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December 06, 2019

Keeping It Casual

With two challenging TV careers, Craig Melvin and Lindsay Czarniak cherish down time with the kids — be it tacos or games of tickle monster — in their comfy Connecticut home.

Tatiana Siegel
  • Lindsay Czarniak and Craig Melvin with Sybil (left) and Delano

    Francesco Lagnese
  • The family’s record room includes Melvin’s grandmother’s furry chair

    Francesco Lagnese
  • The family’s record room includes Melvin’s great-grandmother’s buffet table and some favorite records, framed for hanging

    Francesco Lagnese
  • Upstairs hallway

    Francesco Lagnese
  • The foyer

    Francesco Lagnese
  • Bold graphics and an auto motif animate Delano’s room

    Francesco Lagnese
  • Bold graphics and an auto motif animate Delano’s room

    Francesco Lagnese
  • Francesco Lagnese
  • In the mural Czarniak created for Sybil’s room, doves flutter amid cherry blossoms

    Francesco Lagnese
  • Melvin’s home office

    Francesco Lagnese
  • Melvin's home office features an artist’s flat file cabinet that Czarniak found at a local art store

    Francesco Lagnese

On a balmy late-September afternoon, Fox Sports reporter Lindsay Czarniak is pulling her two-year-old daughter Sybil around the driveway in a red wagon while five-year-old son Delano runs around in circles in the front yard.

Her forearm muscles flex as she drags some 50 pounds of cargo while pivoting her attention to her son, making sure he isn't about to bolt into the street. Still, she never misses a beat in her chat with the neighbors.

Sporting a camouflage V-neck sweatshirt with rolled-up sleeves, flip flops and (heaven forbid) chipped nail polish, Czarniak casts a refreshingly casual vibe in this coastal Connecticut town.

Her husband of eight years, Craig Melvin — news anchor of NBC's Today, cohost of Today's third hour and 11 a.m. anchor on MSNBC — meets the clan in the foyer of their three-story Colonial.

The kids immediately trail off behind a nanny, who leads them toward an oversized kitchen table covered with butcher paper and a dazzling array of paints, brushes, crayons, scissors and glitter glue. Melvin, wearing a blue checkered shirt, jeans and sneakers, notes with pride that Czarniak curated the supplies herself after one of her frequent treks to a local, family-run art supply store.

Setting the mood, the Diana Ross–Lionel Richie hit "Endless Love" plays softly in the background. Hanging on the walls are pictures marking the duo's 11-year relationship, including a framed wedding shot with the inscription "Hold Me Closer, Tiny Dancer," referencing a favorite Elton John song, mixed in with framed albums like Prince's Purple Rain and Jay-Z's Black Album, a nod to their shared taste in music.

A photo of Melvin proposing to Czarniak on a chartered Miami boat is held in place on the refrigerator door by a magnet surrounded by shots of their photogenic offspring.

With a then-baby Delano in tow, the couple bought the sprawling five-bedroom home four years ago due to its location, close enough to ESPN in Bristol, where Czarniak worked at the time, and to NBC's Rockefeller Center newsroom where Melvin had just begun coanchoring Weekend Today.

But even after Czarniak left ESPN and subsequently joined Fox Sports earlier this year (where she also serves as a studio host), the pair decided to stay put. They'd become attached to a community where kids ride bikes throughout leafy neighborhoods lined with stately homes — but with enough edge to satisfy their cosmopolitan sensibilities.

Before settling into a comfy brown leather chair in the sitting room, Czarniak places a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies on the coffee table. Melvin points out that the kids did the stirring, but the recipe is all Mom's. In fact, when Melvin first met his future father-in-law, Chet Czarniak, the retired USA Today managing editor extolled his daughter's ability to make "a mean cookie," as Melvin recalls.

To that, Czarniak rolls her eyes and laughs. " Really? " she asks. Here in Connecticut suburbia, they are finding their groove — a broadcast power couple, to be sure, but with a loving Ricky-and-Lucy banter.

Back in 2008, the Melvin-Czarniak meet was awfully cute. And as it so happens, their introduction was captured on live TV. She was a rising on-air talent in the sports broadcast world at NBC station WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. He was the station's new weekend news anchor. Czarniak had just returned from covering the Beijing Summer Olympics and was running late.

There was no time for introductions before she slipped behind the news desk during a commercial break.

"I said, 'Welcome back from China,'" Melvin remembers. "And you said, 'Welcome to Channel 4.'"

Czarniak fingers her long blonde hair into a messy bun and smirks at the memory. "I was like, 'Who is this guy?'"

As for Melvin's first impressions, he says, "She's very energetic. Obviously, it didn't hurt that she's very attractive. Now, it's a different era, but I was able to, you know…"

She breaks in, "Where are you going with this?"

"What?" he answers. "I mean, I was able to…"

"Put on a full-court press," she deadpans. Then, she turns more serious and offers her read on the encounter: "There was an instant chemistry."

Over the ensuing months, the pair was chosen by station management to team up for a pilot called Daily Connection, a short-lived afternoon entertainment lifestyle show. They dated for a bit but stopped, mindful that they worked together. She began seeing someone else.

Here today, they playfully bicker about just how good-looking her replacement boyfriend was. Then came more wooing from Melvin ("stalking," she jokes), and they reunited after "I invited her to have a post–11 o'clock newscast cocktail," he explains.

Melvin eventually popped the question while cruising Biscayne Bay. In preparation for the big moment, he'd memorized an elaborate proposal, but by the time he got down on bended knee, he was so nervous, he completely bungled the speech. He managed to get out some garbled version of "Will you marry me?" — though he can't remember the exact phrasing. As for her response, it wasn't quite like the movies.

