Today co-anchor and everyone’s favorite weatherman, Al Roker has earned success and a faithful following by maintaining a sunny disposition — rain or shine.It’s a drizzly Monday morning, and NBC’s Today show has been on the air nearly 15 minutes by the time weatherman Al Roker strolls onto the set, looking dapper in a subtle gray-and-brown plaid jacket with gray trousers. His late arrival isn’t an indication of slacking off: Roker’s already been at work for more than an hour. He hosts Wake Up with Al beginning at 6 a.m. on the Weather Channel, whose studios are a stone’s throw from Today’s space in Rockefeller Center.
The sun hasn’t come up yet, but dozens of tourists wait outside, peering patiently through the studio window. When that window was introduced in 1998, it created a sea change in morning television that has worked in Roker’s favor. Today exists between entertainment and news, a tradition that goes back to its very first host, Dave Garroway, who helmed the show from 1952 to 1961. He was the first to abandon the stiff formality of a news anchor in favor of a more casual, informal style — one that Roker and his co-anchors have mastered, consistently earning them the top spot in the morning ratings with an average of 6 million viewers per day.
While his co-anchors Matt Lauer, Ann Curry and Natalie Morales run through the morning’s headlines, Roker sits in a corner checking his iPhone and iPad. Seven minutes later, it’s his turn to describe what’s happening with the weather: rain everywhere, it seems. He signs off with his signature, “Here’s what’s happening in your neck of the woods,” then turns around and revs up the crowd outside. They cheer, and the energy on the set shifts into a whole other gear.
Be it morning, noon, night — or even in the painfully early hours before dawn — Roker exudes a genuine, folksy persona that has made him one of the most popular members of the on-air team since his debut nearly 16 years ago. But those who think of him as just the show’s genial weatherman underestimate him. Roker is far more than the willing wingman who last year let Ryan Gosling lift him over his head in a re-creation of the famous scene from Dirty Dancing, or the goofball dressed as Superman for Halloween, or even the dedicated field reporter being blown down by gale-force winds during Hurricane Wilma in 2005 — though he is all those things.
Roker is also a capable newsman — co-anchoring the show’s third hour with Morales and Savannah Guthrie, tackling serious news stories and hard-hitting interviews — and most of all, a pro at live television, an art that can elude even the most gifted of broadcasters. “You have to constantly say something smart and respond to people on the street, without crossing the line or saying something stupid,” says Eric Deggans, a television critic for the St. Petersburg Times and a National Public Radio cultural commentator. “And he does it live, four hours a day.”
Today executive producer Jim Bell has even higher praise for Roker, 57.
“Al is the glue that holds this show together,” he says. “Behind the cameras and on the set, he keeps us all going.”