A WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) photojournalist recently asked John Beard if he was really leaving since the "Daybreak" co-anchor had planned to exit a few times in the past, only to have management convince him to stay a while longer.
After Beard assured him this time was for real, the photographer deadpanned: "Really? Because we've been disappointed before."
Beard laughed loudly as he told the story this week during an interview at a Williamsville coffee spot after his early morning shift.
I don't think you'll really be surprised — or disappointed — to learn that Beard is delaying his planned departure from the area's top-rated morning program at the end of the year by a few weeks at the request of management. But he really, really plans to leave Channel 2 in January after having worked in the Buffalo market for 12 years over two different time periods.
Why is he finally leaving now?
"Same reason I've been trying to leave for two years," he said with a smile. "I want to have a normal life. I love working there. (General Manager) Jim Toellner has been great, management has been great, I love the people there. I'm healthy and I want to stay that way, and this schedule takes a toll. It is cumulative. Plus, I'd like to get out after dark and do what people do and have a social life. When you go to sleep at 7 o'clock, it is going to take a toll. I can't believe I've done it for eight years. It really boggles the mind."
In a wide-ranging and sometimes philosophical interview, Beard discussed his future plans, which include finishing the murder mystery he is writing and considering careers in talk radio or even entering politics. He is certain about one thing: He'll remain in Western New York for several months – including during the winter – as he goes over his options.
"I'll travel some, but I'll be based here for several months at least," said Beard. "I love it here."
He doesn't even mind the weather, except for the wind. Not that he loves walking his 5-year-old, Wheaten terrier, Gracie, on bad weather days when she enjoys them.
"There are days I can't feel my face and she doesn't understand why we have to go back inside," Beard said.
The 69-year-old North Carolina native reluctantly arrived in Western New York shortly after the Blizzard of '77 as an anchor at WIVB-TV. He stayed here for four years before becoming a TV news star in Los Angeles. He returned to Channel 2 in 2009 after losing his high-paying L.A. job and being out of the business for a long period of time.
Was the second time around in Buffalo even better than the first?
"They were both great," he said. "I never wanted to come here the first time. I came here after the blizzard and looked around, and it was the dirtiest, most depressing (place), snow stacked up everywhere, 10 feet high."
But he quickly learned to love Buffalo and made some lifelong friends that led him to return for vacations after he moved to Los Angeles.
The lasting friendships with Channel 2 weatherman Kevin O'Connell and former Channel 2 sportscaster Ed Kilgore helped lead Beard back to Buffalo in 2009 as the "Daybreak" co-anchor. He expected to stay a couple of years, and he stayed eight. What changed?
"I liked it more than I remembered," said Beard. "Or as much as I remembered."
"I feel like I am the luckiest guy in the world to live in this town and be trusted enough to be on television every day for a combination of almost 12 years. I don't think I'll ever completely leave here. I'll always have friends here and maybe a place here. I can't imagine anyone who lives in Buffalo for any length of time, whether they grew up or move here, doesn't have a lifetime connection to it. It is a special place."
He thinks people who leave and return appreciate the area even more.
"I've found that people who grew up here who don't leave are like anybody who grew up in any other place," said Beard. "They only see the things their town doesn’t have that other places do. And then when they leave and move someplace, they realize wherever they move doesn't have half the things Buffalo has. So when they come back, they appreciate it more than when they grew up here."
Beard grew up in North Carolina, and returning to the home and farm he owns there near family is one of the options he is considering.
"I have several plans; I just have to pick one," he said. "Some of the options I'm not able to talk about yet."
"California is still an option," added Beard.
He flew to Los Angeles several times this year to shoot eight scenes as a comical, exaggerated and fictional version of himself that will appear in four episodes of the final season of "Arrested Development" for Netflix.
"The good thing about playing yourself is nobody can take your job," said Beard.
He ticks off the possibilities in California – maybe television, maybe voice work, maybe commentary, maybe talk radio.
"I'm a very opinionated person," he said. "I should say I am very idea-driven. That's a better way of putting it."
He said he is "very interested in talk radio" and realizes the great majority of successful hosts are conservative.
"Then they need somebody different, don't they?" said Beard.
His Twitter feed is anything but conservative. He says he is politically conservative on some issues, including immigration and law enforcement.
"I am fiscally conservative, socially liberal or libertarian," Beard said.
A registered independent, Beard sounded like someone who would consider joining the ranks of former news people Stefan Mychajliw, Lynne Dixon and Steve Cichon, who used their name recognition to run for office.
"I'm interested in politics. That's all I have to say just yet," said Beard.
When it was suggested that he could be a perfect candidate to run against Republican Rep. Chris Collins if he moved a few miles into Collins' district, Beard gave the equivalent of a political non-answer.
"I'm open-minded about politics in general," he said.
History has taught Western New Yorkers that Beard's plans can change. But a reporter really, really got the sense he could be as easily convinced to run against Collins as he has been convinced to stay at Channel 2 over the years.