Cops love him. So do schoolchildren, and their parents, and nice old ladies, and waiters in Greek diners, and charity bigwigs, and late-night comedians.
But he is a man who lives by the clock and prides himself on not being late for anything, and it was midday in Midtown in the middle of the holiday tourist crush, and he had to get to Radio City Music Hall, and the street was blocked off, so he needed a cop who loves him to let him turn right. A traffic officer, visibly irritated by the shiny Mercedes-Benz blocking a crosswalk, approached to scold the driver, until the window rolled down and the driver looked out and smiled the blinding, broad, eager smile familiar to every New Yorker who has been anywhere near a working television since the Carter administration.
“My friend, how are ya?” asked Ernie Anastos, anchorman. He stuck out his hand — “Ernie, from Fox” — and the cop smiled back and shook it and waved him down the closed-off street as he would his favorite uncle or his best pal’s old man.
Which Mr. Anastos, at 66, sort of is, to the entire city.
He parked the Benz and made his way down Avenue of the Americas to sign 210 copies of his children’s book in the canyon-funneled wind. His trademark hair, more pepper than salt, stayed still as stone. He looked at his watch now and then, a lifelong habit. His workdays are filled with time checks: “1 minute 30 seconds, Ernie!” But he was fine for now.
There was a man dressed as a polar bear waving to pedestrians, but Mr. Anastos upstaged him. Someone walked by and said, “Hi, Ernie! It’s nice to see you in person,” to which he shouted back, “It’s nice to see you in person!”
The city will see plenty more of Mr. Anastos, who has been delivering New York’s news — on four different stations — since 1978. Last month, he signed a new three-year contract with WNYW, the Fox station in New York, to anchor the two nightly newscasts and develop shows for the station, for more than $1 million a year. The extension followed the spectacular gaffe, on Sept. 16, that added Mr. Anastos to that motley assortment known as YouTube sensations. While bantering with the weatherman during the 10 o’clock news, Mr. Anastos said, “Keep plucking that chicken,” except the verb sounded an awful lot like an obscenity. He apologized on the air the next night, but a catchphrase was born. Jon Stewart replayed the clip; David Letterman got a laugh.
“It certainly was an unusual chapter in my life and career,” Mr. Anastos said during a recent series of interviews.
Mr. Anastos has spent more nights in front of a camera than not, and his life and career seem to have become one, the fusion of Ernie the man and “Ernie!” the brand.
There are other anchormen who read the news in their “I’m reading the news” voice. That is Mr. Anastos’s voice. When he tells his viewers about the suspect in the Fort Hood shootings in Texas, and when he reads his book to a gymnasium full of children, and when he dials the tavern across from the studio to order a plate of cheeseburger sliders, and when he calls his wife of 41 years, Kelly, and thanks her for packing him a muffin — it is all the same voice. It is deep and clear and practically devoid of slang, and not known to traffic in vulgarity, which made his on-air flub all the more noticed. It is easy to believe that Mr. Anastos has never, ever thought about doing anything of the sort to a chicken.
In an industry that has morphed from “And that’s the way it is” to something more like “Oh no he didn’t!,” Mr. Anastos retains a gray formality behind the ever-sleeker anchor desks, a tone of gravity laced with warmth and aw-shucks one-liners.
“Perfectly straightforward, sensible, easy, New York,” is how Richard Wald, a professor at Columbia Journalism School, described his appeal. “He knows the area, and he looks as though he knows the area. There have been anchors who haven’t.”
It looks wildly out of place in his home study, under a framed portrait of Edward R. Murrow and a folded American flag: a Beastie Boys CD. Mr. Anastos keeps it because he gets a shout-out on the song “Finger Lickin’ Good.” (“I’ll be in the paper, the news with Ernie Anastos.”)
He and Kelly live in a five-bedroom home in Armonk, N.Y., huge for two people who enjoy each other’s company. Their two children, Nina and Phillip, and four grandchildren are regular visitors, and there are family pictures everywhere — golf outings, weddings, trips to Greece.
