TheGrill 2017: Weather Channel CEO Says Being ‘Preachy’ Won’t Sell Climate Change to Viewers

“What we find is that if it’s not good TV, people don’t listen,” Dave Shull tells TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman

When addressing climate change on The Weather Channel, CEO Dave Shull says it’s important not to be too “preachy.”

“Americans trust us,” Shull told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman at TheGrill conference on Tuesday. “And they trust us not to overstep what we are as a channel. We’re a weather channel, and talking about climate change and preaching to viewers actually doesn’t help them change their minds at all.”

Shull said there’s no denying the fact that climate change is real and that it is a man-made phenomenon, but beating viewers over the head with the politics of the issue doesn’t serve the network or its audience.

“What we found is the most effective way to work with the viewers is to stick to what we know from a science point of view,” Shull said. “And to not use the term ‘climate change’ too much, because it sets them off.”

The science of weather is the most valuable asset The Weather Channel brings to viewers, Shull said. The network employs a team of about 400 people, including 100 people who were sent out to cover the three recent hurricanes that devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast.

“I think I have a pretty diverse team politically,” he said. “So we can present that debate because both sides of the aisle are represented … Not about their beliefs as scientists, but more about the policy that should be enacted on top of that science. I think there’s pretty broad consensus that it’s real and we need to address [climate change].”

But Shull said the key to educating viewers and changing their minds, in addition to solid fact-based science, is good storytelling.

“It’s got to be good TV,” he said. “We’ve tried a series of different things over the last few months. And sometimes it’s good TV and sometimes it’s not. And what we find, is that if it’s not good TV, people don’t listen … So let’s do it in a way that’s more accessible.”

Every person on screen is a meteorologist, ensuring the network is bringing a wealth of knowledge to viewers, but The Weather Channel has also been exploring other, less newsy segments. In 2015, the network broadcast “Katrina 2065,” a special examining what would happen if Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 50 years in the future.

“It made the point without becoming preachy,” Shull said, explaining his definition of “preachy” as, “denigrating people with the term ‘climate deniers’ and saying that they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“If you just explain to people, ‘Clearly the water around you has risen, here’s why it’s risen, now what are you going to do about it?’ It becomes much more tangible to them than looking out 50 years,” he said. “We need to demonstrate that things have already changed and it’s going to affect your life and your livelihood and your family.”