"I'll remember this on my deathbed," he says.

"No, you won't," she insists.

"Oh, sure I will," he continues. "She said, I kid you not, 'I think I'm gonna throw up.' Of all the scenarios in my head, I had not considered that one." It wasn't the rocking action of the boat. Czarniak was simply overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment.

"'Oh, my God. This is actually happening,'" she remembers thinking. "And it was so amazing."

But Melvin wasn't quite sure what to make of her sudden nausea. "I was like, 'Is that a yes?' And then she cried," he says. "So, it worked out."

In 2011, the couple wed in a small ceremony at D.C.'s Church of the Holy City. After a reception at the Hay-Adams Hotel, they honeymooned in Tahiti and Bora Bora, an experience so fabulous, it offset the 20-hour flight. In unison, they both proclaim Bora Bora "so amazing." Adds Melvin, "It almost spoils other vacations for you."

There's no question that Czarniak and Melvin hail from different backgrounds. He grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the son of a mail clerk who worked at the Columbia Post Office. She was raised in a Virginia suburb of Washington after her father transferred from his Gannett News Service post in Pennsylvania's capital city, Harrisburg.

But they share a great deal in common, too. Both of their mothers were schoolteachers. And both fathers worked erratic hours — Czarniak's as a sports reporter who moved into the constant-deadline beat of politics and Melvin's, who covered the graveyard shift.

"Growing up, I didn't see him a lot, because he would be sleeping during the day, and then he would get up at eight or nine at night and go to work," Melvin explains of his father. "I grew up sort of resenting that situation, and then eventually him. Then you get older and you realize, 'Oh, wait a minute. It's not like he didn't want to be around. He had to work.'"

Czarniak experienced a similar paternal absence. "When I was little, he'd be on the road covering some game or something in D.C. or wherever it was, and he'd be like, 'Oh, we just went to dinner at blah blah blah ,'" she says, with a note of frustration that still lingers.

But they both realize the irony of the fact that they, too, adhere to grueling schedules. Melvin is awake by 4 a.m. and off to Manhattan by car, where he reads scripts for Today until he arrives in the studio and hits the air from 7–10 a.m., followed by anchoring the 11 a.m. news hour on MSNBC.

"If you're in this business, you understand that if something happens last minute, you have to hop on a plane, and you don't know exactly how long you might be gone."

Once every two weeks, he catches a flight to some random city, shoots a story, flies back that night and sleeps in Manhattan so that he can more easily reach the studio. "He's on more than anyone else at the network. Truth," says Czarniak with awe. "Three hours on Today and then an hour on MSNBC. No one else does that."

When football season is in full swing, Czarniak is spread equally thin. She typically flies out on a Thursday or Friday morning to some NFL city, where she stays until well after the final snap on Sunday. And then there are times when days away turn into nearly a month.

When they first moved to this home, Melvin was dispatched to Los Angeles for three weeks to back-fill a correspondent role there. "It was like, you wanted to go to a national level — buckle up," says Czarniak. Similarly, she hit the road earlier this year for three weeks to shoot the Netflix series Hyperdrive, in which drivers from around the world compete on one of the largest automotive obstacle courses.

Hearing each other rattle off their respective itineraries offers a moment of self-reflection worthy of sitting on a therapist's couch. Melvin stops suddenly.

"Oh, my God. We've become our parents. I didn't even realize it. You could send us a bill for this," he jokes.

Nevertheless, Czarniak and Melvin are determined to strike the optimal work-family balance. Czarniak frequently brings the children on the road with her, and both "Sibby," as she is nicknamed, and her brother love the adventure of exploring a new hotel, regardless of how many stars it earns.

Other perks of Mom and Dad's jobs include Melvin bringing the kids to meet the real Elmo and Cookie Monster during a Sesame Street shoot (not the Times Square costumed-person version most kids have to settle for).

"You go from an interview with the secretary of state to a cooking segment with a chef who's got a great new spot in Brooklyn to a political segment on MSNBC," Melvin says. "I enjoy that, but it requires a lot of bandwidth. Sometimes, when I get home, I'm just spent. But you can't be spent — because you want to spend time with your wife and talk about the stuff that husbands and wives talk about.

"And then you have to play tickle monster, and you have to play football. But I love it. I am blessed. There are people who have real problems. I ain't one of them."

Given the intensity of their respective careers, the couple have fashioned their home into a soothing oasis. Melvin spearheaded the basement finishing, which is now complete with a wood-paneled bar and a retro pinball machine.

Meanwhile, Czarniak created an elaborate mural in Sybil's bedroom that covers half a wall. Done entirely by her hand with sponges and a fine paintbrush, the work depicts a black-and-white cherry blossom tree with doves flying through the branches. For Melvin's part, he collected driftwood and made oversized nameplates for each child.

As for cooking, Czarniak has taken charge, albeit with simple dishes that fit their crazed routines, like "a mean spaghetti," as Melvin has dubbed one of his favorites. And then there's Taco Tuesday.

"I have four or five dishes that we rotate," she says.

Then, when football season is over and the New England snow has melted, Melvin will get back to grilling on their deck that overlooks a backyard surrounded by tall trees.

And if Melvin can't quite remember what exactly he rattled off during that botched proposal years ago, Czarniak has a clear recollection.

"I remember part of what you said," she offers. "You said, 'I'm gonna make you the happiest person.'"

"Did I say that? I made that promise?" he asks.

"Mm-hmm . Yeah," she responds.

"It's good to know I've made good on that," he volleys back.

With that, she concludes with a smile. "Yes, you have."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 11, 2019

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