Frank Vascellaro and Amelia Santaniello are on.
The show is about to start; they lean forward in their seats. The two WCCO anchors, husband and wife, have been here so many times before. Yet the energy of the moment draws them in again — and nearly causes them to lose their minds. “Hey ref, there are two teams playing out here,” Vascellaro shouts as he leaps to his feet, his rally towel wrapped around his hand like brass knuckles. “How can you not call a charge on that?” Santaniello barks, unleashing some additional colorful verbiage. It is late March, and the class 3A boys basketball state tournament quarterfinals. Frank and Amelia’s oldest son, Sam, is playing in one of his final games as captain of the basketball squad at Saint Thomas Academy. But the Cadets are in trouble — and the squad’s most recognizable parents are in a state of distress. For those who’ve only witnessed the two as beautiful, polished local TV stars, their exaggerated reactions might seem out of place.
But for the first family of local TV, it’s a scene as natural as reading teleprompters and reacting to the news. Between their three nightly broadcasts five nights a week, Vascellaro and Santaniello juggle the parenting and social calendars of three active teenagers — Sam, 18, and twins Francesca (Frankie) and Joe, 15.
Like many Minnesotans, Vascellaro and Santaniello are the kind of parents who bring home Costco chicken potpie for dinner and teach their kids to shine their shoes. They’re the kind of people who chew their nails and complain about the weather. They’re the kind of couple who correct each other, laugh at each other and have earned the nickname “Framelia” at work because of the perception that they’ve become one.
At the same time, after arriving in the Twin Cities more than 20 years ago and anchoring together for the past 12, they’ve enjoyed a level of success that makes them stand out among their peers. Their 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts have earned them the Twin Cities’ No. 1 news show rating. They socialize with high-profile philanthropist friends. They’ve become some of the most recognized people in the state, with nearly every public outing interrupted by those seeking autographs, photos or just a hello.
In a tough business that is ruled as much by popularity as it is hard work — and doesn’t always respond kindly to talent as it ages — how long can they bask in this golden moment? And how are they dealing with the inevitable challenges ahead?
Despite facing a hectic present and uncertain future, Vascellaro and Santaniello tend to make the juggling act look easy.
“We haven’t even talked about the end game or retirement,” Vascellaro said. “It’s not even on our radar. As long as things continue to go as well as they have, hopefully we can do it for a long time on our terms.”
Compatible and comfortable on air
Frank Vascellaro and Amelia Santaniello are on.
Thirty seconds earlier, he was cracking his knuckles; she had her elbows on the desk and her chin resting in her hands. But when the camera pans in their direction, they’re upright, sharp.
“Thanks for joining us,” Santaniello says. “The Minneapolis police have rolled out a new stricter body camera policy …”
Throughout the broadcast, the duo soberly report on a shooting at YouTube headquarters, offer minor exasperation as they set up meteorologist Chris Shaffer to talk about upcoming snow and preview a Home and Garden show cook-off, for which they and Shaffer will bake competing dishes.
“Amelia is going to be showing off her cream puff recipe,” Shaffer announces, earning immediate laughter from both her and Vascellaro.
“I took one of my mother-in-law’s recipes,” Santaniello says, eyeing her husband. “You know, it’s a competition.”
This, for the most part, is what their adoring public sees: two professionals who care about issues, have some personality and wit — and get along great on the air.
“One of the secrets of their success is they’re just compatible,” says Don Shelby, who anchored with Santaniello at WCCO from 1996 to 2010. “They don’t just share an anchor desk, they share a life, a history, children, and that transcends any forced, manufactured thing. This isn’t theater, it’s the real deal.”
That connection — with each other and their audience — has led to a yearslong stint at No. 1 in each of their time slots with an average of 185,000 viewers per broadcast. The two have been nominated for Midwest and Upper Midwest Emmys together 10 times (they’ve also received nominations and won awards individually), including nine from 2010 to 2015.
When they go out in public, whether it’s the grocery store, a basketball game or restaurant, they’re typically stopped several times by loyal viewers.
“It’s a constant stream,” says Tom Wicka, a local philanthropist and one of the couple’s best friends. “Walking around with them, you’d think you were with Brad Pitt or something … but they never seem exhausted by it. They always engage.”
Around the Channel 4 office, they’re revered — half jokingly, half sincerely — as simply Mom and Dad. Their co-workers and producers admire them not for their success but for their involvement. They send notes of praise for colleagues to management and are the first to congratulate someone after a big story or award.
“You always come into a new station and there’s a hierarchy,” says reporter/anchor Liz Collin, who joined WCCO in 2008. “The anchors are sort of these mythological, untouchable creatures. But Frank and Amelia are so not like that. They’re probably the biggest cheerleaders at the station.”
But getting to a place of complete comfort has taken some adjustments.
