Television's Maury Povich is not just Mr. Connie Chung anymore

December 05, 1993|By Sylvia Lawler | Sylvia Lawler,Morning Call

Daytime talkmeister Maury Povich manages a twinkle when he talks about David Letterman's late-night obsession with his wife, CBS news anchor Connie Chung.

". . . his unbridled, lustful obsession," Mr. Povich amplifies, rolling his vowels and giving good shtick.

And on her part?

"Quiet rejection," says a smiling Mr. Povich.

Mr. Letterman has acted dazzled by the vivacious Ms. Chung since his NBC days, asking her back to his show repeatedly for playful verbal jousting. But Ms. Chung, who has been married to Mr. Povich for almost nine years, "gets a little annoyed with David," says Mr. Povich.

And when it was Barbara Walters and not Mr. Letterman's good friend Ms. Chung who signed him up for a rare interview, how did Ms. Chung take it?

"Not well," says Mr. Povich. "I found it's not good to have my wife upset with you because then all her anger is directed at me. . . . Already she spends her days with Dan [Rather] and her nights with Mr. Letterman. Where do I fit in?"

Mr. Povich has polished the act like copper, and without resentment. As he points out in his readable career biography, "Current Affairs: A Life on the Edge," Ms. Chung was the shooting star, a network staple, almost from the beginning. It fell to Mr. Povich to win his success the hard way, city by city, not becoming a household word nationally until he was in his 50s. Stand in line at the deli counter holding a number long enough, he says, and eventually it will come up. So he accommodates any question, even the retreads about his wife.

About "the pairing" and why Ms. Chung's presence with Mr. Rather on the CBS nightly news hasn't boosted the ratings (the duo is Nielsen-rated third out of three), Mr. Povich says:

"I think it's getting better and better. It's taking time for them to settle in. The difference between second and third place is marginal at best. Also, I think there's a little backlash at seeing a woman in the nightly anchor chair. America has been so conditioned to a single white anchor."

About Ms. Chung's return to work after her ballyhooed time off to make (so far unsuccessfully) "the baby":

The hours "have made our lives different in terms of quality time. She never expected to work this hard when she came back to do her prime-time show ['Eye to Eye With Connie Chung'] and then, within a few weeks to have this [the co-anchor spot] thrust upon her. . . . She's finding ways to cope doing both of them. She's a dogged news person and she'll work it out."

Mr. Povich jokes that he's playing "a lot more golf as a result." Their escape is their summer hideaway on the North Jersey shore near Asbury Park. "We go there every weekend," he says.

In 1989, when Mr. Povich joined the talk show circus on the coattails of his successful, syndicated "A Current Affair," his was the eighth act to enter the daytime ring. "No one could understand how eight could survive," he says.

Now there are 18, and it hasn't peaked yet. "You never know it's peaked," Mr. Povich says CBS Entertainment guru Jeff Sagansky told him, "till you start going down."

Mr. Povich believes that because daytime talk shows are host-driven (as opposed to topic-driven), "shows will fail because the host fails, not because the genre has failed."

He believes daytime talk programs can have an indefinite life span because "they have become the reality form of soap opera," gaining in popularity at the expense of the soaps, he says. "No question their [soaps'] ratings have fallen off across the board.

Daytime television talk is "a very intimate art form and you have to connect on an intimate, personal basis to make it work. As far as I'm concerned, the ones who have made it work, those of us who've survived pretty well, have all done this because we've had to demonstrate our ability to connect.

"We all have our niche. Oprah has a perceived sympathy with her guests and an unbelievable loyalty. Phil gave us the genre. Sally has a very motherly, almost schoolmarmish approach to the subject and her viewers. I bring a kind of journalistic bent. I'm the guy who's become the sensitive, yet credible journalist . . . spinning off legitimate news into stories of an intimate and personal nature."

And the rest?

"I don't know what they're doing."

Mr. Povich, who is the executive producer of his show (which airs locally at 10 a.m. on WMAR, Channel 2), says we can expect more talk shows because they're cheap to produce. "A lot of money is to be made here and the big-time movie production companies, Warners, Columbia, Fox and Paramount [his own production partners], see the success of a show like Oprah or Phil or my own and say, 'Hey, we can make millions of dollars here for fairly little money in terms of what we'd risk on a movie or even a prime-time development project.' "

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