Al Roker Balances ‘Today’ With A Pipeline of Projects for TomorrowVariety — Brian Steinberg
Al Roker’s forecast calls for activity.
The longtime “Today” weather forecaster has a handful of independent projects in the works – all part of a pipeline from his own Al Roker Entertainment. Over nearly three decades, the small studio has furnished series like “Last Chance Highway,” about a woman who saves animals, to Animal Planet, and various programs about the U.S. Coast Guard to The Weather Channel. Now on tap: “Side By Side: A Celebration of Service,” an hour-long documentary that honors medical workers striving to help during the pandemic.
“Yes, they are doing this heroic work,” says Roker during a recent interview. “What is the personal toll on each of them, on different folks from the nurses to the doctors to the hospital workers?” The program is slated to air on New York’s WNBC Monday at 7 p.m. eastern.
Roker has other projects in development. “LifeAid” features host John Wordin, an activist and former Olympic cyclist, bringing together brain specialists to help vets with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. He examines everything from yoga to hyperbaric chambers for their ability to help heal the brain. The one-hour special is in development, says Roker, who hopes to have it air on cable in July. The company is also working on an animated program about which Roker declines to speak in greater detail.
The production duties fill a need Roker had well before he embarked on his multi-decade span as a TV weather expert. As a younger man, “I wanted to work in television,” Roker explains. “I didn’t want to be on television.”
But he is. In addition to working as a co-anchor on the flagship two hours of “Today,” he also co-hosts the show’s third weekday hour. And then there are appearances in other venues, such as his memorable exchange with a man attending last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade dressed like a stick of butter.
These days, Roker is involved in an ongoing experiment in morning TV. For weeks, he has held forth on “Today” from home, the result of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The situation, he says, has granted him a chance to indulge his inner geek. “When I was in high school, I was on the A.V. Squad. It was film projectors and slides and filmstrips, and we were the nerds,” Roker recalls. In 2020, he’s learning new skills. “To MacGyver a studio at home has been fun.”
And logistically complex. Roker is married to ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts, who is using their home to make appearances many mornings on the rival network’s “Good Morning America.” Roker says he counted “20 different instances when we have been on the air literally at the same time – one room apart.”
For one brief instant, Roker and Roberts found themselves in a tricky spot. Roberts was doing a “GMA” segment on children with special needs and Roker was trying to record her work on his phone. Attentive “GMA” viewers might have seen Roker quietly lurking in the background. “I think they knew,” says Roker of executives at both networks.
In the past, Roker has enjoyed testing new concepts and investigating emerging technologies with his production venture. In 2015, he tested a trio of short-form cooking programs, all streamed via the Meerkat mobile app. His latest effort, “Side by Side,” is a result of working with Northwell Health, which is sponsoring the show. Roker says he’s maintained a relationship with the company ever since having surgery at New York’s Lenox Hill hospital.
He says he doesn’t have a goal of producing a certain number of programs, and is content to keep his venture small. “We could obviously be a much bigger company if we did certain kinds of programming,” he says, “At the end of the day, we like to do programming that people look at and feel better after they’ve watched it.”