Kent Shocknek’s post-retirement life has been an unexpected surprise. The longtime news anchor and Pasadena resident has recently turned his newscaster career into a successful acting career.
Born Kent Schoknecht in 1956 in Berkeley, he moved to Pasadena in 1983, where he changed the spelling of his last name to Shocknek. He worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram while attending USC, then at KCAU in Sioux City, Iowa, and then as an anchor and space shuttle reporter for WFTV in Orlando, Florida.
In 1986, he took a morning news anchor job at NBC4 in Los Angeles, where he became a household name. During the magnitude 5.9 Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, he took cover under his anchor desk while continuing to cover the story. In 2001, he moved to CBS2 News in LA, where he anchored morning and evening newscasts. In 2013, he moved again to KCAL9, where he anchored the evening and nighttime news.
He has won eight regional Emmy awards, two LA Press Club awards, a Golden Mic award for best daytime newscast and a William Randolph Hearst award for investigative reporting. He has also logged more hours as an anchor than anyone else in Los Angeles. The city of Los Angeles proclaimed Jan. 10, 2014 Kent Shocknek Day to honor his decades of service.
Shocknek retired from anchoring in 2014. His acting credits begin in 2004, but his second career really started picking up after his retirement.
While he mostly plays news anchors in movies and television shows because he has that look and experience, he is also seeing success in portraying other friendly authority figures, the guy next door and the everyman.
His long list of more than 60 credits include such well-known titles as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Manhunt,” “The Purge,” “The West Wing,” “Monk,” “ER,” “Bosch,” “Criminal Minds,” “CSI: NY,” “NCIS,” “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Law and Order,” “The Righteous Gemstones” and many others. Sometimes, he even plays himself.
Shocknek recently sat down with the Pasadena Weekly to discuss his life and career.
Pasadena Weekly: You’ve been at the anchor desk during some major news stories over the years. What was that like to be the trusted source of information for so many people?
Kent Shocknek: First of all, it’s tremendously humbling, because it’s such an honor to be able to be invited into people’s homes and, if lucky, be invited back into their homes on a daily basis. I always liked anchoring because field reporters could look at something up close and see every little detail, while the anchor person had the opportunity to be one step removed and look back at the big picture. I always liked being able to see how this story relates to this story and how what’s happening here connects to what’s happening there. … I enjoyed my relationship with the audience. It was absolutely not a one-way thing. I always felt that what I needed to do was be the person who was telling people what we did know and not speculating about what we didn’t know, and trying to show that they could trust what it was that we were reporting on.
What are some of the more memorable stories you covered over the years?
There were too many to count. Of course the big events stand out: the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, when we were on the air covering the launch itself before the explosion, a number of earthquakes and wildfires and big storms, the Los Angeles riots.
It’s usually the most remembered stories are the big stories, but for me, the happiest stories often were the smallest stories. I remember one little girl who lost her tooth on her way to school and we did a very cute story about her. And the stories that make a difference, like when you see a family being reunited. I always liked the stories that were small and personal because I think we can all relate to them.
How did you turn your anchor career into an acting career?
I think after years of seeing me on the screen every day, producers and casting directors recognized they could have someone who looked like an anchor and knew how to talk into a camera and give a project whatever credibility I might have. When I called it a day anchoring, I thought it would be interesting to see if what I had learned would translate into roles in addition to newscasters and commentators, other friendly authority figures like businessmen, fathers or lawmakers, and so far I’ve had some success and we’re picking up a little steam.
What current and upcoming projects are you working on?
In addition to playing newscasters, I’ve recently played an honest businessman in a crooked company and a widower who was speed dating. I just finished an episode of “The Righteous Gemstones” [an HBO show by Danny McBride that satirizes televangelists], and earlier this month I did three episodes of a show called “Manhunt” in Pittsburgh, a cult thriller called “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon” in New Orleans which is a movie with Kate Hudson, an episode of “Manifest” on NBC in New York and a commercial in Seattle.
That was all during the summertime, which traditionally is sort of a slow time for a lot of productions, but I think I must have tapped into something and been tremendously lucky because it’s really picked up more than a summer has had a right to do by my estimation.