The Weather Channel cuts Roker, Champion, reality shows

NEW YORK (AP) — The Weather Channel says it is getting rid of its reality TV shows, along with morning shows led by Sam Champion and Al Roker.

The struggling network is looking to get back to its roots, with less expensive programming and a lineup that appeals more to weather geeks. An estimated 50 people out of The Weather Channel's staff of 1,400 are losing jobs as a result, the network said on Thursday.

The NBC Universal-owned network had lured Champion from ABC's "Good Morning America" to host "AMHQ," a weather-focused morning news program. Starting in early November, Champion will work on weather programming during the network's prime-time schedule, said Dave Shull, who oversees programming at The Weather Channel.

"Wake Up With Al," which Roker hosted each weekday in the hour before his "Today" show duties began, will end on Oct. 2. Roker's co-host, Stephanie Abrams, will move back to the network's Atlanta headquarters to be part of a yet-undefined morning lineup.

The Weather Channel's New York City studio has become too costly to operate, Shull said in a memo to network staff.

Phasing out non-weather related reality programs is another effort to save money, and can also be seen in the context of a growing concern within the television industry that there is a glut of original programming.

Two of the channel's most popular shows are "Prospectors," about miners searching for valuable metals in Colorado, and "Fat Guys in the Woods," where couch potatoes are taught survival skills. Shows already in the work, like the scientific experiment program "Three Scientists Walk Into a Bar" and "Natural Born Monsters," about animals who adapt to extreme weather conditions, will air but no new such programs will be ordered.

These shows tend to have bigger audiences than typical weather programming, attracting people who might not normally watch The Weather Channel, but they alienate many among the network's core audience of intense weather fans.

Shull said it makes more sense for the network to appeal to these fans than to offer programming that they could find elsewhere.

"The only channels that will survive long term are those with unique and irreplaceable value," he wrote.

The network is having success with "#WUTV," a two-hour early evening program for weather geeks that grew out of The Weather Channel's acquisition of the Weather Underground service, he said.

An estimated 89 million homes have access to The Weather Channel, but that's more than 10 million less than at the beginning of the decade. That's due to a combination of cord-cutters and the end of the network's agreement with Verizon FIOS customers to carry the service. The network is also feeling the squeeze from other weather-oriented television services, like one from AccuWeather.

Two veteran Weather Channel personalities, Vivian Brown and Nick Walker, also have recently left the network.