THE WORDS COME SLOWLY, HALTINGLY "I just want to have a baby," she says, her voice trembling. "It's pretty simple. It has little to do with 'balancing out my personal and professional life.' It's just a normal desire." Articulate, attractive, wildly successful and just weeks away from her 47th birthday, the speaker would be a dream guest on any of daytime's glut of tell-all programs, a camera-ready confessor for a show on "Career Women Who Have It All Except the Baby They Want More Than Anything."

But Oprah, Geraldo and Phil can save their bookers a phone call. Though the career woman in question—CBS Evening News's Connie Chung—has one of the highest popularity ratings of any woman in network news (she is also among broadcasting's highest-paid females, at a reported $2 million-plus a year), she is, in truth, a rather private person. "I interview a lot of people, and I ask them to tell me very personal things," she says. "But I don't feel comfortable revealing my own innermost thoughts." Besides, she says, nervously smoking a cigarette in a posh Italian restaurant on Manhattan's West Side, "I once said that I would never share my most intimate thoughts, even with a talk show host. Except for maybe one."

That one, of course, is Maury Povich, 54, host of an eponymous daily show that's syndicated nationally and Chung's husband since 1984. "It hasn't been easy for us," she says, reaching over to pick a bit of lint off Povich's collar before slipping her hand inside his. "It's been difficult." Indeed, three years have passed since Chung stunned both fans and colleagues by shelving her popular Face to Face With Connie Chung show—and, it seemed, her entire career—with a brief announcement: "I now need to take a very aggressive approach to having a baby." So far, Chung and Povich's fight against infertility—an ongoing ordeal that she finds too personal and distressing to discuss in detail—has failed. Yet they say they are still trying to conceive. "We've been disappointed," says Povich, "but we're not discouraged."

With that, Chung reverts to her characteristic perkiness. "I really think Maury is the greatest husband," she says. "I've been given every bit of support that any woman would ever want. He has always been there for me. He is a great rock."

Chung, of course, is something of a neophyte rock herself; since June 1, she has been Dan Rather's coanchor on the CBS Evening News. (She'll be doing double duty Thursday nights beginning this week, when the newsmagazine Eye to Eye with Connie Chung premieres on June 17.) When Chung told Povich that she'd be spending five evenings a week with another man, he sent Rather flowers, along with a card that read, "I'll only share her with you until dusk." Rather, in return, offers a bouquet of his own. "I don't think Connie's given nearly enough credit," he says. "She's earned this. I consider her my professional sister, and anybody who picks on my sister has to come through me."

Among the first he might want to take on is critic Tom Shales of The Washington Post, who once lagged the future hostess of the celebrity-driven Saturday Night with Connie Chung and Face to Face with Connie Chung "Connie Funn." Of the new Rather-Chung pairing, Shales wrote that the duo were "touching hands again and again, almost playing patty-cake before the final fadeout." In fact, though Chung has been a TV news reporter for more than two decades and has won three Emmy awards, her ascent to the nightly anchoring seat is seen by many as more of a ploy to goose the ratings of Rather's stagnant, second-ranked news hour (ABC's World News Tonight, with Peter Jennings, is No. 1) than the just deserts of a top-flight journalist. "Ms. Chung's most common expression is a blank earnestness," declared Waller Goodman of The New York Times the morning after her hyped debut as Rather's partner (CBS says overnight ratings jumped by 6 percent, though the show still finished second nationally). "You get the feeling that her acquaintance with most of the subjects assigned to her does not reach much beyond the words rolling by on her TelePrompTer."

Barbara Walters, coanchor of ABC's newsmagazine 20/20 and the only other woman to have regularly occupied an anchor seat on a nightly network news program (with Harry Reasoner, 1976-78), is well acquainted with harsh reviews. "I was crucified for reasons including How dare there be a woman there," says Walters. Walters's advice concerning reviews, says Chung, is, " 'Don't read those things!' Bull always do. I have to develop a thicker skin."

