“Tomorrow is 14 years,” WSVN-Ch. 7 anchor Craig Stevens said to his co-anchor, Belkys Nerey, as they sat side by side at the station’s studio on Aug. 10.
“What’s tomorrow?” she asked, perplexed.
“Our anniversary,” he deadpanned.
“I am the worst TV wife ever!” Nerey said with a laugh.
That playful back-and-forth banter in their newscasts and off-camera is the main reason Nerey and Stevens have been the lead anchor team at WSVN for 14 years — a rarity in the local TV news industry nowadays.
They have surpassed South Florida’s other long-running, English-language anchor teams, including Ann Bishop and Dwight Lauderdale, who were paired at WPLG-Ch. 10 for nine years during the 1980s and ’90s.
“Craig and Belkys are TVs ‘married couple.’ They tease, agree and disagree like any couple,” said Connie Hicks, a former WPLG reporter who is now an assistant professor of journalism at Barry University in Miami Shores. “After 14 years, they have that easy relationship and compatibility that station managers and news directors hope for, because the audience sees comfortable, reliable and trusted news anchors, in their homes, gyms, bars and websites.”
On the eve of their Aug. 11 anchor-versary, we caught up with Stevens and Nerey to chat about their on-air partnership, role models and recollections.
Nerey joined WSVN in 1994 as a general assignment reporter. In 1997, she started co-anchoring the station’s popular entertainment gossip show, “Deco Drive.”
Stevens replaced Rick Sanchez as lead anchor in 2001.
When Stevens’ co-anchor, Laurie Jennings, left two years later, management thought he would pair well with Nerey.
“They have this dynamic chemistry together. I think that is hard to find,” said Alice Jacobs, WSVN’s vice president of news. “Craig is kind of a student of the world, and I think Belkys is a student of pop culture, and I think when you bring those two things together, I think it’s the whole package.
“There are moments in a newscast where you can show personality, and I think they do that very well,” Jacobs added. “How many news anchors end their newscasts with ‘Ciao ciao!’”
Nerey refers to Stevens as the “ying to my yang.”
Added Stevens, “The fun part about working with her is that you never know what’s coming, and that creates great TV,” he said. “That has forced me to go with the flow for a minute. And she is so good at that and that has helped me improve at that, too.”
Unlike rivals that switch up their anchor desk every few years, WSVN hasn’t changed its anchors because of ratings and a stable management team.
The station’s programs are traditionally the most-watched, English-language newscasts in the Fort Lauderdale-Miami TV market.
In the July ratings, the station’s weekday 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts won among the coveted 25-54 demographic, according to Nielsen figures.
“When you have a winning team, you don’t need to make a change,” said Jacobs.
News role models
Nerey is a Hialeah native who grew up watching WSVN and WPLG.
“I watched Ann and Dwight. I watched Sally and Rick. I don’t remember [Channels] 6 or 4. Those were the two teams: 7 and 10,” recalled Nerey, a Florida International University graduate.
Stevens grew up watching Boston’s longtime team of husband-and-wife Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson, who were co-anchors for 18 years on the , WCVB-Ch. 5. When Stevens began at WSVN in 1992, he also enjoyed watching Bishop and Lauderdale and Ch. 7’s Sanchez and Sally Fitz.
Stevens recalled befriending the late Curtis, a Fort Lauderdale snowbird, and inviting him to WSVN to watch his newscast with Nerey one night.
“He was so excited to meet her and watch us do it. I asked him, ‘What’s the secret, you and Natalie had been together so many years?’ He offered great insights about the idea of, like Belkys says, you can finish each other’s thoughts or each other’s sentences and you just let that go, and over time, it really strengthens.”
Although they have fun on the set, the anchors, who are friends off-camera, say their years of working together have created a unique shorthand that comes in handy for big stories such as the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in November.
“We both raced back to the newsroom. It was a Friday night,” recalled Stevens, a Miami Shores resident.
“He called me on the phone,” said Nerey, who lives in Miami Beach.
“I said: Take your slippers off and put your shoes back on,” he said.
“I was in PJs,” Nerey added.
The anchors arrived back at the empty news studio, without a producer or director there. They didn’t know how to operate the robotic cameras.
Said Stevens: “It was kind of like old-school. When we finally got on, we were sharing a microphone … we just went with it. In that moment, as more people started to come in to help, they might give her instructions but I might not hear them. She would give me a look and I would hand it off to her so she could figure it out, we would pass it back and forth. That’s the benefit of when you have been side by side for a long time.”
“There is never talking over each other like we are doing now,” Nerey added, with her signature cackle.