EW Staff
June 18, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

”I won’t ever have a normal life again,” moans Connie Chung, dropping wearily into an upholstered chair and permitting herself a cigarette in her office in the CBS News wing called the Chung Unit on New York’s West 57th Street. On June 1, Chung became the fourth human to be a CBS Evening News anchor-joining Dan Rather, No. 3-and she is shell-shocked by the attendant hoopla. ”I didn’t get enough sleep-I can’t even form sentences today,” she murmurs. Her office, with a sweeping view of gritty Hell’s Kitchen, is decorated with a large cardboard replica of her cheery husband, syndicated talk-show host Maury Povich, and a tiny doll with a German inscription that translates, ”To me all things are possible-but not very likely.” Reminded of what she said a decade ago when asked about getting the anchor job-”My dreams are more realistic-like landing on Jupiter!”-Chung emits a musical guffaw. She has always downplayed her ambition: As recently as 1990, she said she’d never co-anchor with Rather because ”I’m very old, and it’s hard to keep up with all this traveling around.” Now Chung, 46, admits, ”It’s a job that I never would’ve turned down.” Povich, 54, always knew she’d get the offer. ”She didn’t believe me,” he says. ”I think she has newfound respect for me.” Despite Chung’s 1990-92 break from heavy-duty broadcasting to conceive a child with Povich (they haven’t yet, and she hates the public scrutiny), she lunged at the chance to sit next to Dan. And the assignment is rife with perilous challenges. The two must aim not only to boost CBS’ sagging, second-place ratings-which rose by 13 percent in Chung’s first, spotlighted week-but also to win viewers back to that once- omnipotent institution, the nightly network news. Chung has a chance to open doors for minorities and reopen the door for women in TV news that slammed firmly behind first female anchor Barbara Walters in 1976 after she proved ill-matched with partner Harry Reasoner. Walters caught flak upon her debut (see time line on page 32), mainly because her image was too fluffy. Even the soft-tongued Chung reviled Walters as ”a talk-show hostess (who) does specials, not reporting.” ”I hate fashion stories!” Chung, then a 25-year-old Washington, D.C., TV newshound, snapped. ”Give me a tear-gas, rock-throwing riot anytime.” Ironically, Chung, who is unveiling on June 17 her new newsmagazine show, Eye to Eye (”I wanted (to call it) Maury Povich’s Wife’s Show,” says Povich on the couple’s answering machine), was also charged with fluffiness when her anchor gig was announced. ”I think the press was pretty hysterical this time, too,” she says. ”The first person is the pathfinder, but the second is a target too.” Chung certainly has taken some hits. ”She has shown that she can read the TelePrompTer,” sneers Steve Friedman, executive producer of rival NBC’s Today show. ”I don’t like it that anyone who questions whether Connie Chung will make it is a sexist pig. Can she sit there for four hours with no script, people yelling in her ear, ‘Go to the White House!’?” Likening the Chung-Rather team to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Washington Post critic Tom Shales-who once mocked Chung as ”Connie Funn”- wrote, ”He gave her class and she gave him sex.” ”I was offended,” fumes Chung about that remark. (Though it was Shales who suggested that she and Rather conclude their first broadcast with Huntley- Brinkley’s tag line, ”Good night, Chet/Good night, David,” which they did.) The producer of Eye to Eye, Andrew Heyward, dismisses Friedman’s attack as one of many ”cheap shots by competitors who wish Connie worked for them.” Chung’s news-desk-mate Rather insisted before their debut that he’s thrilled to work with her, but declined to offer further comment afterward. Outside these uncivil wars, detached observers speak glowingly of the ascendant anchorwoman. ”Talent rises to the top,” says skyrocketing producer Jeff Zucker (who oversaw NBC Nightly News), and others discern a brilliant symbiosis in the video wedding of Rather, sober, spectral, and 61, and personable Chung, seemingly going on 35 (see poll on page 33). In fact, there is much more to Chung’s resume than a warm manner and her notorious, lucrative NBC infotainment specials