My friend Sergio Aragonés and I have something in common: We have both auditioned to be TV weathermen.
I can't tell the tale of Sergio's experience as well as he can but, basically, in his earlier days, he thought a cartooning
weatherperson might be just what the 6:00 News needed. He got a non-broadcast try-out but didn't get the job. Among the problems —
actually, the only problem but a biggie — was that he didn't know the first thing about weather and had wrongly assumed that someone would
supply all that data.
My experience was quite different. How I did not become the next Willard Scott, apart from the obvious lack of need for another
Willard Scott, is the subject of this column.
It started with a strange interest in weather...not so strange when you consider that an awful lot of it was appearing in my living
room. I was one year in my new house and, the first good rain we had, leaks happened. Lots of leaks. Rather than patch, I decided
to replace and I selected a roofer...a move which shall henceforth be known as Mistake Number One.
The roofer said he could roof me a whole new roof, complete with three-year warranty. I forked over bucks — three thousand
of them — and he and his men spent a few days traipsing around overhead. I, understandably, assumed they had put a new roof on my
Not so. They re-roofed some sections with what subsequently turned out to be sub-standard materials. Other sections, they
left wholly untouched.
Now, I am a peace-loving person. I can count the number of times I have yelled on one hand and still have a finger left over for
a rude gesture. I have struck exactly one person in my whole life and, believe me, he deserved it and everyone was amazed I didn't deck the guy
weeks before. Still, in light of the problems this roofer created for me, I can't say for sure that I wouldn't have tried to kill him.
But we'll never know for sure since the L.A. Police Department beat me to it.
When the full breadth of his damage became clear, I secured a lawyer and told him to go for blood. The very next day, I picked up
the Times and found a headline: POLICE SLAY CRAZED MAN, dateline Whittier.
A man had ingested enough drugs to be legally declared a Rexall store, chasing it all down with a trough of Jim Beam. In such a
condition, he had begun threatening his spouse with a ginsu knife and, when the cops arrived, waved it at them. An officer used his gun and
that was how my roofer and three-year warranty expired. That I felt he got off easy should give you some idea of how much grief this man caused
My attorney attempted to extract financial vengeance from his estate but it was not unlike squeezing juice from a raisin. Mine
was not the only roofing job that this man's firm had done with Swiss cheese. I was way back in a long line of claimants including the
proprietors of a big department store and all those injured when its roof imploded from a light drizzle.
But I'm way ahead of my misery here. The first time my "new" roof was subjected to precipitation, it sprung leaks in ten times as
many spots as the old roof. Several destroyed my home's electrical system; others wrecked the heating equipment; still others caused my alarm
to short. Walls buckled and cracked, paint bubbled and blistered. A procession of such roofers as could be rousted from the Yellow Pages
came by and tarred over each leak, as found. But each storm brought new leaks and new damage and new checks and new headaches.
I spent a lot of time listening to weather reports, trying to figure out when I might gain some respite from the destruction and/or get
repairmen up there to tar further. I discovered that not all TV weatherfolks were created equal. While all of them took a nod from the
National Weather Service and its forecasts, they sometimes disagreed, indicating they were getting predictions and data from diverse sources.
It became evident that at least one of our local weatherpeople had a great deal of trouble saying what he meant. Often, trying to
make his segment interesting, he would make a weak approaching front sound like something that could cart Dorothy and a house off over the
rainbow. When your health is starting to depend on whether or not there's a pending storm to worry about — and mine sure was —
understanding weather hyperbole is vital.
So I procured books on the subject of weather forecasting. I'm not sure why; I just became fascinated by it. Science was
never my metier and I still have no idea how to read the AVN/NGM to plot the cyclogenesis of an orographic lift. As a matter of fact, I don't
even know what I just typed.
But I came to learn that forecasting the weather has an element of Judgment Call to it. At some point, all the satellites and
computers and isobar charts yield very specific probabilities of certain patterns resulting. And some human being — who, alas, may be
more schooled in occluded fronts than in communicative English — has to explain those probabilities in terms that Joe Schmuck can use to decide
whether or not to wash the Buick.
The TV weatherman is more Interpreter than Scientist: His job is explaining, not forecasting...and some of them don't do it all that
well, charming and well-dressed though they may be.
I didn't learn all of this from the books. I had a good teacher.
During my ordeal — during times I felt I should be herding animals, two-by-two, through my den — I came to rely on the
forecasts of one local TV weatherman more than the others. He was simply more lucid, more precise and less prone to needlessly foreshadowing
monsoons than the others.
As I have been writing this, he is on the local news and, figuring I oughta get his okay before I tell this story, I just called the
station and caught him as he came off-camera. He said fine, tell the tale if you like, Mark...but I'd just as soon you didn't mention my
name. Fine. I owe the guy that and more so, in these pages, he will be Hi Pressure.
What paid for all those roofing repairs I did was a job I had writing a TV series that month. We had a lot of Big Name guest
stars on our show so our all-day tapings were often crowded with visitors from all over the studio. One afternoon, I noticed Hi watching us
tape, probably killing time until he had to go do the 4:00 news on the same lot.
