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May 01, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


Reporter makes ill attempt at shining example

Check out the Video
Corey as a Weatherman


click on photos to enlarge them...

A stormy weather report by Review-Journal reporter Corey Levitan greets unwitting viewers of a recent edition of KVBC's noon newscast.
Photos by Ruben D. Luevano/Review-Journal

Levitan has issues with the green screen, on which weather maps are overlaid using Chroma-Key technology. He confuses the image in the monitor with a mirror image of himself, consistently moving in the opposite direction he wants to.

KVBC-TV, Channel 3, news anchors Sue Manteris, left, and Mitch Truswell, right, help Levitan achieve a presentable newscaster hairdo.

Cameraman Troy Smith looks on as Levitan waits with his dog, Sammie, for their TV debut. Sammie came along because KVBC weathercaster John Fredericks features his dog, Jordan, regularly during his segments.

Fredericks bursts into the end of Levitan's segment, requiring a readjustment of the camera frame upward.

This is how the same scene appeared live in the studio.

The screen behind me features no writing to read, just a hazy view of Mount Charleston. I clicked my clicker but the graphic wouldn't advance. I have no idea what to do.

Answering David Letterman's questions about my best-selling first book was how I had hoped to make my first appearance on network TV. Standing in front of hundreds of thousands of Las Vegans like a flop-sweating nincompoop is how I actually did.

When John Fredericks accepted my offer to replace him as weathercaster for a day on KVBC-TV, Channel 3's noon newscast, I was psyched. This is the career that gave Letterman his start. But I also was concerned that it might not be difficult enough for a Fear and Loafing article.

"My job's very easy — two hours a day, basically reading prompts," said Nicolas Cage's character in "The Weatherman." "I receive a large reward for pretty much zero effort and contribution."

Add this to the growing list of entirely wrong ideas I walk into these situations with.

"Just keep clicking," Fredericks interrupts my tap-dancing act to inform me from the wings. After five seconds of Mount Charleston, more graphics finally materialize for me to read.

Fredericks — who looks like Harrison Ford stretched taller and thinner — is an old-school weatherman. He's conversational on the air, yet always dignified and credible. I can't believe he agreed to this.

"Come on over to the other side," he adds, because I'm standing in the wrong place again.

My biggest problem — among many close contenders for the title — is the green screen, on which images are projected behind me. I need to watch the monitor just below the camera lens to see what those images are. Yet my monitor image is not my mirror image. It's more like my adolescent-offspring image, doing the exact opposite of what I want it to.

I walk left, he walks right. I straighten my tie, he messes his up. I chill in Summerlin, he hits Green Valley.

Cage may not have been wrong about all weathermen. Some of the most famous, including Al Roker and Fritz Coleman, get their forecasts from other sources.

"Is there anything wrong with that?" Fredericks asked earlier today. "No. But I was trained to figure the forecast out on my own."

Every morning, Fredericks accredited as a meteorologist by the National Weather Association — scours computer programs such as Unisys, MagicTRAK and Global Forecast System. He reviews variables such as vorticity, lift and spin. Then he extrapolates the raw data to predict today's temperature, wind and chance of rain, personally designing 20 animated slides to click through on the air.

"My name is on my forecast," Fredericks said. "Nobody's gonna take any credit for me and I'm not gonna take credit for anybody else."

To squeeze all this extrapolating in before his 5:30 a.m. first call, Fredericks arrives at the TV studio three hours early.

"I've always been a morning person," said the former Santa Barbara, Calif., weatherman and Bakersfield, Calif., radio producer, who joined KVBC in 1996.

Cage never mentioned anything about 2:30 a.m. And he didn't mention that many more weathercasters earn $20,000 a year than $2 million.

"I would put myself on the lower end of that range, too," Fredericks said. (The scale varies with market size. Although growing quickly, Las Vegas is still the nation's 48th largest TV market.)

"Right now, it's 80 degrees," I report. Unfortunately, that's today's forecast high, not the current temperature.

And my search for a single correct place to stand has proven fruitless, since different parts of my body cover different graphics in each animation. (California has survived too many disasters simply to get wiped out by my butt.)

Whenever graphics cover the entire frame, the solution is to step entirely out of the frame. Unfortunately, I don't learn this until after the current high temperatures are reported only by my left half. (I can practically hear HDTV zoom buttons depressing across the valley.)

I took a practice run on the green screen two days earlier, but it was brief and unencumbered by the pressure of potentially being viewed by half a million people. Everything changes once the camera's red light glows. (Remember Cindy Brady on that game show?)

Most of my prep time was spent lacquering my hair into newscaster shape and trying to convince my fidgety wiener dog, Sammie, to stay still beneath me. (Fredericks is famous for working his Labrador retriever, Jordan, into his forecasts.)

"See the box there?" Fredericks interrupts again, referring to a section of South Carolina and Georgia experiencing tornado watches. "That's what you want to talk about."

There's no script to read, however, so Fredericks has just exhausted all I can possibly say on the subject.

I had no idea how improvised weathercasts could be. Fredericks looks at numbers on a map and instantly discerns a trend to discuss. I have trouble even discerning which number is the largest.

"As you can see, each city has its own temperature," I joke (for the second time, actually, even though no one in the studio laughed the first time). And I'm pointing not at the screen, but the monitor, so it appears to viewers as if I'm scolding them.

By the end of my four minutes, no one is informed that a 20 percent chance of showers exists for today and tomorrow. And I actually walk off camera instead of waiting for the cut back to anchors Sue Manteris and Mitch Truswell, suggesting an outtake from a high-school A/V project.

"We all sucked when we started," Fredericks says. "There are no naturally good broadcasters."

He smiles and adds, "Some people sucked less than others."

I predict a 100 percent chance that I won't be doing this again.

Click here to read more of Corey's adventures at his home page, FearandLoafing.com.




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