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Maureen O'Boyle: On a Roll

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MAUREEN O’WHO? THAT’S WHAT TV-news mavens were wondering after the release of the latest Q scores measuring performer familiarity and popularity. As expected, the networks’ anchor warhorses—ABC’s Peter Jennings, CBS’s Dan Rather and NBC’s Tom Brokaw—finished one-two-three. But right behind, tied with CNN’s anchor Bernard Shaw for fourth place, was Maureen O’Boyle, anchor of the syndicated program A Current Affair. O’Boyle scored higher than, among others, ABC’s Diane Sawyer, CBS’s Paula Zahn and NBC’s Katie Couric. “I’m flattered, but I feel kind of goofy about this,” she says. “It is a great surprise.”

What’s even goofier is that a thriving (10 million daily viewers) tabloid TV show, whose stock-in-trade is small-town sex scandals and murders, is anchored by a down-home southern girl from a large Catholic family. Not only that, she says she was so ugly in high school she had to beg a boy to lake her to the prom.

O’Boyle, 28, who had been working as a local anchor in Spokane, joined A Current Affair as a correspondent in 1988 and took over as anchor when the popular Maury Povich left last November. (Povich’s new syndicated talk series. The Maury Povich Show, debuted Sept. 9.) Her high Q’s are no mystery to her executive producer, Anthea Disney. “She’s not another pretty woman with a big ego and the facility for reading a teleprompter,” says Disney. “She’s a good storyteller, a good producer and a good reporter.”

And now that she’s over some early jitters, O’Boyle feels that she’s hitting her stride. “It’s tough to take over a show that has been so successful,” she says. “I’m much more comfortable now. It’s my space and I’m not intimidated by it anymore.”

Space was at a premium in the O’Boyle home in Charlotte, N.C., when Maureen, the seventh of 10 children (three girls), was growing up. Her father, Jerry, had quit the executive fast track at Xerox to start a specialty calendar business so he could spend more time with his wife, Joan, and their ever-expanding brood. “All Mom’s winter coats were empire waist so whether she was or wasn’t pregnant, it didn’t matter,” O’Boyle recalls.

Hooked on TV journalism when her high school class visited a local TV station, O’Boyle broke into the business at 18, announcing morning newsbreaks on WITN while attending East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. After leaving school in 1983 without graduating, she moved on to stations in Wilmington, N.C, Macon, Ga., and Spokane. “I was a workaholic,” confesses O’Boyle. “I don’t remember having a date in college at all. People couldn’t stand to be with me because I was so obsessed with my career. I thought a lot about local news and the big markets like L.A., Boston, Chicago and New York.”

These days she’s seeking a better balance: The Current Affair anchor is looking for a current affair. “I’d love to have a boyfriend but I just can’t seem to find one,” she laments, joking about setting up a 1-800-4-MAUREEN phone number. In the meantime she putters around her two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s East Side and roller-skates in Central Park.

With two years left on her contract, O’Boyle, who doesn’t even have an agent, insists she isn’t restless. When she does sit down at the bargaining table again, the anchor, who currently earns a reported $250,000, should have considerable leverage—but that will be a future affair. “I spent the first 10 years in this business looking over the fence,” she says. “Now I’m really trying to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great job, and I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.’ ”