I couldn't resist. I walked over, introduced myself and told him most of what I just told you about my weather woes and how
helpful I'd found him to be. He was genuinely moved by my gratitude and fascinated to ask me what I thought he was doing right or wrong.
Our discussion segued over to the basics of his job and, then, to mine, whereupon a daily ritual began to emerge...
For the next few weeks, Mr. Pressure would amble over to our stage around 2:00 each day and he would explain to me all about the
weather biz. In exchange, I would explain to him all about how a comedy show gets taped and how stand-up comedians operate.
That was not as odd an interest for him as was the forecasting stuff for me. He was then under "siege" (his term) from the News
Director of his station. They thought his weather forecasts lacked a certain...sparkle. That he was the best in town at telling you how
hot or wet it would be was immaterial: Where were the jokes?
The station had called in a Media Consultant to juice up their newscasts and the gent was frontloading the news with "happy
talk." Two older, veteran field reporters had been laid off and their salaries rerouted into hair and wardrobe makeovers for the station's
In Los Angeles, forecasting the weather can be a boring watch: so much of the time, there isn't any. One can only say it's going
to be seventy degrees with night and morning low clouds so many times, so many ways.
Of course, when the surf at Malibu is kicking up ten-foot breakers and taking expensive homes on trips to Catalina...or when it's a
hundred and ten in the shade and there isn't any shade, a station is glad to have a resident weatherman and he needn't resort to much to make his
spot interesting. But it isn't that way most of the time in L.A. And even with all the storms we'd had lately in the area and over my
dinette set, Hi was getting nagged to make the weather more "interesting."
So I started giving him a hand. I'd give him a joke or two, some line to liven up his broadcasts. Sometimes, just before he
went on, he'd steal over to our set with the copy that led into his segment and we'd work out a line or two he could do about the preceding subject
to segue into the weather maps.
In exchange, he gave me personalized weather info, along with phone and computer access codes with which I could receive privileged
weather data. I could read the official forecast that one of the private weather services sells its clients and I could read the forecasters'
notes and chit-chat about how certain they might be about their predictions. (Today, I can get all the same stuff off the Internet. Back
then, it was like he was entrusting me with the keys to the Manhattan Project.)
I didn't tell any of my friends or co-workers about any of this. How do you tell people that you're ghost-writing the
After I stopped working at that studio, I occasionally phoned Hi with a joke or a weather query but our contacts petered out.
Then, one day, about a year after I'd first met him, he called and asked me if I had any interest in auditioning to be a TV weatherman.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Me? As in, Not Someone Else? Impossible.
One of the reasons it was impossible is that, even had I ever had any interest in doing something of the sort, Los Angeles is a major,
major TV market — probably the major market for this kind of thing. America abounds in local weatherguys and gals who would sell their
parents to a Korean sweatshop if it got them an audition at an L.A. station. You just don't get handed something like this, especially if you
aren't seeking it.
And I sure wasn't. I long ago decided that I had about as much business on that side of the camera as I did conducting High Mass
at the Vatican. While there are many humans on this planet who can write and perform, there are even more who have but one of those skills and
think they have two.
I have a good friend who is a terrific comedy writer and a lousy performer. He is occasionally able, when hired as the former, to
inveigle his way into a role on the show. And if he isn't embarrassed beyond belief, he ought to be. Every time I see him on the screen,
I take great pride in knowing at least some of the areas at which I stink.
So when Hi asked me if I wanted to audition, my immediate reaction was as if he had called to ask if I wanted to go a few rounds with
Mike Tyson. But he went on, urging I consider it.
He explained that his station needed a weekend weatherman — someone to do the Saturday/Sunday programs and to occasionally spell
one of the weekday folks. So it wasn't a full-time job, of which I already had one (writing), the only job for which I ever had the slightest
interest or competence. And, Hi explained, they weren't looking for a genuine, accredited Meteorologist, which is what he was. Their News
Director had hired a scout who was trolling the Comedy Store, Improv and other clubs in search of someone who could take the wire data and present it
with a light, witty touch.
Hi had protested, ever so politely, that this was no way to find a weatherman. The News Director had said, "If you know someone
who can do the weather and make it interesting, we'll add him to the auditions."
So there it was: My chance. Hi told me I could do it; that he'd work with me as I had once worked with him; that it was only an
audition, not a complete Change of Life. And he gave me a few days to consider it.
I considered it. Given the fact that I was already making a decent living and had no interest in advancing in this area, there
was absolutely no reason for me to do it. None. And, to this day, I can't tell you why I agreed to the audition but for the fact that it
was only an audition and I knew there was no possibility of it amounting to anything more than that.
I did not think, "Gee, it might be fun to do the weather on TV." I thought, "Gee, it might be fun to do the audition." Just
So a date was arranged for me to try-out to be a weatherperson. Next week in this space, I'll tell you what happened — and,
by the way, there's a 60% chance of showers and an 80% chance of me making a fool of myself...
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