Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal pop culture writer

Kris Pickel said recently that she thought Cleveland would be the last stop in her career.

She liked the city. She liked snow, for heaven’s sake. She liked the view of Lake Erie and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum from the back patio of WKYC (Channel 3), where she became weeknight co-anchor alongside Russ Mitchell in March 2012.

But she was still a westerner, born in Sacramento, Calif., whose move to Cleveland was the farthest east she had ever worked. “Back home” and a lot of family are half a continent away.

And at 46, she had to wonder how long she could continue as an on-air personality — especially when there are plenty of young women eager to take her place.

All of this explains why, in late May, Pickel will leave WKYC to become a news anchor for KPHO, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, Ariz.

“There was just kind of a series of events that fell into place,” she said. “It was completely unexpected. …

“I would not leave Cleveland just for another anchor position,” she said. KPHO offered an opportunity “to stay in news even after my time frame of being on-air as a reporter is done. I love news. I’ve never found another industry or job I’ve wanted to do. And what they’re offering gives me the potential to stay in news. … I have the opportunity to earn a position in management. They’re going to look at training me to go beyond being an anchor-reporter.

“I don’t want to give up that [anchor-reporter job] for a long time. But I’m a woman. There’s a certain time frame you have for that. I’ve been lucky to do it as long as I have. … This is kind of a young person’s job. A lot of companies look to hire young now. And I’m lucky that KPHO wanted experience.”

Having worked in Tucson earlier in her career, Pickel said she felt as if she was going to a place where she had friends — former competitors and co-workers from Tucson now working at KPHO.

But she added, “The biggest thing, the absolute biggest factor, is that I will be an hour flight from my family. I can even drive to see them. …

“After I moved [to Cleveland], the only direct flights to Sacramento got canceled. It takes me a day and thousands of dollars to get to my parents. I’m lucky: My parents are in their 70s and in relatively good health, But if they need me, I can’t just be there for them.”

Pickel said she talks to her parents almost every night — “and not because it’s something weird and needy. My parents are two of my favorite people in the world, and I enjoy talking to them. It’s hard being this far away from them.”

At the same time, she insisted she was happy living and working in Cleveland, as well as the people she worked with. She especially praised Micki Byrnes, WKYC’s general manager, and anchor Mitchell.

“Whoever sits next to him next will be one of the luckiest people in news,” she said. (On the other hand, there may not be someone new in that seat. Byrnes said Wednesday that Pickel’s departure may give the station a chance to reconsider the structure of its newscast.) Pickel called Mitchell “a class act, and a true professional. WKYC is going to be fine with him in that anchor chair.”

Another step in binge viewing. Those of you who have come to believe a TV show’s season should be available all at once — a la Netflix — may be heartened to know that NBC has heard you. After the two-hour broadcast premiere of the new David Duchovny drama Aquarius on May 28, NBC will put all 13 episodes of the series online for four weeks. The episodes will also be broadcast weekly on what NBC is now calling “the linear network.”

Comics time. Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, with a bunch of special titles up for grabs. (See www.freecomicbookday.com for more info.) One participating location, JC Comics and Cards in Cuyahoga Falls, expects to have 36 titles available (limit 12 per person), and 8,000 total comics for giveaways. There will also be a storewide sale for other items.

Chili’s will be offering chips, salsa and kid’s-meal coupons at JC, and TV station WBNX (Channel 55) is expected to provide posters from its shows, which include comics-derived The Flash and Arrow. The comics store will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Viewing reminder. Cleveland Abduction, the TV-movie based on Michelle Knight’s memoir of her years of captivity and abuse, premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday on Lifetime. Taryn Manning (Orange Is the New Black) plays Knight. Raymond Cruz (Major Crimes, Breaking Bad) is Ariel Castro.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal, Ohio.com, the HeldenFiles Online blog, Facebook (see Rich Heldenfels, Pop Culture Guy) and Twitter (@rheldenfels). You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.