Weather Channel, Politics Star in Film

Cabler Gets Opportunity to Have Brand Play Key Role in Disaster Flick 'Day After Tomorrow'

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Dark storm clouds gathered in the sky over the Museum of Natural History, upstaging a flurry of fake snowflakes that 20th Century Fox provided as a special effect for its New York premiere screening of "The Day After Tomorrow."

As "Day After" stars Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal (with girlfriend Kirsten Dunst) and Emmy Rossum pranced down the white carpet-beneath the snow machines-into the museum, foot soldiers from Moveon.org marched on Central Park West, shouting slogans about global warning. In a nearby rented hall, former Vice President Al Gore hosted a forum on eco-disasters.

Meanwhile, also sharing the downy walkway with the stars were Paul Iaffaldano and Heidi Cullen, both of the Weather Channel.

Ms. Cullen is the Weather Channel's resident climate expert, and has a Ph.D. in ocean atmosphere dynamics from Columbia University. Before joining the Weather Channel last year, she was stationed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, where she worked as a research scientist.

seizing an opportunity

"They came to our studio [in Washington] and asked if they could actually film there," Ms. Cullen said. "We just didn't have the room to spare, our studios operate 24 hours. We had to respectfully decline."

Although the movie didn't end up shooting in the Weather Channel studios, the network cleverly seized an opportunity to make its brand as much a star in the blockbuster film as any of the cast members.

"We allowed the movie to use our brand," said Mr. Iaffaldano, senior VP-network sales and ad product development. "We acted as consultants. They used our hurricane graphics in the movie. And they showed the Weather Channel reporting, factually, what was going on around the world."

The Weather Channel "has a very strong and loyal audience base that is obviously keenly interested in the subject matter of our film," said Jeffrey Godsick, exec VP-marketing, 20th Century Fox. "Our partnership was based on many levels of participation ranging from integrated content to a cable affiliate to outdoor and cross-channel promotions."

The film is an apocalyptic vision of what would happen if global warming were allowed to go unchecked, upsetting the climatological balance: Tidal waves engulf New York City, tornadoes blast Los Angeles, giant hail stones pelt Asia, and the Northern latitudes freeze over, creating a new Ice Age. Local Fox TV news channels are also shown in the film reporting on the disaster, but when the psresident of the United States orders the evacuation of half of the nation to Mexico, the only channel left standing to report on the mass exodus is, of course, the Weather Channel.

"That was a stitch," Mr. Iaffaldano said. "We don't have a studio in Mexico, but we do have a remote truck that could have made it down there easily enough."

Besides allowing the filmmakers to use Weather Channel logo and graphics, they also consulted on the making of the film. And to coincide with the film opening, the network launched a half-hour special "Extreme Weather Theories," exploring scientific theories about drastic changes to the earth's climate. New climate-related programs were also scheduled into its "Forecast Earth" series. Ms. Cullen, meanwhile, has appeared on the network's prime-time program "Evening Edition," discussing the kind of drastic weather and climate change that takes place in the film. The network is also running a tie-in sweepstakes in which Weather Channel viewers can win a trip to Mexico.

"The Day After Tomorrow" took in $86 million in its first weekend, according to Nielsen EDI estimates, beating last year's Memorial Day weekend opener "Bruce Almighty," which raked in $85.7 million. The first night of the Weather Channel's Extreme Weather Week programming on May 30 clocked in a 0.5 rating in households, as did Thursday's premiere of its "Extreme Weather Theories." While 0.5 doesn't seem high, it's something of an achievement for the usually low rated cabler, which averaged a 0.2 rating season to date, according to Nielsen Media Research.

global warming

The day before "The Day After" bowed, the Weather Channel put out an announcement stating its position on global warming. "The future remains uncertain," read the announcement. "A better understanding of the climate system as well as our ability to adapt to climate changes that occur are critical to the future of our planet."

The channel's position, according to Ms. Cullen, is essentially that the world needs to pay attention to global warming-a theme that is echoed throughout the film. Mr. Quaid plays a climatologist who is so busy with his career that he ignores his son, who winds up in trouble. Likewise, the Vice President of the United States, in the film, ignores global warming, to the world's peril.

"The film is ripe with symbolism," Ms. Cullen said.

The Weather Channel's position on global warming is what motivated the film's director, Roland Emmerich to partner with the network. "The Weather Channel was written into the script," he said. "I try to be as realistic as possible.... We had to get permission to use the logo. It's hard to get permission to use corporate logos in films these days, but we did." Mr. Emmerich noted it was easy to get permission to use the Fox News logo. "The only reason we used it was because Fox was the parent company behind the film," he said. Ironically, in the movie, the Weather Channel, not Fox, airs the president's speech to the refugees in Mexico. "Fox didn't make it, they died along the way," Mr. Emmerich said.

But can global warming actually create an Ice Age?

"It increases the likelihood of extreme events, usually droughts, which don't have the kind of visual drama that is needed in a summer blockbuster," Ms. Cullen said. "Global warming increases the likelihood of the kind of heat wave that hit Europe last summer. The imagery we assign to that is benign-we think of people standing in water lines. It's not as dramatic or ferocious as a hurricane or tornado, but it is just as deadly."

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