Al Roker is tackling a subject that might not be at the center of his activities on NBC’s “Today.”
The morning-news veteran, through his Al Roker Entertainment production company, is releasing a new documentary underwritten by farming-equipment manufacturer Deere & Co. that examines the state of Black farming in the U.S. — and some of the struggles the farmers in question must often navigate.
“Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land,” was created in partnership with director Eternal Polk, and looks at how landowners are working to reclaim agricultural rights. Many Black farmers often work land that has been passed down over generations via inheritance, but without a clear title, leaving the landholders unable in many instances to qualify for government assistance, equipment financing or agriculture programs. Many of them have lost their land over the years, marking a loss of generational wealth.
“It’s one of those iceberg issues,” says Roker, in a recent interview. “There’s so much more under the surface.” The topic may be of heightened interest in an era when Americans are often pondering issues of equity and inequality.
The film will debut at the American Black Film Festival in Miami on June 15, 2023, and is expected to appear in screenings across the country this summer. Al Roker Entertainment is working to find a home for the film on a streaming service or cable network for next year.
Roker says the film was originally conceived as an hour-long project, but executives at Deere, after reviewing footage, asked if it could be extended to 90 minutes to tell more of the story.
While many TV viewers know Roker from his years spent forecasting weather for “Today” and other venues, fewer know that he has led a small TV-production company for more than two decades. His company has produced series like “Coast Guard Alaska” for Weather Channel and “DEA” for Spike TV.
There are new projects in the works, including an animated series for PBS Kids that may remind viewers of his main career. “Weather Hunters,” slated to debut in 2024 or 2025, Roker says, is centered on eight-year-old Lily Hunter, a weather detective who shares her investigations with her family, including dad Al Hunter, voiced by Roker. The three kids in the series have the same ages Roker’s children did when he first came up with the idea for the program
Roker likes to create new things, but he has no plans to leave “Today,” even as he enjoys some new activity at Al Roker Entertainment. “They are going to have to drag me off the train,” he says.
“Today” viewers have watched over the last few months as Roker has grappled with some health issues. He missed his regular appearance on NBC’s broadcast of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in November — the first time he has done so in 27 years — to deal with a blood clot. He ended up in the hospital for four weeks and had to spend some time rebuilding his strength. In recent weeks, he had to have his knee replaced (actually, he had to replace a replacement).
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Roker says of his medical issues. But he believes he is on the mend. An avid walker, he recently completed his first 10,000-step day in quite some time, a sign that his body is gaining strength. He credits his wife, ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts, and his family, along with a healthy dose of positive thinking, for his rebound.
“I’m getting back to where I was,” says Roker.