FALMOUTH – Shannon Moss remembers being told by former bosses that people either loved her or hated her.
Not the kind of news a TV anchor wants to hear.
“It was my hair. Research showed that a lot of people hated my hair,” said Moss, 43, who was born with outrageously curly hair. “When I went to Channel 8 (Portland station WMTW) I told the news director there would be an onslaught of negative reaction to my hair, and there was. My hair was very polarizing.”
Moss overcame her curly hair to become one of Portland’s best known and most popular TV personalities, but in June WMTW decided not to renew her contract and let her go.
Now she is hoping that her name recognition and community connections developed over 14 years on Portland TV will help her with a new show she’s launching, “Split Screen with Shannon Moss.” The half-hour interview show debuts next weekend on Portland stations WPME (Channel 35) and WPXT (Channel 51).
Since being dismissed from her morning anchor job at WMTW, Moss has gotten about 100 Facebook messages and emails from viewers wishing her well, asking when they might see her again and pledging to stop watching WMTW. Her Facebook post announcing her departure from WMTW got more than 270 comments.
Some viewers mentioned that they started watching her when she was a reporter and late-night anchor on Portland station WCSH (Channel 6) and followed her to WMTW. Moss began working on Portland TV in 1999, when she got hired at WCSH. She left there to take the morning anchor job at WMTW in 2007.
Moss served as celebrity host for a lot of events while at WMTW — about 25 a year, ranging from Disney on Ice to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s fundraising walks. When she called the groups she did this kind of hosting for to say she no longer worked at WMTW, all of the groups said they wanted her to continue as their host.
“Someone from WMTW called me (when Moss was dismissed) and offered to send someone else to our events,” said Sue Tidd, director of development for the MS society’s Greater New England Chapter. “I said absolutely not. She’s the highlight of these events. People always ask if Shannon’s going to be there. Shannon’s a rock star.”
Viewers who followed Moss from WCSH to WMTW say her personality makes her stand out among local newscasters.
“I enjoyed watching her on 6 and found her on 8. I was so disappointed when suddenly she wasn’t on anymore,” said Elizabeth Pardoe, an artist and fine arts conservator from Alna. “I don’t watch channel 8 anymore. I guess that’s my protest. I was just drawn to her personality on the air. She always seemed to be enjoying herself.”
Even though some people didn’t enjoy her hair, Moss kept it curly for quite a while. It wasn’t until 2007 that she decided to straighten it. She made the decision after her youngest son was born and her curls had loosened, and after she had endured years of comments about how it looked like animals were nesting on her head.
“It just became easier,” said Moss of taming her wild hair. “After I did straighten it, the hate mail about my hair stopped.”
TIME FOR FAMILY
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Moss walked down the road from her Falmouth home to meet her two sons, Quinn, 9, and Rowen, 7, as they got off the school bus.
As she and her boys walked back to the house, Moss informed them that Harry the heron, who visits their pond often, was not there that day. Then she asked about their day and what they had for homework. When they got in the house, Moss served her sons a plate of just-baked chocolate chip cookies (son Quinn called them “chocolate awesome” cookies).
After spending most of her sons’ lives going to bed early and working from about 3 a.m. to noon, she doesn’t take being with them lightly.
“I feel blessed to wake up each morning and be able to make my boys breakfast, pack their lunches and get them on the bus,” Moss said. “I spent time with them before, but I was always exhausted.”
In that way, Moss’ forced departure from WMTW — which station officials won’t comment on — has turned out to be a good thing for her.
“I think the schedule was wearing her down,” said Moss’ husband, Andy Hagerty, a Portland police officer who works nights. “She’s a new person now.”
Moss likes to do things outdoors with her kids. One favorite activity is crab catching. They go to the beach in Falmouth, fill a net with hot dogs as bait, and lower the net in the water until it’s covered with crabs. Then they arrange crab races on the sand before returning the crabs to their homes.
“That’s hours of entertainment right there,” said Moss.
REMEMBER PEOPLE’S NAMES
Moss grew up in Warwick, R.I., with a father who was a district manager for Merck pharmaceuticals and who impressed upon her the importance of looking at people when they talked, and being able to “remember people’s names.”
At the age of 9 or 10 she created her own newspaper, Neighborhood News, featuring stories, birthday announcements and a comic strip drawn by Moss.
