I met Cynthia Demos immediately after I moved into the downtown area. We were hitting up the same circuit of events, like an art show here, a restaurant opening there. Eventually, we were introduced.
“You know, she works for Channel 9,” my friend said. I didn’t know and I’m sure my face showed it. I don’t watch the news. “She’s an anchor,” my friend continued. This was said as if I had been the only person to not recognize this woman, ever. I felt like an awful human being but it was hard for me to imagine Cynthia as a news anchor. She seemed so fun, young and … well, everything I imagined a newsanchor not to be.
Days after that particular event, I stopped by my parent’s house. They were sitting on the couch watching TV. As I entered the living room, there she was. Cynthia was telling my parents the news. Was it possible I had been watching her for years? Had I known her way before I met her? I was baffled. She spoke eloquently; she was professional; she was totally believable. Why didn’t I recognize her? My parents were counting on her. I didn’t know what to think, so I said the one thing that would divert the attention to me, “I know her.” But they already knew her. She was a part of our family; at least during those time slots when she joined them in their living room before and after dinner.
The next time I saw Cynthia at Starbuck’s, she was hysterically laughing as she came outside. She sat down next to me and told me how she just had borrowed money to pay for her coffee because she realized at the counter she didn’t have her wallet. “Isn’t that hilarious,” she belted out.
“Every time I see this woman I like her more,” I thought. Then it just came out. “Can I interview you?” I asked.
Cynthia: It’s so weird for me to be getting interviewed.
Jana: Have you never been interviewed before?
Cynthia: Well on job interviews, but other than that—no! It’s weird. I’m usuallly the one asking the questions.
Well Demos, what heritage are you?
Greek–100% pure bred.
Tell me more.
I’m third generation Greek. My Dad’s parents are from Greece and my Mom’s grandparents are from Greece. My parents got set-up. My Dad is from New York and my Mom is from Alabama and they both were in Miami. A mutual friend knew both were there. So Chrissie called this nice Greek boy, they went out and then got married. Like, literally, they knew each other for three months and then got engaged. She was 23, he was 37.
Get out! How scandalous.
Yeah, he was robbing the cradle. They’ve been married for 43 years.
Wow, that’s amazing. So what, they never left Miami?
Well, my Dad was in law school down there, practicing law, and my Mom was vacationing. She ended up moving down there once they got married. They are so cute; they’re still in the same house.
Oh, like the one you grew up in throughout your childhood?
No, like the only house that they ever have lived in — ever. They’ve been in the same house for 43 years and it just keeps expanding, like they keep adding additions.
What was it like living in Miami — was it all bikinis and beaches?
You know, not in the 80’s. People don’t realize that in the mid 80’s, Miami Beach was super, super dangerous. You didn’t go there. But then by the late 80’s it became kind of cool. We’d go out there at night and make bonfires on the beach. It wasn’t the South Beach it is today, it was kind of desolate. I look at Orlando now and I’m like, this is kind of what Miami was when I was growing up. Orlando is definitely on its way to becoming a Miami or an Atlanta, you know, something like that.
That’s very interesting and exciting to think about.
Yeah, this time in Orlando is phenomenal. This is a good time to be here, to see its growth. This place is doing nothing but exploding.
Where do you see the changes?
Expansion development, downtown and urban living … which is brilliant. I think the biggest problem with downtown Orlando is we don’t have enough industry here besides Disney and NASA.
Are you aware of things that our city is doing to create industry here
Well, there is the medical school at UCF. With the $1.1 billion dollar vote that they are taking tonight at the commissioners meeting which involve the three venues: The New Arena, the Performing Arts Center and then refurbishing the Citrus Bowl; if that passes, that’s a huge step towards growth in our area.
Didn’t those get passed already?
Yes, by the city. Now the county has to approve it. If the county nixes it, it’s done. But I think they’re going to approve two out of three. I think the one that might get left out is the Citrus Bowl. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens, who knows?
How do you get the inside scoop on these things?
Basically, you go to meetings and you become friends with people. If they trust you, and you say, “Hey, call me and let me know what’s going on,” they will. It’s all about building relationships.
When you first got to Orlando, was it hard to build those relationships?
Well, nothing’s easy, but … I wouldn’t say it was hard. It’s what I do — it’s my job and it’s my personality.