Mr. Anastos fools around with his drum kit in the basement from time to time. He loves Frank Sinatra; they met in 1985. “He came up and said, ‘Hi, Ernie. How are they treating ya?’ ” He has been known to tag along with his son to Bruce Springsteen shows, with similar results: “Bruce knew me from television. ‘Hey, Ernie, how are ya?’ ”
As a kid in Nashua, N.H., Ernie read made-up stories into a basement microphone that was piped up to speakers in the kitchen. He stuck with radio while studying sociology and anthropology at Northeastern University, and landed a job after graduation at WRKO, an AM station in Boston.
A boss looked at his name and asked, “Would you be uncomfortable if we call you Ernie Andrews?’ ” Mr. Anastos called his father, a travel agent and Greek immigrant who once went into business with Aristotle Onassis; dad said do what you must. “Ethnic names were not all that hot,” the son recalled.
Five years later, in 1976, after knocking on television studio doors all over the Northeast, he landed a job at WPRI in Providence, R.I. He approached the new boss and said, “I was really thinking of doing something with my name.”
The boss said, “Me too,” Mr. Anastos recalled. “How about Keith Andrews?”
But Ernie Anastos prevailed, and two years later he was on the air in New York, starting as a reporter at WABC, where he worked alongside Rose Ann Scamardella, the inspiration for Roseanne Roseannadanna, the Gilda Radner character on “Saturday Night Live.” He would go on to work at WCBS, which he left amid low ratings for WWOR, only to return to WCBS seven years later, in 2001. He has been at WNYW since 2005.
“People like what they have liked,” said Mr. Wald, the journalism professor. “The personal appearance of anchors indicates the kind of programming that a television station will have. It’s the equivalent of the layout of the front page of the newspaper.”
Mr. Anastos’s current co-anchor, Dari Alexander, explained his longevity in simpler terms: “People like Ernie. He’s never let them down.”
Over the years, Mr. Anastos has scooped up dozens of Emmys and other awards. He became friendly with Vice President Dan Quayle when both were named Fathers of the Year in 1989 by the National Father’s Day Committee. “I’ll be watching you this week,” Mr. Quayle wrote on White House stationery in 1990, when Mr. Anastos was filling in on a national news program. “You’ll do great.”
He covered the elder George Bush’s 1988 address to the Republican National Convention, and kept a water glass he used. Years later, Mr. Bush signed it with a marker. Mr. Anastos also kept a flower from Princess Diana’s funeral. When Michael Jackson died last year, Mr. Anastos and his wife were on vacation in California; he grabbed a local film crew, visited the Jackson family home and took another flower.
“Years back, it was all the hard stories,” he said. “Politics. Government. Now, it could be Tiger Woods.”
He regularly visits schools to read from his children’s book, “Ernie and the Big Newz,” about reporting upbeat happenings in the city. He brings a camera crew and lets children read make-believe stories into a microphone, their images playing on overhead screens. He mentions the visits on the air that night.
“There are three areas I love,” Mr. Anastos said. “Children, the elderly and animals. They all have innocence.”
He has enough French cuffs to outfit half of the Fourth Arrondissement, and a vast collection of neckties. “I’ve never seen him wear the same tie twice,” said Regis Philbin, an old friend. “And it’s been 26 years. There’s something going on. I don’t know if he’s producing them himself or making them himself.”
Time check: 2 p.m. After breakfast, the papers, a neighborhood walk and lunch at home, he says goodbye to Kelly and backs the Benz out of the garage.
He calls the office on the way into the city to see how the story of the day is shaping up. Near the WNYW studio on East 68th Street, he parks on the sidewalk, where construction workers persuaded him to write “Ernie” in wet cement, along with a Hollywood-style handprint. He shares a third-floor office with Rosanna Scotto, a morning anchor, who is 51 and met Mr. Anastos when she toured the ABC studio while in college.
“He told me, ‘You go out of town, you make your mistakes and you make your way back to New York,’ ” Ms. Scotto said. “Ernie’s delivery is like Everyman. He’s casual, he’s conversational. He wants to be your best friend.”
