The name Maury Povich is synonymous with syndicated talk show success. Mr. Povich has been a staple on the national television scene for more than 20 years. He has enjoyed back-to-back-to-back success as a syndication star — a historic feat — starting in 1986 with “A Current Affair,” the controversial Fox tabloid newsmagazine, then moving on to Paramount’s traditional talker “The Maury Povich Show” (1991-98) and spending the past decade as host of the edgy hit talk show “Maury,” from NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. On Sept. 17, “Maury” began its 10th season.
“Maury has put together a spectacular career in broadcasting, both as a journalist and as one of the most successful hosts in the history of daytime syndication,” said Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “Our current daytime series with Maury continues to rank as one of the top shows in all of daytime, year in and year out, which says a lot about his staying power and ability to adapt with the changing times.”
One of Maury Povich’s biggest fans is his wife of 23 years, news anchor Connie Chung. “I’m amazed by what he does, year after year after year, in various incarnations of his program,” Ms. Chung said. “I don’t know how he carries on, because he doesn’t necessarily get bored. He has a short attention span and he just moves on from one thing to the next very quickly.”
In honor of the “Maury” anniversary, Mr. Povich took some time to speak with TelevisionWeek correspondent Allison J. Waldman about where he has been, where he is now and where he’s going.
TelevisionWeek: You’re celebrating your 10th anniversary with the “Maury” show following two other syndicated successes. How did you get to this point?
Maury Povich: I was going to have a show — me and Connie — with Paramount, but they could never get it off the ground. So I was a free agent, and Universal at the time made the biggest and best offer. Paramount was in the bidding as well, and a lot of people in the television business thought that after seven years at Paramount, you know, maybe I had seen my better days. Because who’s to know? Universal took a chance on me. They paid me a lot of money, and now, 10 years later, all the other big syndicators would have liked to have had that show.
TVWeek: You are unique in having had back-to-back-to-back success in syndication. What’s your secret?
Mr. Povich: There aren’t a lot of “broadcasters” in the business. Usually they find people from other fields to host. So if you take a look down the roster, it’s me and Oprah and Jerry [Springer] — although he dabbled in politics — and we all were broadcasters. That’s what we did all our lives. That’s all we’ve ever done. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do — do television and do it in some kind of way that would impart information. I think that’s the tried-and-true in our business. I’m afraid that not many people in our industry get that. Somewhere along the way, they decided if you’re a comedian you have a better chance, or if you’re a self-help guru you’ve got a better chance. … Quite frankly, I think the best talk-show hosts today are the people who can make the best connection on television, and that’s broadcasters.
TVWeek: What is the appeal of “Maury” compared with “The Maury Povich Show” or “A Current Affair”?
Mr. Povich: The success came, I think, because we changed our themes. We got very much into the things that would attract a younger audience. Many syndicators were afraid that maybe my audience was getting older, I was getting older — I was 58 at the time — and maybe I had run my course. Anytime you get a seven-year run on a talk show, that’s pretty good. So a lot of people thought I wasn’t worth as much as I was asking for and things like that.
What happened was in the next 10 years with “Maury,” the only thing that stayed the same was that I got older. The audience got much, much younger; we have the second- or third-youngest viewing audience in talk shows. I don’t know why, but I have this kind of connection with young viewers, in part because of the topics I have on my show. That was one of the major changes in the show. I think a lot of people in management thought I couldn’t do this type of show. First I was a newsman, then I was anchor for “A Current Affair,” then the show at Paramount was a little more traditional, and this show now is edgy.
TVWeek: How is “Maury” different from “The Jerry Springer Show”?
Mr. Povich: I take my show seriously because I think these are serious issues. I think the fact that there are so many women today who have children and they don’t know who the father is, or fathers who don’t take responsibility for their children, is a serious issue. The politicians shy away from them. For some reason, these issues are too edgy. But these are serious issues in the American fabric and I don’t understand why they’re not addressed. Therefore, I make the case. Yes, these shows are entertaining and they are edgy, but I think they are spiced with information and sprinkled with journalism. Even though they’re very dramatic, there’s a lot of tension; there’s a lot of conflict.
