If I’m at work, this might require sneaking into the sports department or Editor John Peters’ office to catch the show on their respective television sets, or if at home, simply curling up in a chair. But I try to be SOMEWHERE planted in front of a TV screen at 7:30 p.m. each day, tuned in to Channel 2 for one of my favorite programs.
So you can imagine my horror Thursday night when the trusty RCA in the living room flashed on to reveal not Alex Trebek and a group of “Jeopardy” clues ready to be solved, but a WFMY weather person standing in front of a big map of the area.
You know the kind of map I’m talking about, which shows all the bright red, green, yellow and other colors that are supposed to indicate where severe-weather “hot spots” are occurring. When I see these digitally recreated graphics plastered over familiar locations in the region, they always remind me of something I learned about in a long-ago biology class which are called “amoeba.”
I had forgotten what amoeba actually were. For the record, they are “any of various one-celled aquatic or parasitic protozoans of the genus Amoeba or related genera, having no definite form and consisting of a mass of protoplasm containing one or more nuclei surrounded by a flexible outer membrane, which move by means of pseudopods.”
So there you have it — in layman’s terms, amoeba resemble a big blob, which seems to be what appears on the TV screen every time there is a remote chance of a weather “crisis” anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard. And, of course, a friendly weather person is always standing there telling everyone that they are going to meet a horrible death unless they stay tuned to his or her station.
The alarm Thursday night was due to a “possible” tornado threatening an area of Virginia which is about 80 miles from Mount Airy. My feelings of relief at not being sucked into a funnel cloud at that precise moment soon turned into anger as the realization sank in that “Jeopardy” would not be telecast Thursday evening — just so Channel 2 could be right there in the eye of the storm.
Of course, other area TV stations were doing the same thing, their respective weather people posing in front of the obligatory maps of colorful amoebas threatening democracy and the entire Western civilization.
The people at the stations always use the excuse that they are justified in interrupting regular programming (including “Jeopardy”) with these lengthy weather bulletins so they can potentially save lives.
While that sounds good, I find it highly questionable for a couple of reasons.
First, if a tornado is headed to what looks like my neighborhood in that mass of amoeba on the screen, the last thing I’m going to be doing is sitting in the living room watching some weather person tell me that the end is near. I’m going to be in the basement or somewhere else wearing a motorcycle helmet and curled up in the fetal position — maybe uttering a prayer or two.
The second drawback relates to my basic mistrust of television people in general. The sweetly smiling local news teams of Triad TV stations, which some of us allow into our homes each evening, always are informing us about how much they care for us and want to save the world.
But trust me: They care about ratings more. If they like us, well and good, but at the end of the day it’s all about the ratings, which drive the advertising dollars that are at the root of why they’re in the broadcasting business in the first place.
If the truth be known, those nice folks who are so committed to the well-being of mankind probably would sell their mothers for half a Nielsen point.
I think what happened Thursday night was a prime example of TV stations’ showing their true colors — and I’m not talking about those stupid amoeba maps.
At 7:45 p.m., the world was coming to an end to the point that weather crews were having to interrupt stations’ local programming during the one-hour time slot between the end of the network news and the start of the prime-time schedule at 8 p.m.
But miraculously, when prime time arrived, the “disaster” suddenly had diminished to the point where popular network shows (such as “Survivor” in Channel 2’s case), were broadcast in their entirety with no weather-related interruptions.
Without knowing all the implications involved, I imagine that the people at the networks would frown on a station in a metro market such as the Triad choosing to replace their shows with local weather alerts. If I were a major advertiser paying millions of dollars to run commercials, I would be furious at the idea of my product message not reaching all major markets.
Yet, the weather danger was still there, judging by the fact local TV stations continued to clutter up the screen throughout Thursday evening with their amoeba maps and “helpful” information about storm activity. All the while, naturally, little messages appeared warning everybody that they better tune in to the 11 p.m. local newscast for an update, or risk sure death and destruction.
I’m certainly not a genius, but it doesn’t take one to figure out what these television stations are doing, which is nothing more than capitalizing on weather crises and people’s fears in order to boost ratings.
Sadly, we have yet to really begin the spring and summer season and the usual thunderstorms and winds, etc., which means innocent TV viewers are in store for countless more weather alerts anytime a drop of precipitation falls.
But my message to Channel 2 and others is, I’m willing to take my chances with the weather using my own faculties rather than the assistance of some talking head with a fake smile standing in front of a screen full of amoeba.
If I see a bolt of lightning, I have sense enough on my own not to run outside holding a five-iron up to the sky. And if the dreaded freight-train sound is heard (signaling a tornado), I’ll dive into the basement with my motorcycle helmet.
But for God’s sake, leave my “Jeopardy” time alone!
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1924.