D.C. Newsman Maury Povich Anchors NBC's Connie Chung After a Longtime Cross-Country Romance
06/10/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT
After seven years and God knows how many commuter miles in their on-again, off-again but mostly on-again romance, NBC anchorwoman Connie Chung (New York) and Metromedia anchorman Maury Povich (Washington, D.C.) still weren't sure they wanted to marry. Each time one was ready, the other was "too scared," says Connie, 38, who earns a reported $450,000 a year on the network's highly rated Monday to Friday NBC News at Sunrise show and Saturday night news. Even a not-so-subtle hint from her mother, Margaret, didn't work. In 1982 Mom gave Connie her own engagement ring, originally intended as a sentimental wedding present to her fifth, youngest and only unmarried daughter. "She said, 'Take it,' " Connie recalls, " 'even though you haven't earned it.' " But Povich, 46 and divorced, pressed her again last September; the marriage of Andrea Reiter and Allan Brum, rival network pals at ABC, that same month convinced Connie that she should, say yes. Nestled affectionately (as usual) next to her on a brown suede sofa in her spacious New York co-op, Povich hears this reasoning for the first time.
Connie: "Allan is a very close friend of mine. I didn't think he would get married. And if Allan could get married, I thought, I can get married."
Maury (slightly stunned): "Do you mean that, honey? You mean if Allan hadn't gotten married, you probably wouldn't have?"
Connie: "Probably not."
Maury: "Well, that's stupid."
Whatever, it cleared the way for the marriage ceremony conducted by a rabbi in her Central Park apartment last December (Maury is Jewish; Connie, who claims no religious affiliation, may convert to Judaism). "If I'm smiling," said Chung's dad, William, as he toasted the pair before 65 guests, "it's because I married off my last daughter."
Friends assumed the merger would put an end to the couple's commuting, but they continue to see each other only on weekends, taking turns shuttling between New York and Povich's two-bedroom condo in D.C. The eight days a month they spend together is hardly an ideal arrangement as far as Povich is concerned. "I don't know if I can handle rolling over in bed and feeling nothing but a sheet," he says. "You've been doing that for a long time," she responds, taken aback somewhat. "I know," he counters. "But I don't know whether I can anymore."
Sleeping arrangements aside, there will be plenty of other pressures in their competitive careers. She earns more than he does. She's never been fired; he was canned once because of poor ratings and has left anchor spots in a huff over a salary dispute and a job assignment. In fact, in a prewedding toast aired on Povich's news-talk show, Panorama, pal Willard (Today show) Scott joked that "Maury has closed more stations than the Penn Central." Yet the pair believes that being in the same business is a plus. "Over the years we developed a great pride in each other's successes and a great understanding and sympathy when times were tough," says Maury. Connie agrees: "We're best friends in addition to loving each other a great deal. We understand each other's life so well."
Indeed, friends say the two are a perfect match—almost by default. "I think they're the only two who could tolerate each other," jokes Maury's pal Laurie Burrows Grad, resident chef on the syndicated talk show Hour Magazine. "He's hyper in some ways; she's hyper in others." Povich is outgoing, gregarious and sociable; Chung is quieter, introspective and more "self-protective," says another friend. "On the air she is very stern," says Andrea Reiter. "When she decides she can trust you, she lets her hair down and is very funny." The couple's on-camera successes reflect their off-camera natures. "Connie's approach to news is no-nonsense," says Steve Friedman, Today's executive producer, "but she doesn't come across as cold, which is a neat trick." Maury is more comfortable interviewing people away from the rigid confines of an anchor desk.
They met in 1969 when Chung, just out of the University of Maryland, was working as a copygirl at Washington's WTTG. Povich was Panorama's handsome, blue-eyed and very married co-host. He reminded Connie of actor George Segal. "He was a star," she says. "I used to sit there and watch in awe as he was just ripping copy out of the typewriter." Maury's memory of his future wife is hardly as vivid. "I didn't pay much attention to her," he says, "because I was very busy."
In 1976 they went their own ways, he to Chicago, she to L.A. They didn't see each other again until they were teamed the following year as anchors on KNXT in L.A. It was a stressful period. The station was in turmoil because of ratings that were "in the toilet," as Connie puts it. In an era of revolving-door news directors, the pressures were unrelenting. Povich had landed in L.A. after a salary dispute with a Chicago station, and his marriage was collapsing. Then, after six months in L.A., he was bounced during a ratings slump. "My marriage broke up and I was fired in the same week," he says. "I mean, I was devastated."
In misery, Povich turned to Chung, among others, for company. "I think that's how we started hitting it off," he says. "I felt so bad and we would get together." Povich played the supportive pal too. "Maury was helpful in thinking things out, just listening and being so understanding," says Connie.
But in 1978 Povich moved to a San Francisco station, and two years later he headed back East to Philadelphia. It was there that the romance cooled. "We were estranged," Maury says. "We started re-evaluating our lives." For six months they didn't see each other. Instead, they became pen pals and the relationship deepened. "We began to miss each other a lot and for the right reasons," Maury says. "We had each been seeing other people and began to realize how important we were to each other." And so by the summer of 1983, when Povich had returned to Washington as sole host of Panorama, they were frequent fliers again.
Both Povich and Chung are D.C. brats—born in Washington and raised in suburbia. Connie's now-retired dad was a Nationalist Chinese diplomat who stayed in Washington after the Communist takeover in 1949 and became a financial manager. A Goody Two-shoes, Connie grew up always trying to be perfect, and was so skinny "that I looked like the letter 'L' when I wore flats." In 1971 she went to work for CBS as a network correspondent and during the Watergate years earned a reputation as an intense, hardworking and tenacious reporter. After Watergate, she says, "every other story was boring," and she left for California and the L.A. news job. Chung became one of the city's most popular anchors before moving to New York 18 months ago to work for NBC.
Povich was a natural for journalism. His dad, Shirley, the former sports columnist of the Washington Post, is, at 79, still the dean of D.C. sportswriters. Maury attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he divided his time between classes and the racetrack. He flunked out once and finally graduated in 1962. A month later he married aspiring actress Phyllis Minkoff. They were divorced in 1979. Povich has two daughters from that marriage, Susan, 21, and Amy, 18.
Povich has helped make the career-minded Chung more aware that there is life after the studio. Children are a possibility, but she deflects such questions by protesting, "I can only make one traumatic decision at a time." Chung's popularity among network higher-ups has made her a contender in the would-be weeknight female anchor sweepstakes. But Chung says, "That's too big a job to aspire to." Surprisingly, she doesn't think the job will fall to a woman in her lifetime.
Come August, Connie will be doing stories for Roger Mudd on NBC's latest attempt at a prime-time "newsmagazine" show. In any event Povich and Chung will probably not have to face any major career crises—or decisions—until 1986, when their contracts expire. Until then, says Povich, their long-distance marriage may prove as challenging as any job either has confronted. After arriving for a weekend visit with his wife recently, Maury turned to her and said, "Okay, now the real work begins."