One of your bios mentioned that you knew you wanted to be a journalist at 13, what inspired you? Because I had no idea what I was doing at 13.
Well, my family is kind of weird. We’re a typical ethnic family, like a Latin or Jewish family, and we’re super close, right? My sister knew she wanted to be a lawyer when she was a kid, and now she’s a lawyer. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and I’m a journalist. We thought it was weird other kids didn’t know what they wanted to do … we didn’t realize we were the weird ones. My parents loved the news and my Dad loved Jane Pauley growing up. I saw how much my Dad loved Jane Pauley and I was like, I want to be Jane Pauley. That’s how it started, plus I liked the idea of interviewing people and being in different locations.
Describe a typical day for you as an anchorwoman.
Well I report and I anchor; so that’s two different days. As an anchor, I am on the set. There are producers, associate producers and a number of people working on the show; they are the ones who put the show together. Like, they write the show. So when I anchor, I sit at the desk with a co-anchor beside me and we read all the stories of the day. I read through all the scripts and approve things. If something looks weird, I’ll ask about it or change the way it’s worded. But I’m the last one to read it before it goes on the air.
Do you find it hard to not give your opinion in those instances?
I don’t think I’m really opinionated. As a journalist, I feel I can always see both sides. Politically, I’m in the middle of the road so that’s easy for me. Of course I have an opinion on big issues, like abortion, but I get the other side. I can understand where the other people are coming from. So, I would never let my opinion sway into the story.
But as a reporter, it’s different?
As a reporter, I go to a meeting in the morning. Every reporter throws out their ideas; you have to come in with ideas. Three out of five times, they’ll like your idea and then you go work on your story. Two out of five times, they’ll say, “Your idea stinks, let’s find you something else.” Then working on your story; you’ll make phone calls, you’ll go interview people and then write about it. As a reporter you write everything yourself, as an anchor you don’t. That’s the big difference.
Which one do you like better: anchoring or reporting?
I like reporting because it gets me out on the street and it gives me street credibility. I like anchoring because you’re more involved in everything. Lifestyle-wise, I like anchoring because it allows me to have more of a set schedule. Eventually, I’d like to have kids and I’ll need a set schedule. It doesn’t matter now.
Do you find it hard to balance a career and family?
Well I don’t have a family. [Laughs]
Well, is that because of your career or are you not ready?
You know what? I’m blaming it on my career. [Laughs] I was just having this discussion the other day. My good friend Jenny Dunn, our weekend sports anchor, grew up with me in Miami. She’s worked in a few markets and I’ve worked in a few markets and now, we happen to work at the same station together. We’re the same age, neither one of us is married; so of course our careers have played some role in it.
Do you find it difficult to date?
No not at all. [Laughs] Actually, it’s like you are your own dating service. There are a lot.
Well you can certainly pass some my way. [Laughs] So getting ready: who does your make-up and who styles you?
Me. You’re looking at a one man operation. Well, they will hire clothing consultants who will come in and go over stuff, take you shopping. They’ll say we like this and that, but then you make all your own decisions. One time they told me they didn’t like my lipstick. And then one time I had cleavage showing and they told me not to do that, but that was not intentional. [Laughs]
Are you able to get discounts on clothes because of your high visibility?
We can’t. At Channel 9, we’re not allowed to. But other stations do trade-outs. I work in one of the most conservative stations in the country probably.
Why are they so conservative?
It’s just the company policy. We’re owned by Cox Television; they’re just conservative, you know? There’s a lot of integrity there.
How do you pull yourself together for the camera when you’re having an off day?
I think of my dad. My dad would be like, “There are no excuses. You do your job.”
Do you have any embarrassing on-air moments?
There’s nothing horrible that’s ever really happened to me. I’ve forgotten to put my microphone on before, and I had to stop and say, “Hold on, let me grab my microphone.”
What do you do if you have to cough or sneeze?
You cough or sneeze. There has been more than one time when I’ve been anchoring, and my co-anchor is reading, and I get into a coughing fit because I have a little post-nasal drip. While he’s reading, I’ll get up and leave, and then he just has to finish out that segment up until the commercial break. But there’s nothing that’s been really embarrassing … but watch something will happen tonight. [Laughs]
Yeah, and we’ll all be watching.
I know right. [Laughs] You’ll be like, oh look, her button popped off.
