Thursday, October 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Hurricane TV: The round-the-clock 'reality' show

I may have trouble making it through a single episode of MTV's "Jersey Shore," but I've never been able to resist Hurricane TV, the multichannel show that lives for disaster.

Hurricane TV: The round-the-clock 'reality' show

I may have trouble making it through a single episode of MTV's "Jersey Shore," but I've never been able to resist Hurricane TV, the multichannel show that lives for disaster.

It doesn't take a storm aimed directly at my house in New Jersey to keep me up into the early morning hours watching the same Doppler maps over and over -- I've been holding vigil for Gulf Coast storms since long before Katrina reared her ugly head.

This time, of course, it's personal. And so like a lot of you, I'll be spending time with the Weather Channel, with the cable newsies and all the local stations, at least as long as the power stays on.

8:50: If a tree comes crashing through your bedroom window and your first thought is to snap a picture and send it to CBS 3, well, you might be a Philadelphian. And a very loyal Channel 3 viewer. (The viewer in question was not in bed at the time, at least.)

CBS 3's Chris May and Susan Barnett, by the way, have apparently decided that "superstorm" is too cold a word for a phenomenon that might send a tree crashing through your bedroom window at any moment and are more opting for the more familiar "Sandy."

8:58: By the way, if you're watching Philly stations and wondering where prime time went, CBS shows (in reruns) are over on the CW stations (13 and 811 on Comcast). Tweet me at @elgray if you find any other networks on other channels.

8:02: On Fox News, Shepard Smith also likes "superstorm" as well as "monster storm" for the storm that acts like a hurricane but no longer has tropical features. (And you thought it was just about wind speed!) But confusingly, he's also declaring that landfall has just occurred, like 30 seconds earlier, in South Jersey. Which I've now heard at least three times in the past two hours on different outlets. Had no idea "landfall" was such a moving target.

7:42: Morongate continues: My colleague Dan Gross (who I love like a much younger brother and whom I almost never refer to as a moron) has posted video and Tynan's, er, explanation. Honestly, I've seen this over and over now (thanks to others who've tweeted links) and I still think it makes her sound like one of the phantom whisperers on "Ghost Hunters." But here it is.

7:37: Jim Cantore is now threatening to abandon his water-soaked post in Battery City Park. About time. Water seems to be approaching his knees and he's not happy to hear there might be a 3-foot rise still to come from the surge alone.

7:14: The Weather Channel is now calling it "Superstorm Sandy" because technically it's not a hurricane anymore, but like Heidi Klum, is not just another blonde.

6:50: Jim Gardner wants us to know that Cecily Tynan did not call colleague Adam Joseph an "untoward name" (like, say, "moron") when he was having trouble with his mic. Because they don't do things like that at 6 ABC. "We are a family." May be only anchor in town who can get away with saying this without sounding like something untoward (he didn't actually wink, but he came close).

6:44: On 6ABC, Jim Gardner's actually smiling when he says "landfall has arrived." Can't blame him, really. So much fuss over a point in the storm that few outlets seem to absolutely agree on. (Outside my house, meanwhile, the winds seem to be picking up. First time in a while it's been louder than the TV.)

6:33: So much for hourlong network newscasts: So far, CBS 3, 6 ABC and NBC10 are all holding on to the time that normally would've gone to to their respective networks.

6:09: More dissonance: CNN says Atlantic City is under curfew and power's out, but Ali Velshi is standing in the middle of what seems to be a big street, ankle-deep in water, and there seem to be an awful lot of lights.

6:02: After breaking for dinner (because that leftover meatlof has limited shelf life), I come back to find that the Weather Channel seems to be saying Sandy's hit New Jersey and CNN says it's "about to make landfall." (Outside my house, about 50 miles from Atlantic City, it's not yet too bad.) Anderson Cooper finds the same in Asbury Park, where the lights are still on.

4:17: Can't help but be jarred by the contrast on every channel between the extremely well-groomed anchors in the studios -- some of whom look as if they could segue from the broadcast to a cocktail party -- and their storm-jacketed colleagues trying to stay upright against Sandy's punishing winds. But, hey, there's CBS 3's Pat Ciarrocchi again, out in the rain in Eastwick, interviewing equally drenched public officials, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. (So far, no one's asked her where Ukee Washington is.)

4:32: How seriously is TV taking Hurricane Sandy? Well, not only have the nets taken back a half-hour of local syndication time to expand their 6:30 p.m. newscasts to an hour, but some have decided that there's no point in wasting fresh episodes on people who might not even have electricity. So, says the Hollywood Reporter, we can expect some reruns.

