For Todd Gross, the view from basement is mostly sunny
From his basement, former Channel 7 meteorologist turns to Web, cellphones to revive career
BOLTON -- Throughout the movie, ''The Weather Man," passersby pelt local Chicago weatherman Dave Spritz with food -- a
''People throw stuff at me sometimes, if they don't like me or something," Spritz tells his father in one scene.
''They don't know you," his father replies.
''From TV," Spritz says.
''But you just read the weather," his father says.
We have a strange relationship with our weathermen. They tell us what to wear in the mornings, when school will be canceled, and which sunscreen to bring to the beach. And what they report -- unlike the rest of the newscast -- affects everyone's life. Some days we love them, other days we hate them.
Todd Gross served as chief meteorologist at WHDH-TV (Channel 7) until December, when the station abruptly gave him the hook. So, after more than two decades having his face in front of hundreds of thousands of people, he is going through a bit of weatherman withdrawal.
He calls himself a ''weatherman without a station" as he tries to resurrect his career using a computer and a mock-television station in the unfinished basement of his ranch-style home in rural Bolton.
''I feel like a politician," he said during a recent interview for which he wore jeans, a T-shirt, and a well-kempt hairdo. ''I feel like I have a message without an audience, and I don't want to lose sight of my original goal, which is to educate."
He's started a blog and spends most of his time at a small workstation in his basement, with two computers and a ministudio -- a green chroma-key screen, televisions on either side, and a small
He also sends weather updates every six hours -- starting at 4:30 a.m. -- to the cellphones of 60 paying clients (because he promises to send the updates so often, he says, he never gets more than six straight hours of sleep). If weather gets bad, he dishes advice to superintendents of schools and snow plowers.
On his website, he has a five-day forecast and posts an audio file each day of himself reading the weather. It also offers weather trivia, astronomy lessons, and detailed weather maps. He has a similar site geared toward Cape Cod, which he says is often overlooked by the Boston media market.
He also sells 25 shirts in various colors, sizes, and styles, all of which feature an image of his face. He also offers a woman's track suit (pink, $44.99), a beer stein ($16.99), a canvas tote bag ($15.99), a barbecue apron ($17.99), boxer shorts ($15.99), and a baby bib ($8.99). There are 30 other items that just have an arrow, his much-beloved arrow.
He's been handing out new refrigerator magnets and business cards that ask ''Where's Todd?" with an arrow pointing to his web address, www.toddgross.com.
Last month, he sent out a single-page newsletter, for which he penned a column and reprinted messages from fans.
Ask him why he's doing all of this, and he says, ''By popular demand."
Jim Thistle, director of the broadcast journalism department at Boston University, said meteorologists in the past have done outside work, typically offering forecasts for radio networks. But, unlike Gross, they've usually done it using the platform of a major TV station.
''He's been around for a long time, and I think he had a following," Thistle said. ''It's an interesting experiment."
It's still not exactly clear why Gross was asked to leave. Ginny Lund, a spokeswoman for Channel 7, declined to comment, calling it a personnel issue, and Gross said he was simply told that they ''wanted to move in another direction." Pete Bouchard took over for Gross.
''I was shocked, and I was disappointed," Gross said. ''But that's their prerogative."
Shortly after he was asked to leave, he started handing out his e-mail address and promoting his website. He says he got 2,500 e-mails in three weeks, and responded to each person individually. An e-mail group started in December ''to discuss weather with Todd Gross and to support his returning to the air in Boston." It has more than 1,100 members.
''He is very bright and very entrepreneurial, and I wish him well in his new endeavor," Harvey Leonard, meteorologist at WCVB-TV (Channel 5), stated in an e-mail.
Gross, a native of New York City, arrived at Channel 7 in 1984 as a weekend meteorologist, and he replaced Leonard as the chief meteorologist in 2002.
But when he is asked what he's most known for, he notes ''the arrow." He loved drawing arrows to point toward an oncoming cold front or windstream.
''It made an impression on an awful lot of people," he said.
The arrow is one of the major reasons he has set up the studio.
''It's a trademark thing, you know?" he said. ''I'm trying to continue to give the audience the arrow."
''That would alleviate some of the pressure from the fans, who say, 'We want to see you again.' "
Right now, he said, he gets thousands of hits a day, which is not enough to generate much advertising revenue. But he feels like he's one good snowstorm away from making it big.
''The weather is so tranquil that it's affecting the site," he said. ''It has the potential to explode, given the right weather situation."
He was also portrayed in the 2000 film, ''The Perfect Storm," a term he helped coin during the deadly 1991 storm off the Atlantic Coast. Christopher McDonald, an actor who was also in ''Thelma & Louise" and ''Happy Gilmore," portrayed Gross in the film, and the filmmakers put actual Gross family photos on his character's desk.
''He starts to become a little maniacal during the course of the movie, and that's pretty much my earmark here in Boston," Gross told Geraldo Rivera on ''Rivera Live" in 2000.
''A lot of folks feel that way about me -- that perhaps I get a little bit too excited when a storm is coming. To tell you the truth, I like any kind of weather -- blue skies, wonderful, storminess, very exciting to forecast."
Indeed, he and his wife, Ava, named their children after weather: His son's middle name is Sky and his daughter's is Sunshine (her nickname is Breezy).
''We eat, sleep, and drink weather," he said.
His wife loves the sun (as evidenced by a deep tan) and Gross loves snow (until the recent thaw, he had a mound of snow the size of a pitcher's mound sitting in his yard, and he's been known to create cross-country trails in his backyard).
''I've stopped asking what my neighbors think," he said. ''They think I'm nuts."
Soon, he hopes to get back on the air, likely via webcasts. His wife again will do his makeup, fix his hair, and straighten his tie.
He'll get in front of the familiar green screen and draw his arrows. Only this time, he'll be broadcasting from his basement.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.