A recent flurry of letters to the San Diego Union-Tribune once again confirmed that screeching KUSI-TV weatherman John Coleman is the most controversial figure in local TV news.
"He's beyond a doubt the most irritating news person I've ever watched. Is it just me?" wrote Frank Bodden of Carlsbad, who apparently has not spent any quality time observing Katie Couric.
As it turned out, Frank was not alone. "When he gets giddy we get "riddy' of him," wrote Jim Edgerton, of San Marcos, showing unusual literary flair for someone from San Marcos.
But some viewers rushed to Coleman's defense, shocked that this grand entertainer of local television, the master of the "K-UUUUU-SSS-I" squeal, might be a tad irritating to some viewers.
"His "K-UUUUUUUUUUUUUU-S-I" is nothing less than a warm embrace after a hard day, it's soothing to my soul," miffed reader Alfred Huete of Spring Valley fired back.
It speaks volumes about local TV news that an aging weatherman could, arguably, stake his claim as the town's most controversial TV personality, but that's TV news. It's not like couples are getting into knife fights over the way Hal Clement reads the intro to that night's water-skiing squirrel story.
But mention Coleman and all hell breaks loose, prompting vicious confrontations between irritated potheads who mistake Coleman for some sort of evil dwarf and little old ladies who think he's a cutie patootie.
In many ways, if Coleman wasn't a weatherman, he'd be perfect as a professional host on a cruise ship, smiling broadly in his tuxedo and offering to dance with the little old ladies. Coleman tries very, very hard to be likeable, his cartoonish smile reminiscent of every kiss-ass sales clerk at Wal-Mart who secretly dreams of becoming an axe murderer.
Coleman is a throwback, a relic of the days when weathermen were the newscast clowns, the comic relief between murder stories. He's old-school all the way, following the old vaudeville wisdom that, whatever you do, you'd better make sure the crowd at least remembers you. And get yourself a catchphrase, kid, something snappy.
So he yells "K-UUUUUUU-S-I" over and over again and makes a big deal out of Fridays, knowing that, if nothing else, he's a sharp contrast to the boring Rotary Club rejects reading the weather reports at the other stations. Love him or hate him, he's memorable. The same elements that make him nails-on-chalkboard to many viewers-the hyper energy, the relentless good cheer, the coffee mug at the ready-make him a lovable and identifiable figure to others, who wouldn't recognize KFMB weather guy Matt Baylow if he was serving pancakes naked in Balboa Park.
In media circles, Coleman is seen as something of a tragic figure, almost Shakespearean, if Shakespeare had written about TV weathercasters. He was a national weather stud, the star in Chicago who went on to become the weather man on Good Morning America, trodding the morning turf that would make huge stars of people like Willard Scott.
Coleman was one of the founders of the Weather Channel, perhaps even its first driving force. He was poised to be a player, a mogul, the Krusty the Clown of weather.
But, alas, in true Shakespearean form, Coleman was booted from the Weather Channel just when it started to gain widespread acceptance.
Coleman envisioned himself as the big boss of the channel, the man in charge, according to the book, The Weather Channel: The Improbable Rise of a Media Phenomenon, by former Weather Channel CEO Frank Batten.
Coleman "had written a part for himself that, sadly, he was unable to play," Batten wrote. Citing "plummeting staff morale," the decision was made to "ease him out" in 1983, Batten wrote. He claims Coleman was offered a chance to remain the "father of the weather channel" and keep a ceremonial position. But instead Coleman chose to fight. When he was unable to find his own buyers, Coleman was out and he "got nothing for 75,000 shares of the company," Batten wrote.
"I have a very happy, productive life," Coleman told a reporter a few years ago. "But if I think about The Weather Channel, it's devastating."
Coleman could have been a star, doing lunch with Regis and Letterman. He might have been a corporate-media titan.
Instead he's bantering with these pinheads on a second-rate indie in San Diego, doing the same ol' "Thank God it's Friday" schtick and pointing to low-pressure areas for the morons who can't look out their windows to see if it's raining.
Some insiders describe Coleman as a bitter old dude, a prima donna notorious for treating lowly underpaid producers like pond scum. Others say he is a likeable, friendly old guy, far removed from the arrogant dumb-ass newsreaders who populate the anchor desks.
Either way, at least he's not a robot, running down the list of highs and lows and dew points like a boring assistant professor at a small-town community college.
At a time when newscasts are homogenized and bland, stripped of all forms of originality by focus groups and testing, Coleman is an eccentric, a character.
And he is almost certainly the last of his kind in a business that prefers the bland. When Coleman is gone, local TV news will have lost its last remnant of personality and flair, its final connection to an age when it was OK to be a little wacko.Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SDcitybeat.com.