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The weather channel is a guilty pleasure, like masturbation, or that bottle of vodka in your file drawer.

You enjoy it. You believe you need it, but you probably don't advertise your dependence to others. Because if they knew, they'd take you for some sort of defective.

And they wouldn't necessarily be wrong. OK, granted, nowadays there's a certain cachet to being a declared alcoholic. As for self-abuse, it (unlike Sunbeam appliances) enjoys the AMA seal of approval. But nobody wants to be stigmatized as the office weather geek.

It's not just that the channel is habit-forming; it's that it's pathetic and habit-forming. It's like being addicted, in a world of crack cocaine, to Sen-Sen.

For every really cool video clip of a tornado buzzsawing through a trailer court, there are hours of dew-point readings from around the USA. It looks like a local news show, populated with the usual smiley meat puppets, but it isn't at all. It's populated with smiley meteo puppets, who click to the Doppler radar, and then to the time-lapse satellite photos of Tropical Storm Bertha forming in the South Atlantic and so forth.

But the hell of it is, when it's time to throw it back to the anchor, nobody does. They just keep talking about the weather.

This is the client that gave TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., carte blanche to imbue it with brand personality. That's like giving Vidal Sassoon carte blanche with your ear hair.

Yet, lo and behold, what has the agency done but imbue the Weather Channel with brand personality. A wonderful and inspired TV campaign (complementing an uninspired, wisecracking print campaign) imagines a world in which irrational passion for 24-hour weather news is hip, exciting and perfectly normal.

Several of the spots are set in "The Front," which looks like a sports bar, but which turns out to be a weather hangout, with a bustling crowd, big-screen TVs, rabid fans and an everybody-knows-your-name clientele. (The Front? Why not "The IsoBar"?)

In the year's cleverest spot so far, two Friday-night regulars are intently watching the projection TV when, finally, the "Weekend Outlook" segment comes on. They nervously wait until the meteorologist forecasts warm weather for the Midwest, whereupon one starts hooting and the other slumps in dejection. When the camera angle changes we see their faces are painted-like fanatical footballs fans-only one is done as a red weather-map warm front and the other as a blue cold front.

Pure genius. The tagline: "Weather fans you're not alone."

In another spot, a stranger takes refuge in The Front from a thunderstorm. "I'm soaked," he mutters. "My shoes are wet. My socks are wet. I hate the rain."

Oops. Wrong thing to say. At the bar, a regular is listening and answers in a sarcastic tone, which gradually becomes irate.

"Well, maybe the rain hates you . . . How can we appreciate the sun, if we don't have rain? It irrigates crops! [Now his pals are restraining him.] It keeps things clean! I LOVE THE RAIN!" At this point, the title card comes up, and we can only hear the stranger being thrown bodily out of the bar.

This irresistible campaign is a call to all weather junkies, closeted and uncloseted, to trade stigma for solidarity. Feel no shame, it says. If it feels good, if it feels right, just do it.

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