4:15:  All three major network 6:30 p.m. newscasts will expand to a full hour Monday, though after hours of  wall-to-wall coverage, the distinction may be lost on viewers.

4:02: With the arrival of the ever-emphatic Wolf Blitzer of CNN, accompanied by a shot from the international space station, I am now prepared to take Hurricane Sandy seriously. Though I may have to switch channels if that's to be accomplished.

3:41: North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue puts the best possible spin on Sandy, which is expected to dump snow on parts of her state (and others): The ski season may start early this year.

3:35: Though Jim Cantore is not yet underwater -- though he clearly anticipates being so -- the Weather Channel is running a stream of surf video in a strip below him and below the shot of Bryan Norcross in Atlanta. Which is, frankly, a little weird. Makes it look as if they're all about to be swept away (though from time to time, we can still see people strolling around the railings of Battery Park near Cantore -- and Norcross is in a studio).

3:31: Weather Channel's Bryan Norcross: Sandy still moving faster -- 28 mph -- than expected. Which is faster than anyone unlucky enough to be driving in it should be going right now. Channel also just showed scary-looking footage of cars and trucks crossing a  soon-to-be-closed bridge across the Susquehanna from an angle that made it look as if it barely had rails on the side.

3:26: Have to keep reminding myself that those numbers on the weather maps are wind speeds, not temperatures. (Looks chilly right now, but as the night goes on, and the numbers go up, it may look like June.)

3:07: Airport's open in Philadelphia, but airlines aren't flying. A distinction without a difference? Not, I suppose, if you're stranded at the airport.

2:55 New York-based based anchors on Fox, MSNBC, the Weather Channel all transfixed by long shot of partly collapsed crane in Manhattan while all the Philadelphia stations are on Mayor Michael Nutter's briefing. "Hold the trash until next Tuesday" if you're due for collection on Monday or Tuesday, he says.

Oh, and "leading by example," city offices, schools, etc., closed on Tuesday. Not a good time to return to work, though business owners "will ultimately make the decision," says Nutter.

(On Fox 29, the city officials speak in a small window, as a man jogging down a wet street occupies the larger portion of the screen.)

Nutter looking to strike balance "between nonchalant and hysterical." Hey, me, too.

2:52: I'm beginning to see animal pictures in radar shots ("and that's an elephant, and there's a fox..."). And yet when the lights flickered for the first time about 20 minutes ago, my first thought was, "Can't lose cable!"

2:17: I've heard back from CNN on a question I'd had about its iReport program. I'd tweeted yesterday after hearing CNN correspondent Josh Levs say they wouldn't use video from people violating evacuation orders, which struck me as eminently responsible. Turns out, though, that the policy isn't quite so clear.

Here's what Levs said yesterday (from a CNN-provided transcript, which you can find in full here):

"No matter where you are, we encourage you to go to CNN.com. Absolute latest details, we've got a blog for you called CNN Just In, showing all the numbers. We've also got for you photo spreads and if you are --  And if you are in a position to take photos or videos safely, go ahead and send them to us at iReport. It will help us tell the story. We will not be showing any from people who violated evacuation orders. So obviously do everything local officials tell you to do. But you will find that even though we're in a lot of places, we can't be everywhere."

Now here's what a CNN spokesperson is saying now:

"CNN is approving the best Hurricane Sandy-related iReports that fall within our community guidelines, including those from evacuation areas.  Safety is of critical importance to us, and we urge iReporters to be safe."

2:10: Fox News finishing up a report on a Coast Guard rescue off the North Carolina coast. Two crew members of a tall ship still missing.

2:05: In response to question from Jim Cantore, Weather Channel's Bryan Norcross says speedier storm may help Jersey Shore a little, because it'll hit between high and low tide. Not so good for New York, though.

2:00: Time for the update from the National Hurricane Center. Now moving northwest at 28 mph, so it's less than four hours away from Atlantic City, says Bryan Norcross of the Weather Channel. "There is really almost no time to take any kind of action there." Good to know. (I may be moving up dinner, though, in hopes of getting one last meal in before we have to pull out the camping stove.)

1:46: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett just made the point that people should stay inside, rather than go outside to take pictures for TV stations and websites.  Advice I'd like to hear from actual news anchors, at least once or twice an hour. (To borrow a catchphrase from Corbett's New Jersey counterpart: "Don't be stupid.")

1:31: CBS 3's Carol Erickson getting emotional over pictures of devastating damage in Sea Isle City, but it's property, not people, as sad as it might be that this is a place where people have enjoyed themselves in the past. I'm more worried about the viewer who took the pictures.

