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Hometown ‘Daybreak’ co-anchor Melissa Holmes triumphs over early TV adversity

The local morning TV wars might have been so different if WIVB-TV (Channel 4) appreciated Melissa Holmes more.

While News 4 searches for still another new morning anchor, Holmes is a few months away from celebrating 10 years in the “Daybreak” anchor chair on WGRZ-TV (Channel 2).

Holmes owes her morning longevity to a former WIVB-TV news director. She was initially a morning anchor on WNLO-TV, the sister station of WIVB, before joining WGRZ in 2012.

She left WIVB because management at the time – particularly then-news director Joe Schlaerth – didn’t have faith in her.

“He said, ‘you’ll never make it as an anchor,’ ” recalled Holmes in an interview over coffee.

How did that make her feel?

“Ready to leave,” said Holmes. “I believe I had it in me. It did hurt my confidence. I certainly questioned, ‘Is he right?’ But deep down, I knew he wasn’t right.”

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Holmes understood she was early in her career and had to grow.

“Everybody can grow. I can continue to grow as an anchor. At that point, I wanted someone to say, ‘maybe you don’t have it now, but I am going to give you the opportunity to have that.’ He didn’t want to give that to me. So I went to a place where I was valued.

“It gave me more motivation to work harder to prove him wrong and the doubters wrong. I was happy to make that leap and believe in myself and go to a place where they would give me the opportunity.”

Channel 2 anchor Melissa Holmes said she enjoys the camaraderie both on camera and behind the scenes with her co-workers, some pictured here during a recent morning news meeting at the station.

The rest is local TV history.

Holmes is the epitome of a hometown girl who made good in TV and is even willing to let viewers see her senior picture from Sweet Home High School in Channel 2 promos.

“I’ve got big hair in that photo as most girls do in their high school photo,” smiled Holmes. “It’s fun to be able to show I’m local and grew up here. There are a lot of high school photos I would never allow Channel 2 to put on the news, that’s for sure.”

She has co-anchored the No. 1 morning program for almost 10 years, while WIVB has gone through a succession of female morning co-anchors including Melanie Orlins, Diana Fairbanks, Teresa Weakley and Brittni Smallwood.

Holmes emphasizes the support she receives from the “Daybreak” team with co-anchor Pete Gallivan and meteorologist Patrick Hammer and behind-the-scenes personnel has led to success and realizes that support might not have been there if she remained at Channel 4.

She said the team’s on-camera rapport is genuine.

“Oh my god, Patrick is one of my best friends in the entire world,” said Holmes. “We text nonstop. He knows all of my secrets and I know all of his. Pete is a brother to everybody. We are very close … But Patrick and I have this connection that viewers see and ask me about all the time. Or tell me how much we bicker on-air … Patrick and I bicker in a really loving way. And we can tell each other the truth on-air and behind the scenes.”

A 2000 Sweet Home graduate, Holmes was inspired to become a journalist as a high school sophomore when she took part in an educational TV series on PBS that highlighted travel, culture, history, music and agriculture in New York State.

“It was my first experience in TV asking questions and all my questions were answered and I just got this bug,” she said. “Ever since then I knew I wanted to go to Syracuse University and wanted to be a TV journalist and reporter.”

Growing up, she was a fan of former Channel 4 news anchor Carol Jasen.

“I loved her news chops, she was so smooth, every element of the business she was perfect,” Holmes said.

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Holmes has spent a collective 20 years getting up early at a Syracuse station, WNLO and WGRZ. She realizes getting up at 2:15 a.m. to get ready for a 4:30 a.m. program isn’t for everybody.

“It is all I know,” she said. “I envision my 2:15 as anyone else envisions their 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m. wake-up call. It is all mental for me. I need my three cups of coffee and that keeps me going.”

“I think this is the only schedule that can work for me, and I am really happy in it,” said Channel 2 “Daybreak” anchor Melissa Holmes.

She also needs a nap around 11:30 a.m., which she said her husband, Buffalo News sportswriter Jay Skurski, and their 8-year-old son Elliott, realize.

“Jay and Elliott know if I don’t get a nap, it is stay away from mommy the rest of the day,” she said.

She considers the early morning hours perfect for a mother and wife working in TV.

“There was an anchor in Buffalo who said to me a long time ago, ‘if you want to be a wife and mom and be an anchor you have to realize you can’t have it all,’” recalled Holmes. “She said that as I was getting married, just kind of warned me … And that stuck with me.”

Holmes dropped any dreams of being an evening anchor when she realized the morning schedule offered the best balance for having a family.

“I think this is the only schedule that can work for me, and I am really happy in it. I can never envision being an evening anchor and trying to be a wife and mom.”

She and her husband generally eat dinner at 3:30 or 4 p.m. A perfectionist, Holmes concedes that cooking isn’t her strong point though she improved during the pandemic and enjoys watching the Food Network.

Her schedule allows her to put Elliott to bed at 8:30 p.m., when she begins her six hours of sleep. She sees other advantages in being a morning anchor.

“I also did appreciate morning anchors could have a little bit more fun, a little bit more personality, a little bit more news and features,” said Holmes. “I like that morning news is a little bit looser. I also really love the connections that a morning anchor gets with their viewers.”

She has been stopped at restaurants and at the supermarket by viewers and has been told she is considered family by those who watch during breakfast. Some viewers are surprised to see her outside work without makeup and her hair in a ponytail.

“They say you look so different in person because I’m not done up. Or they don’t expect me to be 5-11.”

Her height would have seemed ideal to play volleyball for legendary Sweet Home coach Sally Kus.

“She pretty much asked me not to try out for the team because I was that uncoordinated,” laughed Holmes.

That is not a trait she passed on to her son, who is having national success as a golfer. She credits her husband’s athletic ability for that.

“Now people are stopping me asking me about Elliott’s golf game rather than anything about Channel 2,” she laughed.

Elliott has been so successful that it is natural to wonder if he will need to move to a warmer climate to play year-round as many of his competitors do. She said he asks about it.

“Elliott really has a competitive disadvantage,” conceded Holmes. “We also think maybe it is a good thing that he isn’t getting burned out and not playing year-round. We’re thinking it is a good balance right now. I’ve never thought about being anywhere except for Buffalo in my career except now that Elliott is as good as he is, we kind of have to keep our options open about going somewhere where he can play year-round if he loves it and continues on the path that he is on now.

“That’s the only reason I would go. But I‘ve got to do what is best for him. But that’s not anytime soon.”

For now, Holmes, who just turned 40, is right where she wants to be.

“I have had the career I’ve always dreamed of being able to be a wife and mom and the morning show anchor in my hometown,” said Holmes. “I have no idea what I would do if I wasn’t doing this job. It certainly wouldn’t be a chef.”

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Alan Pergament has had a variety of roles at The News since 1970, including as a news and sports reporter. He has been the TV columnist since 1982, with more than year off for good behavior. He is a member of the national Television Critics Association.

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