TV anchor Cornelia Nicholson tells PEOPLE the response has been "overwhelming"
Tennessee TV anchor Cornelia Nicholson’s engagement to fellow TV news reporter Riley Nagel aired on the 11 o’clock news Saturday.
After buying a ring, Nagel searched for "the perfect moment." And since the journalists met while working at a television news station, he thought it would be amazing to propose on camera.
"The idea just came to me," Nagel, 30, tells PEOPLE.
Nicholson, a weekend news anchor for NBC affiliate WRCB-TV, was recording promos when producers slipped a new script Nagel wrote onto the teleprompter. She was surprised to read the introduction to her own proposal.
Nicholson posted a video of the proposal on TikTok, and the couple is stunned that it has been viewed more than 3.5 million times and received more than 881.9K likes.
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“My phone just won’t stop buzzing,” Nicholson, 28, tells PEOPLE. “It's just so overwhelming and nice to see the support and love from people around the world.”
The pair met in March 2020 while working at a news station in Billings, Montana. Nagel, a Montana native, had started working as a reporter a month earlier.
Nicholson, a newly hired weekend producer and weekday reporter, had just moved from California. She was assigned to shadow him. "We clicked right away," Nagel says.
Nicholson agrees. They shared the same humor, she says: “We spent most of the day laughing."
He told her about his movie-review podcast. She said she loved movies. On their day off later that week, they made plans to watch a movie together.
“I don’t think we even turned on the TV," Nicholson says. "We just had so much to talk about."
They started spending all their spare time together. In less than a month, he asked her to officially be his girlfriend. She is the first woman he ever told, "I love you."
"I had never felt that before," he says. "We just bring out the best in each other."
Nicholson loves how funny, kind and supportive he is, she says. Because they are both TV news journalists, they understand when breaking news interrupts life or why they work long, late hours.
"He is honestly the nicest person I’ve ever met," Nicholson says. "The way my heart felt when I wanted to tell him 'I love you' was so strange. I was like, 'Am I going to have a heart attack?’ I’ve never been able to be so myself with someone…. He’s always allowing me to be who I am and loving me no matter what."
The couple moved to Chattanooga, in March 2022, when Nicholson landed a weekend evening anchor/reporter job at NBC affiliate WRCB-TV. Nagel worked at FedEx for a few months before starting a reporting job at the same news station.
A couple weeks ago, he spoke to the station management and asked for permission to propose live on air.
"I was like, ‘Before you guys say no, hear me out — I think this could be pretty cool,’" Nagel says. "They’re like, 'We’ve never had this happen before.' They came back, and they’re like, ‘Okay, we’re scared to do it live.'" But they offered a compromise: He could film it after the broadcast and air it later.
"They said, ‘That’s a lot of work for the directors in the back. They can mess up and pull up the wrong camera.' They were worried about something going wrong," he says. "I wasn’t concerned about her saying no."
He originally planned to propose on Sunday, but breaking news pushed up his proposal a day. Still, he surprised her.
On Saturday, Nagel went to work in the morning and came home. So she wouldn't suspect anything, he put on a T-shirt and sweats and sat on the couch playing video games with the couple's dog, a 1-year-old black and white pitbull mix named Winston and their 7-year-old cat, Koda.
After she left for work, he sprang into action. Nicholson anchored the evening news broadcast, and when the show ended, Nagel hid in the studio behind the weather wall and texted the producer that he was ready.
"I start to shake uncontrollably. My hands would not stop shaking, and I'm grabbing the flowers and I'm grabbing the ring, and I was just shaking very hard," he says.
After the broadcast, Nicholson was filming promos when she read: "Coming up right now, we have the story of two young journalists, who just so happened to find love in the same industry."
On the monitor below the teleprompter, she saw photos of herself and Nagel on the screen behind her.
"That's when I just got the giggles because I just didn't know what to say. Surprisingly, for a girl who talks for a living, I was very speechless," she says.
She invited her boyfriend to join her in the studio for the "special report." He walked on stage with a bouquet of flowers and a cushion-cut engagement ring.
"You’re so bright, you always light up the room," he told her. "You’re the main reason I’m still in news today, and you’re always pushing me to be better…. I thought it would be fitting to ask you this question here since we met in news."
He knelt beside the news desk. She said yes, and he put the ring on her finger.
They said I love you, kissed, hugged and then her friends came into the studio.
The pre-recorded proposal aired that evening when she anchored the 11 p.m. news. She was excited to watch it, she says, "because I'm not going to lie, I blacked out a little bit during his speech. My heart was pounding so much, and I was in shock. Just seeing him so nervous made me nervous, so I didn't really get to hear everything he said. It was nice to watch it back and really get to appreciate everything — it was just such a special moment."
They’re both stunned by the overwhelming positive reaction from viewers.
"To see all the love from the community has been so nice because we both got into this job to be a voice for the community — to get to know our neighbors and share their stories with our audience. It was nice to be able to share our story with them," Nicholson says. "Every time we're out at a store lately, people have been getting out of their cars or rolling down their windows, saying congratulations."
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