TVWeek: You started out doing local news in Washington. Do you ever miss being an anchorman?
Mr. Povich: Sure, when there’s a big story, I think, “I would have liked to have done that.” I marvel at Connie and everything that she has done, all the events she’s covered and all of her success. Once we got married in 1984, I was satisfied watching her success in terms of news and I just made a decision a long time ago, starting with “A Current Affair,” that news to me was too confining. There were just limits, particularly if you were an anchorman. There was a limit to just how much news you could go and do, and for the most part, except when there was a special, the day-to-day work was confining work. I found that rather restrictive.
TVWeek: Did you choose to give up anchoring, or were there other opportunities that led you away from news?
Mr. Povich: I don’t want to say my decision was calculated, but it was a conscious effort on my part to change my life. I thought in the old days, believe it or not, that the only two people who took that route in television were me and the late Tom Snyder. We were very friendly, and we would talk a lot about all those years we were in local television. Back then, they either wanted you to be a talk-show host or an anchorperson. You couldn’t do both. They thought the audience would be confused. They didn’t think the audience had enough sense to see the difference when you were hosting a talk show and anchoring the news. So we kind of went against the grain all our lives. But in all those years I did news, I was also hosting a local talk show. I found that great; it was very fulfilling. And Tom did, too. He loved it. I think we were the only two who were able to do it. I think maybe the business has changed a little bit. Maybe they don’t pigeonhole you as much now as they used to. But in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, it surely was that.
TVWeek: Looking back, what are some of the highlights in your career?
Mr. Povich: I was an anchorman in L.A. and I got fired. I think that what happens in the business is that the greatest fear people have in their lives is getting fired. Well, guess what? If you survive getting fired, you are a better professional and a better person. So I look at the down things in my life, that I’ve been able to overcome those, take a new look at myself or remind myself that I’m not as bad as what I’m going through at that time. The highlight of “A Current Affair” to me was covering the fall of the Berlin Wall. I would have never gotten that assignment with a network. All I ever wanted to do was marry Connie in 1984 and have a nice local career. Everything is serendipity. “A Current Affair” would have never happened if I hadn’t been at the station that Rupert Murdoch bought and created Fox. I worked for the Metromedia station. If I had worked for any other station, there’s a possibility I would have never run into Rupert Murdoch. There would have been no “A Current Affair” — and if there was no “A Current Affair,” there are no talk shows for me. I would have never gotten on the national scene.
TVWeek: Your father was the Hall of Fame sportswriter Shirley Povich. Were you ever tempted to follow in your father’s footsteps and go into the newspaper business?
Mr. Povich: Early on I wanted to go into print journalism. Unfortunately, [Washington] became a one-newspaper town. There were two papers for a time; the Washington Star was still in publication, and the Washington Post. The Star wouldn’t hire me because of my name; and the Post wouldn’t hire me because of the nepotism policy they have. So I was shut out early on. I went to the next best thing, which because of my father was sports. I hosted radio and television. But then I found sports to be too confining.
TVWeek: Who did you want to emulate when you got into television?
Mr. Povich: There were newspeople I looked up to. Edward R. Murrow, he was a hero to me. I’m so old now that I interviewed with him. He was the head of the [United States Information Agency] and I was just out of college. My father knew Murrow and got me an interview, and I was going to go work there. But he told me it would take nine months for a State Department security check, and I had just gotten married and I couldn’t wait nine months without a job. But Murrow was a hero and so was Eric Sevareid — all those people in the Washington news corps. Those were truly the golden years. Particularly with Connie at CBS and all the people that were in that CBS bureau with Roger Mudd, Marvin Kalb, Martin Agronsky early on. All those older-generation news guys, many of them had served in World War II. They were really kind of my heroes. I looked up to them when I was first coming out of school.
TVWeek: How has technology and the Internet affected broadcasting, and your show in particular?
