Remember the Weather Channel, that thing you grudgingly turn to when you want to make sure a tornado isn't going to run through your neighborhood? Turns out that isn't a terrific business model if the goal is to keep people watching longer and tuning in regularly.
So the channel has joined the crush of reality-TV-airing basic cable networks, while trying to keep an element of, er, the elements in each of its shows.
Toward that end -- and on the heels of "Coast Guard Alaska" -- comes "Lifeguard!," a half-hour series that tracks lifeguards patrolling the Southern California coastline. The show premieres with back-to-back episodes on Feb. 23.
To its credit, the series -- produced by LMNO Prods. -- eschews the usual stereotypes and beach bunnies (I kept figuring Sam Elliott, or maybe Parker Stevenson, would turn up), focusing pretty squarely on the kind of daring and occasionally silly rescues lifeguards have to perform. So there's a race to save a kid buried under sand, a guy who dives into a cove and badly injures his leg, a woman swept off the rocks by a wave while trying to snap pictures.
It's all pretty familiar stuff -- documented as much from the paramedic genre as anything else, except some of the rescuers get to wear shorts.
Speaking of waves, "Lifeguards!" is merely the leading edge of the channel's original-programming swells, with three more new programs -- "Ice Pilots" (March 5), "Braving the Elements" (April 17) and "Hurricane Hunters" (July) -- due over the next few months.
Presumably, you'll also still be able to find some weather on the Weather channel, which is sort of reassuring -- if a little more hit-miss, in the same way History and Cartoon Network are no longer content to be shackled by their names.
When it comes to cable pursuit of hits and younger demos, that's just the way the winds are blowing.