So are your friends ever hitting you up to do something funny for them on live TV?
Yeah, they try to see if I can work words into stories and things like that.
What about shameless plugs for a small website dedicated to interviewing people in our community?
[Laughs] You know what? On other stations you could probably do stuff like that but we’re so formulated and we follow such a strict guideline, there’s no opportunity for adlibbing. That’s just the policy of the station. Our philosophy is less adlibbing, more news. Twenty seconds in a show can be a whole story.
Is there a particular shift you prefer doing, like morning, noon or night?
I like working at night because I like to sleep. And that way I never have to wake up to an alarm. I am a sleep monger. I love to sleep and it’s not a choice; it’s a need.
Have you ever had to bail out of a story because it was just too much?
Probably the worst thing that’s ever happened in regards to bailing out of a story was the night Saddam Hussein was found in the hole. Remember? For some reason we didn’t have any video ready to go. So there we were, on set, talking about Saddam Hussein being found without any video to support what were saying. So they were talking to us in our ear, saying, “Nothing’s ready, you have to go to commercial.” That was the biggest meltdown in the 15 years that I’ve done this. So anyway, we went to commercial. Most people would be mad, but when things go really wrong, for some reason I find it hysterical and start laughing. That’s the way I handle bad situations — I laugh instead of cry.
Were you disappointed?
No, it was the producers fault. [Laughs] You know what though, anyone can read a teleprompter but it’s when things go wrong that you define your ability to do your job. Like the other day, you know the plane that crashed into that house in Sanford and killed all those people in the houses? Well in the middle of that, Lou Pearlman was coming back from Jacksonville, after they had brought him back from Indonesia. In my ear they said, “Lou Pearlman is back at the jail, talk until he gets out of the van.” Well, he was in that van for a really long time. So there I was adlibbing about Lou Pearlman … but, of course, we’ve done a story on him like 50 million times. I know more about Lou Pearlman than you’d ever want to know. That was my time; that was my test. For two minutes, I had to sit there, and off the top of my head talk about the entire history of Lou Pearlman. Why he was there, where he was going, what bands he had created, why he was in trouble, how much money the investors had wanted from the company that he set-up on a ponzi scheme; and that’s kind of when you are defined. It doesn’t happen that often, maybe 4 times a year, maybe 5, but if you mess it up, it’s a problem. [Laughs] You don’t get another chance for months.
It seems like it’d be hard to break into an anchor position.
It is. It’s hard because there are so few [positions].
Do you ever watch yourself on TV?
Oh, you do? So you critique your own self?
Every night. More like, do I like my hair like that? Do I like that necklace? Like, this is a new necklace. I’ll look at it tonight and decide if I ever want to wear it again. I don’t care what I look like … but everyone else does. If something’s off, it’s going to be the only thing they notice. So if my hair is supposed to be flipped under on both sides and one side is flipped up, it’s going to bother someone as they watch me and they’re not going to pay attention.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but being an anchor person is like being a part of someone’s family. Every time the family is there together … there you are. How do you feel about being a part of people’s household?
I love it! [Pauses] I like people. Everyone’s got a story, right? I want to know what it is. It’s kind of like a license to be nosey.
As far as being recognized outside of your job, do you feel like you always have to be on guard?
Sometimes. I am aware of what I say. And when I’m talking in public, I don’t like to use names because it’s gotten me in trouble.
Do you find it difficult to be yourself?
No. I don’t think so … I’m probably too much myself.
Well then who are you? Who is Cynthia Demos?
I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her. [Laughs] I don’t know. My whole life I’ve known I wanted to do this, but I’m looking for other things in life. I go running, and I pass this patch of roses all the time. I stop and I smell them … and well you can figure out that metaphor. You have to enjoy the journey along the way.
Didn’t you get held up by some lady at gun point who wanted to be on TV?
[Laughs] Yeah, do you want the long story or short? [Laughs] The short version is … it was my first year on the job and I was working at Panama City’s Channel 7. I was in the bathroom doing my make-up when this lady walked into the station and said, “Can I use the bathroom?” So, she came in the bathroom and said, “Are you going to be on TV soon?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Well, I’m really sorry I have to do this to you,” and then she put a gun to my head. She said, “I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to be on TV.” I said, “Well, you came to the right place. I can put you on TV, but, you said you don’t want to hurt me so point the gun to the ground.” She said, “OK.” We were in the bathroom for fifteen minutes together. I befriended her because I thought that’d be the best way for her to not shoot me. I went over what she wanted to talk about. She had said her husband had gotten into an accident and they had hired these lawyers … basically she wanted to get on TV and tell everyone how awful lawyers are.