1:21: Reports on the Weather Channel of 69mph hour winds being recorded at Harvey Cedars, N.J. And landfall is still at least several hours away. Storm is picking up speed. Expecting a new ETA within the next half-hour. So stay tuned! As if we could go anywhere. Beginning to realize that these streaming advisories of our ever-narrowing transit options merely reinforce the decision to ride out this storm in front of the TV. As long as there's electricity flowing to the TV. After which we're all expected to make a seamless switch to our iStuff and other smart gadgets. Because video doesn't run your battery down. No, not at all.

1:03: Mike Seidel of the Weather Channel appears to be having some trouble staying upright at Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey. This is the point where Dan Rather would be tying himself to the mast, right?

12:53: Summing up President Obama's latest briefing (I watched on Fox News): Listen to your local officials, get out when they tell you and, oh, "the election will take care of itself."

12:36: Now wondering if Christie was referring to landfall at midnight or something else, since that seems to contradict the 8 p.m. prediction I've been hearing elsewhere.

12:29: For those who've already lost power, "this is going to be a haul," says Christie, saying crews won't be out for at least 24 hours, possibly 36 hours. Cites OSHA regulations that say crews can't work under certain conditions. "I'm going to have to ask for your patience." Good news: "We have significantly more" people than were available for Irene.

And speaking of Irene, he's learned not to tell reporters "anecdotal" things about rescues and casualties until they're confirmed.

12:24: NJ23 is carrying New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's latest briefing live, as is CBS 3. 6ABC, Fox 29 and NBC10 are going with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's briefing.

"The storm has a mind of its own...we're looking at  [landfall] around midnight and somewhere between Atlantic City and northern Ocean County," says Christie.

11:55 a.m.: CBS 3's Pat Ciarrocchi's giving an enthusiastic review to the shelter in Darby Borough, where it's clear her arrival is the most interesting thing going on there right now. (And, yes, they all wanted her to say hello to Ukee Washington, who's back at the anchor desk.)

11:45: It's raining and undeniably a bit gusty outside my south Jersey house, but there's still a disconnect between what I'm seeing on TV -- where CBS 3 is currently showing conditions at Rehoboth Beach -- and what I'm seeing out the window. I'm not expecting pounding surf, of course, but the message we're hearing on every station is that living inland isn't the safeguard in Sandy that it is for most hurricanes. Which is an important enough message to probably justify the wall-to-wall coverage in the advance of the storm. Plus, by the time Sandy gets here, it may be too loud to hear the TV, even if we're lucky enough to not lose the electricity (and the cable).

11:40: CBS 3 shows a photo of shore flooding taken by a viewer and Carol Erickson speculates that he must've been taking it from a higher floor. But he's also someone who probably should have evacuated by now.

11:23: NBC10's Harry Hairston's in Burlington County, where officials are saying what everyone in South Jersey needs to hear: that the roads sooner or later are going to be closed, so if you're going somewhere -- including a shelter -- it's best to get there sooner rather than later.

11:11: TV can't get enough of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's "Don't be stupid, get out" press conference clip, which CNN just replayed. He's not "messin' around," says Banfield.

11:00: Switched to CNN since Fox News started talking about Libya and MSNBC about whether Sandy is the election's "October surprise." With the election eight days away, I get that it can't be ignored. But I'm in primal mode now -- still filling every available vessel in the house with water and mentally reviewing the canned goods. Just the right mood for Ashleigh Banfield's "It could be bad." "Megastorm brings 90mph winds, floods, snow" reads one chyron.

10:46: On Fox News Channel, Maria Molina reports that the latest model shows that Sandy is an even stronger storm than they'd been saying, with 90 mph winds. Still expecting landfall somewhere over southern New Jersey about 8 p.m.

10:29: Fox 29 is showing some viewer pictures of the Shore flooding that's more impressive than its video of Center City, where, anchors assure us, the conditions are worse than they look.

10:10 a.m.:In Battery Park City, the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore's puffy but no doubt comfortable in a kayaker's drysuit, and Stephanie Abrams clearly has gear envy (though she has what she's pretty sure is the equivalent of a surfer's wetsuit under her jacket), suggesting he might want to buy her one for her birthday. (As a fair-weather kayaker, I can tell you that they can easily cost as much as a boat. If not more.)

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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About this blog
As the TV critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, I've always believed my job is less about thumbs -- up or down -- and more about the conversation. Because the more choices we have, the fewer people in our lives know what we're talking about when we say, "Did you see that?" And that's when television really starts to get interesting.

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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