Sam Champion on Al Roker, Storm Name Controversy, New Weather Channel Show

Sam Champion - P 2013
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Sam Champion - P 2013

Sam Champion is ready for a world that is all weather, all the time.

The 30-year ABC News veteran and former Good Morning America weatherman is settling into a robust new role at The Weather Channel. In addition to his responsibilities as managing editor of the niche cable channel, Champion will anchor a new flagship morning program expected to launch in March.

A month after the news of his hiring became public, Champion joined TWC president David Clark onstage before the Television Critics Association in Pasadena to talk about a host of topics, including the DirecTV dispute (more on that here), the benefits of his new platform and his about-face with regard to his opinion on TWC's oft-criticized practice of naming winter storms.

What Channel Is That?

On paper, Champion's decision to leave ABC's top-rated morning show for the lesser-watched weather channel was an odd choice. But the move wasn't about eyeballs, according to Champion. Rather, the weatherman-turned-network-managing-editor sees this as an opportunity to broaden his offerings and serve his viewership, which is looking to him to help plan the day, minute by minute, region by region -- in his words: "complete day-part understanding." Providing the latter isn't possible with 30-second segments on a network morning show. (Champion's departure from GMA marked the first change to the morning show team since it overtook NBC's once-dominant Today in 2012. Ginger Zee, a frequent Champion fill-in, replaced him.)

More Than Just Weather

Though he's still a couple of months away from launch, Champion's goal for his morning show is to keep viewers tuned in to The Weather Channel -- and only The Weather Channel -- for the entirety of the morning. Doing so would be a considerable achievement, though, seeing as TWC viewers tend to check in two to three times a morning to view the latest weather patterns and then turn back to other channels for other news. "I don't want you to have to surf to get your news headlines or business headlines," he told reporters, revealing only that he has many years of full-service morning show experience that he's hoping to bring to this show.

What's in a Name?

Though the National Weather Service refuses to acknowledge TWC's winter storm names, Clark insisted his channel will continue the practice. In fact, he went a step further and predicted that the NWS would come around and, at some point in the future, take over the practice. "Often the private sector moves ahead of the public sector," he said, noting that he'd be happy to turn over the reins. Champion, once a vocal detractor of TWC's tradition, acknowledged that he has come to see the benefits of names such as "Nemo" or "Hercules," particularly when it comes to being able to track their locations and impact on social media sites such as Twitter. Of course, the boost to The Weather Channel's visibility can't be ignored either, and Clark addressed those advantages: "When Mayor Bloomberg gets up and uses Nemo in a press conference, that's fun for us."

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Don't Worry About Al

"I love me some Al," Champion joked of his former morning show rival, longtime friend and, now, TWC colleague. Al Roker's show, Wake Up With Al, will remain on The Weather Channel's schedule from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., with Champion's new three-hour show kicking off at 7 a.m. "I can't live without Al Roker," he added, downplaying any hints of a Today vs. GMA weatherman rivalry. "And I don't think you can either."

Just How Windy Is It?

Champion is neither a scientist nor a meteorologist, but he is a longtime lover of the weather -- and he said that passion, along with a desire to prepare and help others through inclement weather, is what drives him. When asked why he and his peers are compelled to produce segments in such dangerous conditions, he explained that we live in a "show and tell" culture where evidence is necessary. There's an element of "I don't believe it's bad unless you tell me it's bad," he continued, noting that weather forecasters are trained to show those conditions while keeping themselves and their crews safe. Champion joked that there were only a handful of particularly harsh storms, including 2012's Hurricane Sandy, during which he temporarily questioned his choice of careers.