I got a message on Facebook recently that said, "Hey -- you do know that you're the Paddy Chayefsky of modern weathercasting, right?"
I'm flattered by the idea. Chayefsky pilloried the TV news business in his screenplay for Network. Released in 1976, the film portrayed a broadcasting company that transformed newscasts into entertainment platforms featuring outrageous stunts with every effort focused on one all-important goal: gaining higher ratings (or, as media people like to say these days, "moving the needle.")
A lot of commentators and media observers now agree that many of the trends Chayefsky mocked in the film have become routine fare on TV in the 21st century. In May of 2011 Aaron Sorkin was quoted in a New York Times article with the assertion that "no predictor of the future -- not even Orwell -- has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network."
So why did my friend compare me to Paddy? He was referring to a short satire of mine that was published in the New Yorker in February of 1988. The piece was entitled "You Name It" and presented, in about 800 words, the transcript of a fictional TV newscast in which every event mentioned has a name -- Hurricane Alice, Earthquake Bob, Mud Slide Vivian, and much more. At the time I was working in local TV news and writing copy for stories about fires, car crashes and other unfortunate occurrances, and the notion of naming all of them just popped into my head one day.
Now fast-forward to autumn of 2012. Lo and behold, The Weather Channel announces they will begin giving names to winter storms around the country.
This decision has generated a variety of bemused responses from media observers.
I'm not surprised by this development, and I don't think the Weather Channel is going to reverse direction. The event-naming trend has now taken a big step forward and I'll be interested to see where it goes next. Anything is possible. And for anyone who wants proof that I'm the one who saw this coming, the New Yorker has online archives that are easily accessed.
I want everyone at The Weather Channel to rest assured that I'm not going to demand royalty payments or some other form of compensation. Trends happen. I'm okay, they're okay. The last thing this country needs to endure right now is Storm-Naming Uproar Jeffrey.