October 27, 2014 12:00 PM

Julie Chen admits it: She may be a bit of a micromanager. When she’s not hosting The Talk or Big Brother for CBS, she’s planning dinner parties for her husband of almost 10 years, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves, arranging playdates and Chinese lessons for their 5-year-old son Charlie (the nanny gets a pass) and running home to meet with the termite guy. So nothing grates on her more than when something manages to slip through the cracks—like that dirty window in her son’s room at their home in Los Angeles. Sitting down to a recent interview, she can’t help but fixate: “I’ve got to get around to removing those cobwebs! I want to do it all because if I don’t, it doesn’t get done, or it won’t get done the way I like it. My whole life, I’ve always moved at 110 miles an hour. That’s just me.”

As a teen in middle-class Bayside, Queens, she held down a predawn job on weekends, making coffee at a deli while her friends were sleeping in. It’s a work ethic that serves her well now, as she balances duties on two of CBS’s signature franchises with life as a mom. But with The Talk finally challenging The View in the ratings, Chen, 44, says she is savoring this moment in her career. “It has given me a huge sense of validation,” she says.

That sense of accomplishment is something Chen has long strived to attain, after years of fending off critics who cried nepotism every time she climbed the company ladder. By the time she wed Moonves, now 65, “I was only a year or two into being one of the hosts of CBS’s The Early Show. There was always that hum over my shoulder of, ‘She’s only there because she’s married to the boss,’ ” says Chen.

Those swipes intensified when she became cohost of The Talk in 2010, but with the show now hitting its stride, and Chen drawing headlines discussing such controversial topics as her own 1995 eyelid surgery and the revelation that her grandfather was a polygamist, “it’s gotten easier to handle. I’m at the point where I realize things are going to be whispered behind my back, but it’s not going to change the outcome of my life,” she says. “It’s not going to change how my son or my husband feel about me.”

To that end, she does run some of her anecdotes by Moonves before she tells them on The Talk. “I’ll call Les to ask, ‘Are you cool if I tell that story where you couldn’t find the fuse box and I’m, like, the handyman around the house?’ ” She usually gets his approval. And though she says she relies on her husband for constructive criticism, he has nothing but praise. “I am envious of her!” he admits. “I couldn’t do her job one tenth as well as she does.”

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