This is more fact than figure of speech: Ernie Anastos does want to be your best friend. He goes out of his way to say hello to strangers who recognize him. “Good news to you!” he will call out to someone smiling at the next table in a restaurant. Like many celebrities, he is aggressive in marketing himself. For this story, he provided several pages of bullet points stressing the importance of friends and family in his life, and he wrote out a few prepared quotes like: “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now there’s so much left to do, I’ll never die!”
Throughout the afternoon, Mr. Anastos runs through the script on his computer, making changes here and there.
Time check: At 3:35 p.m. he must be on the fifth floor to deliver a live “cut-in,” previewing what’s on tap for the 5 p.m. broadcast. He goes back to do it again at 3:56 and 4:56. Then it’s showtime.
The studio is cavernous, built for the old days of hulking cameras and large crews. Nowadays, directors move the cameras remotely, leaving the two anchors, the weatherman and a young floor director in blue jeans in the big room. Mr. Anastos likes it warm in the studio. He sits on a pillow. When he forgets to tuck his tie into his pants, the director says, “Peekaboo.”
In midconversation, he will suddenly say something to someone who is not there, but who is speaking into his custom-made earpiece. “I’ve had this thing in my ear for 30 years,” he explained.
When Mr. Anastos started out, before DVRs and YouTube, if you goofed up on the air, the only people who knew were the ones watching. Blink, and you missed the chicken.
These things tend to happen around the weather report, which Mr. Anastos called “kind of a play area.” He enjoys introducing the forecast with a one-liner and ending it with another. Such was the case the night of Sept. 16.
“It takes a tough man to make a tender forecast,” Mr. Anastos began. Then the sentence that would go on to become the names of not one but at least two Facebook fan clubs and would even be set to dance music. “I was saying, ‘Keep plucking that chicken,’ ” he explained later. “We thought nothing of it. We got off the air and no one said anything.”
(He must not have spoken to Ms. Alexander, whose deer-in-the-headlights reaction served as a kind of punch line to the exchange.)
By the time Mr. Anastos awoke the next morning, it was all over the Internet. “I was shocked,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Wow, did this really happen? Is this a joke?’ ”
His bosses did not think so. “We are disappointed with Ernie’s comment on the air last night,” Lew Leone, the general manager, said in a statement. Later, on the air, Mr. Anastos added: “I misspoke during last night’s newscast; I apologize for my remarks to anyone who may have been offended.”
Months later, he said that he is certain he said “plucking,” but that pretending it did not happen would have been a mistake. “If you keep saying, ‘I didn’t really say that,’ it doesn’t sound right,” he said. “This is New York. That particular word is practically ‘hello,’ the way it is used.”
He got a lot of ribbing. “Someone would look at me and say, ‘How’s that chicken?’ ” he said. “Young people love it.”
His friend Regis thought it was hilarious. “Ernie Anastos, my God,” Mr. Philbin said. “He says ‘darn’ a lot.” Introducing Mr. Anastos at a charity event a month later, he said, “Ernie, for God’s sake, this is a family show; please watch your language.”
Mr. Anastos wants it put behind him, and suggested a rehash did not belong in this article because “it’s a dead story.” But he knows how these things go, and earlier had pondered the origin of the remark. “My grandmother, she would have a live chicken,” he said. “I would pluck the chicken. I would help her out.”
Time check: “Live in 15 seconds,” the producer said. Silence, then Mr. Anastos took a deep breath and began to speak: “It’s being called the worst shooting ever . . . .”
Between the broadcasts, he takes a dinner break of a little over an hour. When he is not the M.C. of an event — there are people who see more of Mr. Anastos on a podium than on a screen — he will eat at his desk or tuck into a table at Barbaresco, near the studio, where he loves the spicy spread that comes with the bread.
He is back on the air at 10, and then he drives home, maybe listening to Sinatra, hitting Armonk around the time the minute and hour hands both hit 12.
He used to sit up and read awhile. Now it’s straight to bed. Every day is a big day when you’re Ernie Anastos, and he knows that sounds over the top.
“It may seem like I have all these great thoughts about children and people,” he said. “But it happens to all be true.”