Sam Champion on DirecTV Spat: ‘You Should Give People the TV they Want’

By Gail Shister 

ChampionWeatherAfter years of moving at the speed of “a giant cruise ship,” Sam Champion has become a sprinter.

“This is the most fun in the world, but I’ve never run so fast,” he says. “Information changes moment to moment. This organization is like a sprinter – it can change, bob and weave, and respond immediately.”

“This organization” is The Weather Channel, which Champion joined last month as managing editor and anchor. The “giant cruise ship” is ABC, where he was ‘Good Morning America’s’ popular weatherguy for seven years.


Labeled as “our No. 1 draft pick” by TWC chief David Clark, Champion will host a 7-to-10 a.m.  morning show, beginning in March. His on-air debut occurred far sooner, however, thanks to Winter Storm Janus last week.

“I knew there would be storms to cover,” Champion, 52, says. “While we’re building this [new] show, I would do work in the field. When this storm turned into more than a foot of snow during commuter rush times, it became a public emergency. We went around the clock.”

Had he been back at ABC, or at any major network, for that matter, Champion says he would have had to fight for airtime.

“I’d go to the News division and say, ‘I need to talk about this storm. I need resources.’ There’s a lot of other news that needs resources, too. That’s not a criticism, it’s just the way it works. … Then the story would be put in a lineup of other news, and I’d have to wait for the show [‘World News.’]”

At Atlanta-based TWC, “I’ve got 220 meteorologists and scientists watching that storm. We had crews covering it right away.”

There will soon be more, too. TWC is hiring 60 people for all day parts, including many for Champion’s new show, he says. (The program has a name, he promises, but it’s still under wraps.) “This place is capable of an enormous amount of growth,” he boasts.

Compared to TWC’s nimbleness, major networks are like “giant cruise ships,” according to Champion. “They’re big organizations that have a lot of things to do and a lot of directions to go. It takes time for them to turn in another direction.”

Speaking of other directions, the nasty stalemate continues between TWC and DIRECTV. The latter dumped TWC from its 20 million customers two weeks ago after the two parties couldn’t agree on a new carriage agreement. Several petitions have demanded that DIRECTV reinstate TWC.

Says Champion of the controversy: “You should give people the TV they want… There’s a desperate need for images and understanding of weather that changes our lives every day. People need to know what’s coming.”

DIRECTV’s 20 million subscribers are now seeing upstart WeatherNation in place of Weather Channel.

SamRubemAs for Champion’s personal life, it’s been sunny skies since he relocated from New York to Atlanta. That’s because his husband, photographer Rubem Robierb, left Miami to join him. Miami is now the couple’s “weekend home,” Champion says, and Robierb maintains a studio there.

When Champion was at ABC, “we tried to do the New York-Miami thing,” he explains. “We were never apart for more than four days. It’s a lot easier now.”

So what’s the forecast for children, Sam?

“When it’s right for us, then we’ll do it,” he says. “It’s not a priority now. Our plates are full. Our focus is on us.”