Well everyone in my family is a lawyer but me, but I didn’t tell her that at that point. Instead I said, “I don’t blame you, I know where you’re coming from.” I was going to let her on TV. What do I care? She had a gun. So, we went out there and I told her I was going to get my papers and ear piece, that I was going to sit down and when I got ready to talk, I’d stand up, then she could sit down and say whatever she wanted. She had said alright and followed me to my desk.
Wait, what is going through your mind at this point?
I’m going to be friends with this lady so she doesn’t hurt me. She had looked in the mirror at one point and was like, “Oh my God, I’m going to be going on TV. I can’t believe how bad I look.” I said, “You want some lipstick?” I was like, I’m your best friend; I’m going to do your hair, I’m going to do your makeup, I’m going to do what ever you want me to do. You really think you never are going to get hurt, you know? Of course I could of. When they recovered the gun, it was loaded. So to end the story, I go to get on the air, and by that time, they knew something was going on. My general manager came in and asked her to leave. She said, “I don’t need to leave. I’m with her.” And then she pulled the gun out and they evacuated the building. Then, she puts the gun in her mouth and says she’s going to kill herself.
Oh my gosh. People of Panama City …
Yeah, they know how to get attention. So the SWAT team came in, talked her out of it. We went on the air and explained what happened. I was leaving the next day to go out of town for three weeks, but everyone thought I left town because I had flipped out. So get this, when I come back in town, she calls me and leaves me a message and said, “Hi, um, this is Jerry Smith. I was the one that met you in the bathroom. I’m sorry for what I did and I’d really like to take you to lunch.”
What? Were you like, no thanks?
Well I didn’t call her back. [Laughs]
Do you fear for you life on the job often?
Well, three weeks later I was at a house where … when you start out in this business, you are by yourself. So I was the cameraman and the reporter. I would go out on stories by myself … so I was out doing a story on a guy who got shot and killed on a drug deal gone bad. Well, I get to the guy’s house to get a picture of him. I’m like, “I’m so sorry to hear about your son. Do you have any pictures?” They were like, “Yeah. He was a good boy, blah, blah, blah.” And I said, “Did you know he was a drug dealer?”
Well the Dad freaked out, started yelling at me, and then called in his pit bulls to attack me. [Laughs] I grabbed the camera, grabbed the tripod and ran out to the beat up station wagon they had sent me out in. I threw everything in there, got in the car and drove around the corner and then lost it. I started breaking down crying. The lady that held me up with the gun didn’t make me cry but this guy was the breaking point. So I drove back to the station and went into the news director’s office and said, “I can’t do this job. I am not cut out for this. I’ve been here for four months and I’ve been held up at gun point by a lady who wanted to kill me, this guy tried to sick his dogs on me. Every couple of months someone is trying to kill me. Clearly I’m not cut out for this.”
My news director Joe Moore sat me down and said, “These are very strange circumstances. I assure you if you stay in this business, those things will never happen to you again.” And knock on wood, fifteen years later they haven’t. So I guess he knew what he was talking about.
So what about Bob [Opsahl]?
What about him? What you see is what you get. You know how you were talking about being recognized? Everyone knows him. He is part of the family; he’s been around for 28 years. He’s so polished, on and off the air. He always says the right thing. He’s great. To me, oh he’s going to hate that I say this, but he’s like a Dad. Let me see, is he old enough to be my Dad? Probably not.
What is the biggest celebrity number you have in your phone?
Buddy Dyer. [Laughs] Seriously.
OK, last question, if you could cover a story on any part of the World, where would you be off to?
That’s a good question. I’ve been to Israel and that was amazing. Iraq? Oh you know what, I want to go to Cuba; before and then after Castro dies. I want to see the change. That’s highly likely that that’ll happen. Definitely No. 1 on my list. I grew up watching everything that happened in Cuba. I think when Castro dies there’s going to be huge change there. As long as he’s alive, nothing is going to change. I’d like to go to Cuba … like, tomorrow.
Interview Date: 07/25/07