He also didn't expect his appearances as himself on the new Netflix season of “Arrested Development” to garner raves in TV Guide.
Nor did Beard expect the support he received from USA Today writer Whitney Matheson, who concluded her praise of the season's guest stars with “while I wasn't familiar with John Beard before, I certainly know the man's name now!”
So does America. Or at least the part of America that embraces “Arrested Development,” which was canceled by Fox in 2006 after three seasons that documented the crazy antics of the Bluth family.
The chances that Beard would become a TV star appeared to be as likely as the chance that patriarch George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) would be named Father of the Year.
“I am surprised every day by this thing,” Beard said in an interview. “I didn't expect to be in the new series. That's a bonus. And I didn't expect to be in it as much as I am. That's an additional bonus. All the nice things people have said is a layer on the cake.”
Beard's surprise is more understandable than some of the gags on “A.D.” After all, he fled Los Angeles for Buffalo almost four years ago, and that was three years after Fox canceled the series.
A huge fan of the show's cast and creator Mitchell Hurwitz, Beard didn't realize the feelings were mutual. “I assumed when they started back up, they'd get someone who is on the air in Los Angeles who people see every night,” said Beard.
After Beard was approached, he needed approval from Channel 2 executives. “I told them it was 'an important, fun, rare thing to do but I understand if you see it as a conflict,' ” recalled Beard. “They said, 'Go for it.' ”
Beard is the latest of a long line of newscasters who have played themselves on comedies, including Walter Cronkite on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
“Believe me if you can't tell the difference between a real newscast and 'Arrested Development' then all of the television in the world is not going to help you,” cracked Beard.
His story lines are ripped from the headlines. The John Beard he plays in “A.D.” gets increasingly smaller broadcasting jobs and sees the value of his 10,000-square-foot home diminish during the California housing crisis. The housing decline is a familiar story to Beard, whose home in Santa Monica was once worth $1.5 million. “By the time I left, it was probably worth a third of that,” Beard said.
Beard, who made cameos as himself on “Bernie Mac” and “24” when he was a Fox anchor in L.A., initially said no to “Arrested Development” prior to its first season but succumbed after seeing the pilot script.
“They said, 'We watch you, and we see what you are doing,'” Beard recalled. “'You do the news straight, but you do this little thing with your eyes and a little smirk. … We get it, and we like it. And we're doing a whole show just like that. We want you to be in it and be yourself.'
“I think they were saying sometimes if there is a story that is a little off-the-wall, I would do a little take. Not even consciously I don't think. Sometimes if it was a ridiculous story I transmitted that intentionally or unintentionally.”
The pilot script made him laugh out-loud. “It really was the funniest damn thing I've ever read,” Beard said. “So I did it.”
He thought that would be the end of it. But seven years later, he flew to Los Angeles to shoot scenes for 12 hours one day and has ended up in just about every one of the 15 Netflix episodes in one way or another. He thanked the show's chief writer for keeping him.
“He said, 'You kidding? We write things for you we don't even need just because we like you,'” recalled a flabbergasted Beard. “I was knocked out by that. I grew up in a farm in North Carolina. This is all new to me.”
His comedy chops led to TV Guide comparing him to NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, a late-night talk show fixture. “Any sentence I am associated with Brian Williams is pretty flattering,” Beard said.
Beard's biggest moment comes in episode five, when he plays the host of “John Beard's To Entrap a Local Predator” (T-shirts and hoodies are available online) and Bluth son-in-law Tobias Funke (David Gross) is mistakenly grabbed as a child molester.
Beard got his first indication that his appearances would have an impact bigger than he expected when he went to the red carpet premiere in Los Angeles and was treated so well by the cast.
The next time he saw the cast he played John Beard, “Daybreak” co-anchor. He did interviews during a press tour for the series. The highlight was the interaction with Jason Bateman, a former child star (“Silver Spoons”) who plays the seemingly normal Bluth son, Michael.
“I interviewed him and Justine (of “Family Ties”) when he was 12,” recalled Beard of his days at KNBC. “They were brother and sister on shows. … He remembered it.”
That led to some back and forth talk about Beard's age. “I said 'I must have been 14,' ” recalled Beard. “He said '14 or 15. Don't lie to them. Or maybe even 16.' Which obviously was not even close.”
Beard is in his 60s, an age that likely would prevent him from heading to a bigger market if he wanted to leave Buffalo for a second time. He left Channel 4 in 1981 but returned here in 2009 about two years after leaving the Los Angeles station in a dispute over news content. His Channel 2 contract expires in September, which would free him to leave for bigger markets if all this attention led to offers.
“Why would I ever want to do that?” said Beard, laughing. “Go back to a bigger market. … I'm half joking. This is the first job I've had in a long time that I didn't have to fight editorial fights every day. That was draining. It was almost a relief in a way when they didn't renew my contract at Fox. Every day I would dread fighting the fight and never winning. I'm proud of this station. These guys are in the news business. That's unfortunately an increasingly rare privilege for a station. And they are good to me. They let me be me.”
“I'm happy,” added Beard, who anticipates re-signing with Channel 2.
And as any “A.D” fan who has seen Beard's final scene in the Netflix season knows, happiness and love is more valuable than money. Beard won't even say what he got paid.
“I don't want to embarrass myself,” Beard said. “It was never about the money. I would have done it for free.”
Another paycheck may await Beard. In a recent online interview, Hurwitz's answer to a question about a potential “A.D.” movie played to Beard's escalating value. “A lot of it has to be worked around John Beard's schedule,” cracked Hurwitz.