Mr. Povich: First of all, to have a successful talk show, you need to find a variety of ways to reach people. It’s truly remarkable, especially in my end of it. We’re talking about a daytime talk show that appeals to young people who have cell phones, who have the Web, iPods, all these various media extensions. It is a tall order to try to stay successful. What I think we’ve done is that we’ve tried to combine things. I know this year we’ve taken a page from YouTube.com and we’re doing a lot more shows about people who end up on YouTube doing crazy stunts and crazy videos. Then there are the crazy things that are caught on video. We never would have done that before, but with the popularity of the Web, and YouTube in particular, we’re running a lot more of them.
TVWeek: How has the Web influenced the show?
Mr. Povich: We’re much more interactive. For instance, the other day we had a young man on with the love of his life. They had a child and then she told him that the child might not be his. This is a guy who had given up a football scholarship and quit school to take care of this woman and child. It turned out on our show that he was proven not to be the father. So it was a real tragedy. But he was such an articulate young man, and a good-looking young man, that all of a sudden on our Web site all these women wanted to meet this guy. We then did a whole show on getting a date for him.
It’s amazing the response of viewers to this particular show, and that’s not unique. What happens on our Web site drives our show and creates update shows to the ones that are most popular.
TVWeek: Do you ever feel like you’re living vicariously through Connie insofar as doing the news?
Mr. Povich: How could I not? You have to understand, until “A Current Affair” started — that’s over 20 years ago — I was content in my life to be a pretty good news anchor, doing a local talk show, and proudly displaying my name as Mr. Chung. I was just fine with it. I not only love my wife dearly, I respect her so much for what she’s done, and my hat’s off to her. We’ve never been competitive. We tried to do a show together, but I think our sense of humor and the fact that we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we kind of knock each other down all the time, that’s kind of prevented us from a sense of envy or jealousy or competition.
TVWeek: Do you take it to heart when television reviewers criticize “Maury”?
Mr. Povich: If that’s the first time I’ve run into this that might bother me, but I wouldn’t be on the national scene if it weren’t for a little show like “A Current Affair.” And the critics back then had a field day with me. I just let it wash off my back. I was having a lot of fun; we were doing a service in a lot of ways. I don’t think you can write about the history of television news, where it changed course, without crediting “A Current Affair.” It’s the granddaddy of how news is covered and presented to people.
TVWeek: How did you get involved with “Twin Towers,” the documentary short that won the 2003 Academy Award?
Mr. Povich: I have a production company in Los Angeles, and the man who ran it is a fellow named Robert Port, and he had the idea to do a documentary on this very special, elite unit in the New York Police Department that was the first response for all emergencies. It’s the emergency response unit of NYPD. It’s called ESU, Emergency Services Unit. We followed a particular member of that unit and, believe it or not, we had just almost wrapped up this documentary before 9/11. Then 9/11 comes around and he and his fireman brother both die in their first response to the Twin Towers.
It was a very big story, the deaths of these two brothers. I said to Rob, “We have to keep doing this. Talk to the people they worked with. Go to the funerals. Be able to get the police department to give us the inside track on allowing us to be in certain places where we weren’t supposed to be.” Rob did that, and Dick Wolf and I were the executive producers and my company, MoPo Entertainment, produced it. They gave out one Oscar for that, and Rob got it. At the Academy Awards, Rob stood up and said, “I want to thank one person because this wouldn’t have happened if not for Maury Povich.” And people were shocked. I’ll tell you who was the most surprised: Oprah! She kept saying, how did Maury get his name on that Oscar?
TVWeek: Looking ahead, do you see doing “Maury” for another five or 10 years?
Mr. Povich: I don’t know about 10 more years; I don’t think so, honestly. As long as I get the gratification I get. The most gratification I get is the connection I’ve made with my audience. I mean, I am 68 years old. There is no way my experience in life and the experience of those young people who watch my show should connect, in terms of mutual experience. I grew up in the 1950s. They’re growing up in the 2000s. And yet they seem to find a comfort zone with me. They seem to trust me. I don’t know if I’m a kindly uncle or what, they just give me so much energy just in their reaction, and I see it because of the live audience. My live audience is my viewers. I just get the biggest kick out of it. I mean, I haven’t changed much, but I’ll tell you, in terms of the last 10 years of my life, I have heard more of what’s going on in this country from my viewers than I have from any newscast on any news channel.
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