In school she read morning announcements over the intercom and was a hurdler on the track team.
At a career day in 8th grade she heard a talk by Doug White, a Rhode Island newscaster, and knew what she wanted to do.
“I really liked the idea of being able to get out and talk to people,” she said. “His job just seemed really different than other jobs.”
After graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in journalism, she got a job working off camera at the same Providence station as White. Then she worked on camera at a station in Wausau, Wis., before landing a reporter job at WCSH in 1999.
At WCSH, Moss’ willingness to talk to anyone and try anything led to the job of reporter — or guinea pig — in a news segment called “Get Out Alive.” The spots were designed to give people tips on escaping dangerous situations, while watching Moss crawl through a burning building or trying to extricate herself from a car quickly sinking into water.
“She can be off the wall, but she’s a very good journalist and true to herself, and that comes across on camera,” said Bill Green, a 40-year Maine TV news veteran and a colleague of Moss’ at WCSH.
Moss said she enjoyed the “Get Out Alive” segments, even though they drew criticism from some as being unnecessarily dramatic.
One tense moment happened during the car sinking segment, when Moss had trouble using a center punch tool meant to break the window glass, and emergency workers had to pull her from the car.
“I was in a survival suit, with an air mask, so I was fine,” she said. “But I just had so many (safety) things I was holding on to I couldn’t get my hand on the center punch.”
It was through her job at WCSH that she met her husband. One day around 4 a.m. she was called to do a report on an explosion at a dry cleaner’s shop in Falmouth. Hagerty, then working for the Falmouth police, was at the scene. A few days later, Hagerty sent Moss flowers and asked her out.
NEW JOB, NEW SCHEDULE
Moss took a morning anchor job at WMTW at least partly to be with her sons in the afternoon and at night, she said.
At WMTW she built a loyal following, even though she straightened her hair and didn’t escape dangerous situations anymore. She did interviews, in-depth stories, straight news and a consumer series where she tried out “as seen on TV” type gadgets, to see if they worked.
Viewers who liked her on WMTW said they enjoyed the way she spoke, the way she seemed interested in her subjects and stories, and her apparent sincerity.
“She was a real professional with a great smile and positive attitude,” said Jerry Knapp, a marina owner from Harrison who says he switched back to WCSH after Moss left WMTW. “She communicated well, without an abundance of chit-chat.”
During her time at WMTW, when Moss was serving as an emcee or host at community events, that included four annual appearances for the National MS Society.
Moss’ appeal as a host is evident to anyone who meets her, said Tidd, of the MS Society.
“She’s a hugger, and as soon as you meet her you know why people like her,” Tidd said. “She looks people in the eye, and she really connects. (Full disclosure: Both the reporter and a photographer on this story received hugs from Moss.)
WMTW let Moss go a day after her contract expired. She said she was told by management that viewers “weren’t responding” to her.
But she and Hagerty did see a response, from the hundreds of viewers who contacted her or commented on her leaving WMTW.
The reaction to Moss’ departure was unusual, especially since WMTW is often the least-watched of Portland’s three local TV news stations, according to ratings. Its comparatively frequent anchor changes don’t usually generate months’ worth of viewer comments and questions.
Portland’s other two stations have anchors who have been in place for 20 or 30 years — including Kim Block at WGME (Channel 13) and Cindy Williams and Pat Callaghan at WCSH.
Moss decided that being let go was an opportunity, and that she might be able to make a go of her own show.
Her plan for the half-hour show is to do two filmed interviews each episode. One will be with a well-known Mainer or other public figure.
Author and fishing boat captain Linda Greenlaw will be among her first guests, as will Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck. For these interviews she’ll talk with the subjects out of their usual element, in some place “unexpected.”
She filmed the segment with Sauschuck at Holy Donut in Portland, and chatted with Greenlaw on a golf course.
The second interview in each episode will be with a person who is lesser known but is doing something extraordinary, said Moss.
Moss isn’t ruling out a return to local TV news someday, but for now she’s focusing on “Split Screen.”
The show is all hers, as she is the host and producer, and has to sell the advertising to pay for it. She is paying the stations to air it.
“It’s a lot to do, and sometimes I get sick of my own name, I say it so much,” Moss said. “But I really think this is something I can do, tell people’s stories.”
Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: