure zones. It's not enough that we have to sit there waiting to find out there's a 50-50 chance we'll need an umbrella tomorrow, but we have to try to stay awake during a lecture by a guy calling himself a meteorologist. Aren't you always left with the queasy feeling that, come the end of the semester, you'll be tested on the material?

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Do you realize that if your local newspaper devoted an equal amount of attention to the subject, they would have to eliminate sports, business, Dear Abby and the funnies, to make room?

The reason TV is so dedicated to making certain you know the current temperature in Beaver Tooth, Oregon, and the annual rainfall in Kickapoo, Mississippi, is because it fills the time between commercials in what is, next to test patterns, the cheapest way possible. The data, after all, is supplied gratis by the government. All the station has to do is provide that blue screen and hire some doofus with a bad toupee and his own pointer. For the station, it's a license to steal. Even tow truck operators with city contracts are envious.

On those occasions when the weather raises a ruckus -- be it a hurricane in Florida or a tornado in Kansas -- the entire hour might involve matters meteorological. Let there also be a tidal wave in Java, and station managers have been known to keel over from sheer ecstasy, a smile of pure rapture on their faces.

The only thing that can trump the weather on TV is a high-speed police chase. But one can't always count on some shnook's trying to out-run twenty squad cars and a helicopter on a really slow news day. But the weather is always around, dependable, ready to do whatever is required of it.

Sure, TV is taking advantage of its obliging nature. Good old weather, they say in news rooms around the country, always there, 24/7, 52 weeks a year. Never asks for a raise. Never asks for time off. Health insurance? Forget it. Pension? No way.

And what's in it for the weather? Need you ask? You might as well ask what's in it for every waiter with a script half-finished at home. What's in it for every bright-eyed kid on a Greyhound headed to Hollywood? What's in it for the guy with the broom and shovel walking behind the circus elephants?

What's in it for the weather is the chance to be in show business.

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JWR contributor Burt Prelutsky is a veteran TV writer whose credits include, among others, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show and Diagnosis Murder. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.

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© 2003, Burt Prelutsky