With his 70th birthday this month and 18 seasons of his talk show, Maury, under his belt, one might think Maury Povich would pack up his paternity test kit and finally call it quits. No chance, says the former KYW anchor, whose name, much like those of Murrow and Cronkite before him, has become synonymous with certain phrases — in this case, “Baby mama drama,” “Who’s your daddy?” and “Oh no she didn’t just call me a bitch!” Povich checks in to defend the societal value of his program, give advice to President Obama, and reveal how he struck fear in the heart of Jim Gardner.
You have an Emmy for broadcast journalism. Your father was a sportswriter for the Washington Post. Your wife is Connie Chung. How did you end up doing shows like “My Fear of Pickles Is Ruining My Life” and “4 Men, 1 Woman, 1 Baby — Who Is the Father?” Well, I always beat to a different drummer. I was a reporter, then an anchor, then a Today Show-type host, and I found that kind of confining. I wanted to have some fun with infotainment, and it led to this crazy show called A Current Affair.
That was one of the first tabloid TV shows. Do you feel responsible for our national obsession with this crap? I plead guilty. The Current Affair environment has definitely spilled into network, cable and local news. I feel I’ve liberated the media. [laughs]
Is it possible to pick one Maury episode that’s the most memorable? I had a woman who had twins, and the father was the father of one of the twins and not the other. Fraternal twins, two separate eggs. It’s like a one-in-a-million chance. But it can happen. [laughs]
Can you single out one show that you regret, or do they all blur together in a vast sea of abject remorse? The shows with women who come back 10 times and are still looking for the father. I don’t regret doing them. I just regret not having a conclusion.
Have you ever rejected a show topic, like “Watch Me Stab My Deadbeat Baby Daddy in the Neck?” I’ve never rejected a paternity show, but I don’t do religious themes. Religion’s so personal.
USA Today said this: “Povich’s talk show is, without a doubt, the worst thing on television. … Maury is miles farther down the commode than Jerry Springer.” Does that make you feel like a pioneer of sorts? [Pauses] They are way out on a limb if they think I’m down the toilet from Jerry. Jerry’s an old friend of mine. But he describes his show as a wrestling match, as theater. I do shows on sensitive, crucial underlying social issues in this country. These are issues that politicians do not deal with.
SO YOUR ADVICE to Obama is to start watching Maury. Darn right! Darn right! Because they’re not getting it! If you want to criticize my show and you think I’m exploiting and all that, okay, fine. But if you don’t think these issues are real, you’re kidding yourself.
What does your wife think of all this? Does she ever turn to you at the dinner table and say, “Honey, you were a bit tough on that woman who took 24 DNA tests and still couldn’t find the father of her child”? [Laughs] Connie is respectful of what I do. And she better be! [laughs] She judges me by my full body of work.
You sponsor an endowment and scholarships at Penn. Considering your continued relationship with the university, do you think they just haven’t seen the show? Otherwise, they’d nip those scholarships in the bud. [Laughs] Because I’m dumbing down the population of the university? Oh my God, I haven’t thought about it that way! It’s a whole new concern of mine — am I dumbing down the college audience of this country?
Sorry to burden you with that, Maury. So tell me about your days at KYW in the early ’80s. Lots of booze, broads, and the occasional knife fight? Wow! Were you there? I was single, I lived at 4th and Arch, I walked to work. It was the best time of my life. We were on call 24 hours a day. It was all about getting the story and getting it first. It was very competitive but also very collegial.
Ever challenge Jim Gardner to a duel? No, we were very friendly. When Larry Kane moved from Channel 6 to New York, I was working in Washington, and Jimmy saw me walk through the Channel 6 newsroom to interview for the main anchor job. Jimmy thought I was going to prevent him from getting the job, but he got it. I said, “Jimmy, I wasn’t ready to be an anchorperson. You were.”
Wow. If they had hired you, the Action News motto would be “If it breeds, it leads”! So now that you’re almost 70, any retirement plans? No. I have such a good time doing it. This is our 18th year. That is some run. There’s no end date in sight.