Being a 25-year TV veteran, Mike Dardis certainly knows about TV's revolving door. After all, he became Sheree Paolello's fourth co-anchor in three years when hired by WLWT-TV from Seattle in 2012.
But after Channel 5 offered him his second contract renewal, Dardis figured he was here to stay for a long while – and could take the risk of dating his co-anchor.
They fell in love, and Paolello and Dardis announced their engagement Jan. 4. Although this has happened in other TV markets, they will be the first married anchor couple that I can recall in Cincinnati history.
"When a station gives you a third contract, they're putting you in their plans," says Dardis, who came here in April 2012 from anchoring mornings and middays at KOMO-TV in Seattle.
At that time, he was a married father of two looking to get closer to his upstate New York and Pennsylvania roots. He had worked 10 years as a Philadelphia sportscaster before doing morning news in Seattle for eight years.
Not only did he prove to be a good on-air fit for Paolello – a Delhi Township native and Northern Kentucky University graduate – but he's been accepted as "one of us" by viewers who have shown a decided preference for hometown TV news personalities (Rob Braun, Steve Horstmeyer, Tricia Macke, Cammy Dierking, Lisa Cooney, Denny Janson, George Vogel, Nick Clooney, Al Schottelkotte, etc.). People have asked Dardis, "Didn't I go to high school with you?" (The late Tim Hedrick once told me that was the sure sign of acceptance here, when viewers thought he had attended Oak Hills High School.)
Ironically, it was interest from a Chicago TV station that sparked the anchor desk romance, Dardis tells me.
In late 2017, Dardis sent out some job feelers in case Channel 5's management decided not to renew him. When he told Paolello about Chicago, she didn't want him to go.
Paolello, a divorced mother of three young boys, told him: "I feel like I've been taking you for granted as a friend." The next day he came into work and asked her, "Well, what are we going to do about this then?"
She stopped dating her boyfriend and started going out with Dardis. They told chief meteorologist Kevin Robinson and sports anchor George Vogel before telling Branden Frantz, Channel 5 president and general manager. In October, Paolello put her six-bedroom Edgewood home on the market.
Dardis says she's moving to the Mason area, where Dardis's son is a stand-out high school athlete. He also has a daughter attending Miami University.
They announced their engagement Jan. 4 with social media posts headlined CO-ANCHORS FOR LIFE.
"I feel like I’ve gotten a second chance. Who knew the man I was looking for has been sitting next to me the whole time. Mike proposed to me one week ago tonight ... and I said YES!" she wrote.
"We’re a great team. She makes me better. I popped the question Friday December 28th at The Banks overlooking her favorite bridge... The Roebling. Can’t wait for the big day," he wrote.
Frantz praises his anchors for being above board.
"They were really great at being incredibly transparent all along. We had some very open discussions since the start of this," Frantz says. "We obviously went into this with eyes wide open."
Before Dardis arrived in 2012, the station's main anchor team had been a revolving door for 20 years. After Jerry Springer left the newsroom to host his daytime talk show, evening newscasts were anchored by Norma Rashid, Charlie Luken, James Watkins, Courtis Fuller, Dave Wagner, Anne Marie Tiernon, Sandra Ali and Lisa Cooney, along with about a dozen different meteorologists.
Paolello, who started her TV career as a WXIX-TV news writer, was hired by Channel 5 in 2002 after working for stations in South Bend, Ind., Charlotte, N.C., and Dayton, Ohio. Her star quickly ascended after returning from maternity leave in May 2004. She was named weekend anchor, then 5 p.m. weekday anchor with Ali in 2005. Paolello and Ali started anchoring all evening weekday newscasts in 2006, the city's first female co-anchors. By 2008, Paolello was anchoring solo at 11 p.m. until Jack Atherton arrived from Fox 19 in 2009. Atherton was moved to political reporter shortly before Dardis arrived in 2012.
The ratings – which have cost many TV anchors their jobs – have been good for the Mike and Sheree team. Channel 5's weekday newscasts for the November ratings' "sweeps" were first at 11 p.m. with women ages 25-54, a prime advertising target. Their evening newscasts were second with women 25-54 and adults 25-54.
"Since Mike arrived in 2012, it's been very apparent that they have great chemistry. We've got a really good team, along with Kevin and George. They have such great chemistry," Frantz says.
The couple's social media accounts exploded over the weekend with the news. They can't go anywhere in public without fans congratulating them, Dardis says. News of their engagement appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Seattle Times, USA Today and on the Associated Press wire, he says.
"We went out to dinner Saturday night with friends, and every five minutes someone was coming up to us," Dardis says. "Our social media really blew up. And I'd say 99.5 percent of the posts were positive."
And if they day comes when ratings tank, Dardis says he'd move on and let Paolello continue in her hometown.