Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the TV coverage is so delightful. . .

January 10, 1996|By Mike Littwin

IT'S SNOWING, so naturally I turn on the tube. TV is the disaster medium of choice, whether the disaster is war, pestilence, famine or bad weather.

And I don't have to tell you that TV covers snow like, well, the snow covers Baltimore: All snow, all the time.

Of course, on TV, it's not just snow. It's a blizzard.

It's the Great Blizzard of '96, screams one station. That sounds reasonable.

But another, only slightly less restrained, uses this logo: "It's Snowing and We're All Going to Die."

You're sitting in your house, you can't get to Blockbuster -- hell, you can't get out the door -- and all you've got between you and a complete loss of hope is Norm Lewis in a turtleneck. (Did you notice the guys in the studio are all dressed like their nickname ought to be Klondike when you know it's 80 degrees where they're sitting? Is that what they mean when they say virtual reality?)

Here's a typical broadcast.

First Anchor: Boy, it's snowing out there.

Co-Anchor: Man, it's snowing.

First: Ooh, man, is it ever snowing.

Co-Anchor: Norm, what's the weather situation?

Norm: It's snowing.

And then we move on, for the 13th time that hour, to school closings.

At one point, they say it might reach 4 feet, as if 23 inches weren't enough.

You understand. Nobody is more disappointed than the TV boys that we didn't get the record. Maybe next year.

Of course, they do provide some useful information. Segue to TV "reporter" in street: "DO NOT DRIVE, 'CAUSE, MAN, IT'S REALLY SNOWING OUT HERE."

Then the next warning from another TV "reporter": DO NOT SHOVEL BECAUSE YOU'll GET A HEART ATTACK AND DIE."

All you can do is watch TV. You could watch, for instance, Channel 13, because there's only one 'JZ, and they've got a new anchor guy who comes from Atlanta, where he's probably never seen more than an inch of snow. He's bound to be panicked.

OK, it is a blizzard. We do panic. I certainly have panicked. I'm writing this from the safety of my home where, through the miracle of computers and thanks to Bill Gates, I can be a wimp and never have to leave the house again.

It may be hard to hype a blizzard, but don't underestimate the power of TV, which also brings you Geraldo. They want you to panic. They want you scared. They want you sufficiently scared that you forget you've got a remote and could click on to another show. For instance, on Sunday, in a bizarre coincidence, one of the PBS stations is showing "Doctor Zhivago," which is the "Gone With the Wind" of snow movies.

The weird thing is, I'm watching the movie and I keep seeing Tom Tasselmyer in the Omar Sharif role. Snow blindness? Cabin fever? Schizophrenia?

And so I keep watching, as if I'm mesmerized, hypnotized. Outside, snow. Inside, more snow. There's nothing new on the news. The mayor's in his Jeep. The guv is talking about his son, Raymond. Norm Lewis is talking about the jet stream. And the humvees have landed.

One thing I do learn is why I never want to go into TV. (OK, there are a couple of reasons. First of all, nobody who looks like me is on TV. Secondly, TelePrompters make me cross-eyed.) But even if I could be on TV, I wouldn't want to because of the way they treat their "reporters." Don't they have a union?

When it snows, or it rains, or there's a fire, the "reporter" has to stand outside and look as uncomfortable as it's possible to look, allowing the viewer to feel that, no matter how bad his day is going, he's in better shape than the poor sap on TV. This guy's standing in the snow with his eyebrows frozen and his feet in fourth-degree frostbite telling us that this is not just snow, it's dangerous. I expect to see him next reporting from the Hopkins emergency room.

And yet, I watch. I watch the guy with the dog sled from Annapolis, who must have been waiting for 70 years for this day.

I watch for those wonderful interviews with the kids.

This is an approximation of an actual interview.

Anchor: Having fun today?

Kid: Yeah.

Anchor: What are you and your friends doing?

Kid: Nothin'.

Anchor: Aren't you playing in the snow?

Kid (Looks at camera blankly, as if he'd you'd just been asked to explain quantum physics): Yeah.

But I'm watching and watching and watching, until they, finally, mercifully, pull the news in favor of soap operas, which are only slightly less repetitious than the snow news.

So I immediately turn on talk radio. There's the guy on the air who is seriously suggesting that -- given the snow, and maybe contradictory reports of global warming, and also the fact that the mail didn't come despite that phony baloney promise (for me, it's a good day if your postal worker doesn't actually open fire) -- the world is coming to an end.

It was then that I feel my first blizzard-related moment of regret.

?3 I am regretting that the power hasn't gone out.

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