Scared Sexless and Life in the Fat Lane in the ’80s (”I hated them,” she says now). She proudly relates that the head of the FDA, David Kessler, told her that a segment on her 1990 show Face to Face convinced him to ban silicone breast implants. Her journalistic credentials (she began as a copy girl in 1969 in Washington, D.C., and by 1971 was a correspondent for CBS News) trace back to Watergate. Chung can’t remember the precise scoops she scored then. ”I suffer from the forgetfulness so many of us suffer, having covered so many stories. It’s called Newsheimer’s,” she says. But she vividly recalls breaking some of the names on Nixon’s Enemies List and chasing the President’s men all over town. ”John Dean had a Porsche, and I remember many times racing with him through Rock Creek Park in the rickety crew car,” she says. While most journalists, certainly including Rather, would have gleefully hounded Richard Nixon all the way to hell, she felt guilty just having to ambush H.R. Haldeman at church. ”I said, ‘Oh, please God no, don’t send me.’ He was very gracious, and I was really delighted that he knew how repulsive I thought it was.” ”Maybe she hasn’t had as vigorous a training as a Dan Rather, but she has certainly paid her dues,” says NBC’s Katie Couric, who herself has been mentioned as a possible co-anchor with Tom Brokaw. ”I think this gets overanalyzed. Frankly, I think it’s getting a little boring.” The stakes, however, are far from trivial. Hiring a TV anchor has never been scarier, and not just because of soaring salaries (Chung makes a reported $2 million versus Rather’s reported $3.5 million). The numbers suggest a dwindling future for the business: Only half of Americans over 50 still tune in to the three networks’ evening news; worse, only one in 13 adults under 35 does so. ”Statistics scare the hell out of me,” says ABC’s forthright Peter Jennings, ”but my suspicion is that in time, the other 12 will at some point feel the need to be connected to a national issue. And there are really only so many places you can get that: the three of us, CNN, and MacNeil/Lehrer.” In the tight race to catch Jennings and first-place ABC in this troubled market, CBS evidently decided it needed Chung in the copilot’s seat. ”CBS skews to a lower income and the least-educated group,” says Betsy Frank, senior vice president of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. ”It does poorest in the Northeast and the Pacific (states). Chung may stop that slide.” What Chung most clearly brings to the anchor table is just the let’s-have-a-show exuberance that critic Shales mocked. Eye to Eye producer Heyward says the newsmagazine’s 5- to 15-minute segments will exploit that quality by deliberately showing ”a more mischievous side of Connie’s personality,” i.e., the self-mocking tone of her offscreen persona. ”For a celebrated major-league star anchor,” marvels CBS News correspondent Robert Krulwich, who has worked with her on Eye to Eye and also covered Watergate, ”she’s wonderfully willing to dive off the high-dive board.” Krulwich also observes that, precisely because of the decline in the networks’ dominance, their news stars play a heightened role in creating brand loyalty. ”There’s a tremendous amount of new shelf space in TV-more and more channels,” he says. ”People do not think of Roseanne in terms of the network she’s on. Bill Cosby is not a peacock. So what’s in the mind’s eye of a person who thinks about ABC, NBC, CBS? Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw-or Dan Rather and Connie Chung. This is an event, as if Coca-Cola changed its packaging.” The fresh packaging is badly overdue. ”The three evening news positions were the last bastion of male dominance,” Chung says. ”I’m as surprised as anyone (that they capitulated). It’s truly a mystery to me.” But the explanation for the actions of men in power may have been provided long ago by Deep Throat, the sainted, anonymous source of the Watergate investigation: ”Follow the money.” The quest for ever-more-elusive profits, more than progressive impulses, has prompted practically every local station in America to discover the value of anchorwomen, and CBS is the first to bank on one nationally. For now, the smart money is on Connie Chung.

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