Both Vascellaro and Santaniello moved to the Twin Cities in 1996. Santaniello, originally from Virginia, bounced around various East Coast jobs before arriving at WCCO. Vascellaro, who grew up in Denver, landed at KARE 11 after a stint in Peoria, Ill. The two met that year, and were married in 1999. Then in 2006, Vascellaro joined WCCO, and a power couple was made.
Suddenly, they were together all the time. They had to set some boundaries — like driving separately to work (“when we first started working together, it was really cute, he thought we were going to carpool,” Santaniello says, laughing) — and balance different expectations on how they’d acknowledge their family on air.
Early on, when Vascellaro would tell a story about one of their kids, Santaniello would silently panic, afraid that too much personal attention would take away from the focus on the news.
“I’d be a deer the headlights,” she says. “Like ‘Oh my god, please stop.’ ”
At the same time, they had to sort through such disagreements — and other more serious squabbles — quickly. They learned to talk through arguments in the moment, and come to an agreement before they went on the air.
“We’re in front of thousands of people each night and we’re 18 inches apart,” Vascellaro says. “It’s a really huge incentive to figure out your problems.”
Both were optimistic about being one of the few married anchor pairs on TV early on, and as they grew in their roles, together, they have embraced their unique position even more. Santaniello opened up to talking more about the kids, realizing that the viewers were invested in their lives, too. And here and there, they allowed their personal chemistry to show.
“It’s just another one of those unique Minnesota touchpoints,” Vascellaro says. “The weather is terrible. The education is great. And our anchors are married.”
“They’re built for this,” Wicka adds. “Would it work in L. A.? Probably not. They could do the job, sure … but they’re really made for the Twin Cities.”
Now, it’s hard to untangle their popularity from their marriage; the facts are intertwined.
Because of that, it’s unlikely that one would have the same success without the other; and if the two transplants decided they wanted to move again, they’d probably face uphill odds as a package deal.
But if that reality puts any pressure on the relationship, it’s imperceptible. Besides, they’re happy exactly where they are.
“We love it here,” Vascellaro says. “Why would we leave?”
“I’ll be honest, when I moved here, I just felt it right away,” Santaniello adds. “This is home.”
Changing scripts, a hectic pace
Frank Vascellaro and Amelia Santaniello are on.
Their window is short, they know, so the back-and-forth must be executed with precision.
Vascellaro swivels from the fridge to the microwave; Santaniello, from the sink to the dishwasher. Slices of leftover steak and slabs of Costco chicken potpie make it onto plates. Silverware is distributed; ice water poured. As usual, they have just 90 minutes at home between the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts, and though two of the three kids are gone — Frankie is at AAU practice, Sam at crack drill (a precision gun drill team) practice — there is dinner to be made, cleaning to be done.
And then breaking news is lobbed into the routine.
“Dad, I don’t know how to shine my shoes,” says Joe, 15, who has a military inspection at school the following day. “Can you help me? I always use Instant Shine.”
The show stops.
“Joe, Instant Shine is for wussies,” Vascellaro says. “Go get some cotton balls.”
Minutes later, Vascellaro is covering the kitchen island with newspapers and pulling out the contents of a wooden shoe shine box. After he and Santaniello fiercely debate whether the proper shoe black method calls for cotton balls or a sponge, the procedure ends with Joe standing arms akimbo, one foot propped on the box, and Vascellaro on his knees, furiously whipping a cloth across the black oxford.
“A father’s job is never done,” he says, then admires his work. “Oh dang, look at that — like glass.”
Soon, they’ll be back to the studio, but first, a few more tasks: coordinating the pickup of Frankie with their assistant, Kelly; a bit of planning for the upcoming military ball — which they’re in charge of this year, as the parents of the crack drill captain. They’ll be home again by midnight for a quick sleep and then wake up with the kids the next day to do it all again. They’ll walk the dogs. They’ll answer e-mails. They’ll chauffeur the kids. They’ll read the news.
It’s a pace they’ve sustained for almost two decades.
“People always ask how we do it, and if you stop to think about it, it can be kind of overwhelming,” Santaniello says. “So you just do it. We just do it.”
By all appearances, they enjoy being live off camera as much as they do on air — that is, they love constantly reacting and adjusting to their family’s own hectic news cycle. Ask them when they plan on calming down and stepping away, and their faces show it’s a topic they haven’t considered.
Yet they’re not getting younger. The past two years have marked the first since 2009 that they weren’t nominated for at least one local Emmy award together. But as time wears on, their No. 1 rating has only gotten stronger. Their leads over KARE 11 in all three time slots have grown substantially since 2015.
“The key to longevity in this business is to have good results,” Vascellaro said. “As long as we continue to maintain our No. 1 position, hopefully we can keep going. We love working together, we love working at the station.”
Santaniello nodded. “I mean, I don’t think I’m tired of him yet.”
Vascellaro cocked his head. “You’re not going to get rid of me?”
Santaniello looked at him and smiled.
“Well,” she said, “There are some days I may be tempted.”