What Bill Weir Calls ‘The Best Assignment of My Career’

By A.J. Katz 

It has been a busy 2017 for Bill Weir. He traversed the globe yet again, writing and shooting the third and final season of CNN’s The Wonder List, which premieres this Saturday at 9 p.m. More recently, he volunteered to head down to Florida and Puerto Rico to cover Hurricanes Irma and Maria for CNN.

“One of the reasons I raised my hand to cover [Hurricane] Irma was to try to satisfy some of those cravings for more breaking news,” Weir told TVNewser on Thursday.

Weir was able to take his expertise producing and writing content for The Wonder List and transfer it to his on-air coverage of Irma and Maria.

“We did an episode For The Wonder List about the Florida Everglades that schooled me on how soft Florida was built and what storms like Irma mean to infrastructure and wildlife and human habitat,” said Weir. “And I think my style of storytelling, I get a little more luxurious pallet with 43 minutes of an hour-long episode, which is great. But sometimes, some of the same rules of storytelling physics can be applied to a live shot in a breaking news disaster zone, and I think every now and then that shows through.”

TVNewser: What can we expect from the third season of The Wonder List?

Weir: You can expect great stories from six continents and cinematic immersive voyages of discovery and exploration. Hopefully at the heart of all of these is a bigger lesson about our impact on the planet and the choices we make, whether it’s environmentally, socially, politically and how they all add up to either save the places that we hold dearest, or make them go away.

TVNewser: The Wonder List is moving to Saturday nights, and in the past, episodes have been preempted due to breaking news. Is that something that has frustrated you?

Weir: I’m working at a breaking news network. People return my calls right away because I’m at CNN and the price of that is that you have to make way for the big stories when they pop. So no, I understand it and honestly, I’d rather somebody be completely immersed in my show and not wondering why the hell we aren’t showing the latest presidential firestorm tweet. So if there is legitimate breaking news, I’m happy to step out of the way for that. But yeah, you would like for a time slot to have a certain sense of expectation, and when people tune in we’d love to be there for them, but you live by breaking news and you die by it sometimes.

TVNewser: You wrote on social media that this will be the final season of The Wonder List. Have you considered shopping it to other networks?

Weir: Well, it’s a CNN Original Series, so they’d have something to say about that! It’s not my show to take, but you never know. Hopefully there’s a groundswell of support and people will rally together to save The Wonder List the way we’re trying to rally to save Machu Picchu or Patagonia. But this has been the assignment of of my career, and things like this don’t last forever. I’m really proud of the 20 episodes we have done, but again you never know because there are so many different distribution channels out there these days. When I came and started the show, we were the first original series to be produced in-house. Who knows, we could end up selling it to someone else down the road. That’s just the way things are in this media age.

TVNewser: You filled in for Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning recently for a full week. You are no stranger to hosting morning shows. Is that something you might be interested in getting back into one day?

Weir: Absolutely. I’ve stopped trying to pre-plan my career or day or logical track. If I had stuck with safe choices, who knows, I could have missed The Wonder List. I have a good relationship with the folks at CBS. I respect what they’re doing. The chance to fill in for a hero of mine for a week was like a trip to morning show fantasy camp. I enjoyed it and it was good to work out those muscles.

TVNewser: You’re a journalist, but you’re also human. How were you able to separate that when you were on the ground in Puerto Rico?

Weir: I wrestled with that question a little bit, not in terms of helping people because the need there was so great. Truck operators and security guards were sharing our beef jerky and bottled water with whoever we could because we had enough provisions for ourselves. But on the island of Vieques, people were lined up to use satellite phones and hadn’t spoken to the outside for a long time. There was one woman who was so desperate and was begging her parents just to send her some cash so she could survive. I said: “Look, I can give you a few bucks.” When I did, the outpouring of emotion was so overwhelming, the gratitude was so explosive and her frustration was so raw. That’s the reason I put that moment in the piece.  I was wrestling with whether or not that does cross a line, but ultimately her reaction said way more than I ever could in voice over track. So it’s a rare example I think of just relating to these people on a human level. My heart is broken for the need down there, but I was gratified that for some reason people felt compelled to reach out to me on social media and ask if they sent me $50, could I buy their grandmother some food. That’s the level of desperate communication that is down there. I wish I could help every single person who reached out to me, but the best I can do is tell the stories and wave the red flag of need for these American citizens who are still down there suffering in great numbers.