Friday, August 20, 2010

Sonny Outside

Someone took leave of their senses at Channel 4 back in the day, and I'd love to know who it was.

Sonny Eliot owned Detroit weather TV in the 1960s and '70s. He was the first of the goofy weathermen---the kind who just as soon tell a corn pone joke as they would give you the day's temp and humidity.

Eliot wove his groaners and homespun wit into his weathercasts seamlessly. His delivery was like a silver ball in a pinball machine on warp drive, bouncing and ricocheting off each town's current condition frenetically. Every couple of minutes Sonny would come up for air and tell us a joke.

"It's 42 degrees today in Manchester, where a man made a killing in the stock market---he murdered his broker."

Sonny also combined the day's weather into one nonsensical word.

"Today it was cloudy and breezy---cleezy kind of weather," Eliot would say as he wrote the new word vertically down the map of Michigan---in chalk. Sonny was still a chalk guy when the other blow-drieds in town began opting for fancy-shmancy electronic gizmos.

But one day, someone in the upper management of Channel 4 decided it would further Sonny's shtick if he did the weather outside, on the roof of the station's headquarters downtown.

Naturally, this decision occurred in the wintertime.

So there was Sonny, in a topcoat, jamming his chalk hand into his coat pocket to keep it warm between writing down the temps on the Michigan map. His nose was red and you could see his breath.

Why we had to see Sonny Eliot perform outside is a mystery that I'm afraid will never be solved.

It was needless and added nothing to the weather segments. If anything, it took away.

Reminds me of what someone once said about France.

"Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion."

The Sonny Outside Experiment didn't last long, thankfully. They put the poor guy indoors before long.


Eliot doing his thing; note the word "clilly" on the map

In his heyday on Detroit's airwaves, Sonny Eliot did the TV weather on channel 2---and then channel 4---at 6 and 11 Mondays thru Fridays, hosted "At the Zoo with Sonny Eliot" on Saturdays, and did weather updates on WWJ radio during the weekdays. He continued the WWJ segments twice a day for years after retiring from TV.

Not bad for a former fighter pilot during WWII.

But the Eliot/outside thing unfortunately portended the future.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING---short of a presidential assassination attempt, heaven forbid---gets TV news teams more excited than stormy weather.

They love the tornadoes and blizzards and lightning and high winds. They even love just the threat of all that stuff. Mention that there might be some rough weather coming our way and the TV news management people's eyes light up and their salivary glands start working overtime.

Cue the poor slob doing his stand-up report amid 50 mph winds and sleet. Break out the satellite maps. Start conducting man-on-the-street pieces, asking painfully stupid questions.

Look, weather is important. I don't mean to suggest that it isn't. Anything that literally affects every human being, one way or another, is relevant.

But TV news people treat daunting weather as if they, well, enjoy daunting weather. Let's just say that when a severe thunderstorm is on its way, it's not only the winds that get stiff.

I'm an adult and I'm smart enough to know when the weather is getting bad. I don't need to see a news correspondent standing in the thick of it, his or her eyes barely able to stay open for all the snow, dust and debris in them, to get the picture.

At least the folks at channel 4 had the sense to bring Sonny Eliot back inside before the weather got too inclement.

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