It is, however, neither the critics nor her peers who most intimidate Chung. That honor falls to her mother, Margaret, 82. and her lour older sisters, Josephine, 61, Charlotte, 59, June, 56, and Mimi, 51, all married, all with children (two with grandchildren) and, she claims, all more vivacious and outspoken than she. Overshadowed by the boisterous brood growing up in Washington, Chung still reverts to baby-of-the-family status—despite fame and that $2 million salary—whenever they get together. "Last weekend I was visiting my mom, and she had me picking off the tails on bean sprouts one by one," she says with a laugh. "It doesn't matter how old you are. Once you've fallen into a role, you can't climb out."

From the beginning, roles in the Chung family were unusual—by American standards, at least. Her father. William, who died three years ago, didn't lay eyes on her mother until, at 19, he raised the veil of his 17-year-old bride during their wedding ceremony in Soochow, China. That wasn't all that was old-fashioned about their marriage; like many Chinese men of his generation, William Chung, an officer in Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek's intelligence agency, kept concubines. "My mother would tell us these horrible stories," Connie recalls, "where she would walk into a restaurant and say, 'I'm here to meet with Mr. Chung,' and they would say, 'Oh, Mrs. Chung is already back there.' She would be livid.

When the family moved to the U.S. in 1945, the custom of concubines in the Chung family ended—and the next year Margaret gave birth to her 1Oth and final child. Constance Yu-hwa Chung. (Two daughters and three sons had died in China.) Aware of the premium placed on male children in traditional Chinese culture, Connie says that even as a young girl "I wanted to be my father's son and perpetuate the family name." She did that with dispatch, becoming an on-air reporter for the local CBS news affiliate in Washington shortly after graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in journalism in 1969. By the early '70s she was a CBS network correspondent, covering the biggest political stories: Nixon's trip to the Soviet Union, Watergate, presidential elections. "It was real elbow work," says Chung. "I burrowed my way through the crowd of reporters and popped up in front." Even broadcast legend Walter Cronkite admired her style. "Being confrontational is all right," says Cronkite, 76, the CBS Evening News anchor from 1962 to '81. "But Connie Chung also always remained civil. She was able to ask tough questions in an intelligent way."

But by the summer of 1990, asking tough questions had become less important to Chung than having a baby. (Povich has two daughters from an earlier marriage to college sweetheart Phyllis Minkoff: Susan, 29, a lawyer and TV producer, and Amy, 26, an actress, both living in Manhattan.) "Unfortunately," she said in her press release, "time is running out for me." For years, in fact, Chung had consciously delayed motherhood. Povich and Chung dated for seven years before they wed. "I truly knew from the beginning that Maury was the one, but I just didn't have it in me to commit myself," she told PEOPLE in 1989. "I was having a grand old time' Their first year together was a commuter marriage; she lived in L.A., where she was a local news anchor for a CBS affiliate, while he was anchoring the news in San Francisco.

And yes, concedes Chung, she does wish they had thought about starling a family earlier. Says she: "I'm a big should've, would've, could've person." Concerned that by now biology has become destiny and she may remain childless, Chung is a bit fretful as well that her new network duties will hurt her marriage. "I'm worried that I just won't have enough time," says Chung, "and that I won't be able to see Maury as much. I value him so much."

Meanwhile, however, life goes on, and very pleasantly. Maury golfs. Connie shops ("It's mental therapy to gel lost in something mundane and fun"). Together they cheer on the New York Knicks and eat lots of order-in Chinese. "My cooking really doesn't taste good," admits Chung, standing in the immaculate, cozy white kitchen of their six-room Manhattan apartment. "I can never get the meat and the vegetables to come out at the same time." Eager as always to please, Chung offers a guest the best her culinary skills can muster: "a glass of orange juice, ice water, a bagel." That last offer accepted, one of the highest-paid women in broadcast television stands in front of a toaster oven and provides instant analysis. "When the bell rings," she says dryly, "it means it's done." Edward R. Murrow couldn't have said it better.

SHELLEY LEVITT
SUE CARSWELL in New York City

  • Contributors:
  • Sue Carswell.