By Julie K.L. Dam
Updated July 15, 2002 12:00 PM

Connie Chung and Maury Povich have a special routine for tucking in their 7-year-old son Matthew. After she scratches his back and feet to help him drift off to sleep, Chung says, “Daddy gives him a kiss, then I give him a kiss, then Daddy and Mommy kiss, then Daddy turns off the light.” Since June 24, however, when Chung swapped her 20/20 gig on ABC for a nightly news-interview program, Connie Chung Tonight, on CNN (which, like PEOPLE, is owned by AOL Time Warner), Povich has handled bedtime duty solo. Which kind of explains why Chung closed her first telecast with “Good night, Maury and Matthew.”

Some critics cringed at the personal touch from a respected newswoman, but Chung, 55, says she was just doing what comes naturally as a midlife mom. “It is virtually impossible to feel that I am doing a good job at both ends,” she frets. Her friends have a different take. “Over the years,” says freelance news director Andrea Brum, “she’s learned more to balance.”

That includes keeping on an even keel with her husband of 17 years—the “sock thrower” to her neat freak, the ratings-grabbing (“My Lover Tried to Kill Me!”) daytime talk show host to her less breathless persona. At their Middletown, N.J., home and Manhattan apartment, Chung color-coordinates her Armani suits and Manolo Blahnik shoes (“Shopping is my therapy,” she says), while Povich, 63, works on his golf swing and watches Tiger Woods on TV. “You know how you can tell they’re comfortable with each other?” says Barbara Walters. “They argue. They tease each other.” But not too often. Says Phil Donahue: “They’re cheerleaders for each other. There’s no competitive bumping.”

They met in 1969. The youngest of five daughters of William, a financial manager who died in 1990, and his wife, Margaret, 91, Chung was a University of Maryland senior working as a copygirl at WTTG-TV, where Povich was a news anchor and talk show host. “I was bringing coffee to Mr. Povich,” Chung says, “and he barely even knew that I was alive.” Povich, who like Chung was raised in Washington, D.C., had followed his dad, Shirley, a sports columnist who died in ’98, into journalism. (Mom Ethyl, 93, stayed home with their three kids.) Then wed to his college sweetheart, Phyllis Minkoff, the father of two “was cordial but that was about it,” Chung adds.

Chung quickly rose through the ranks. Three years out of college, while covering Watergate, she was one of three female reporters at CBS. “She would joke about how she was doing the boss’s shirts on the side,” says then-colleague Lesley Stahl. Not that she let them off easily. When Chung snagged an interview with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, she pressed on unfazed when, as she recalls, he flirted with her. “It was a turning point for women in television,” says Stahl. “She handled it beautifully.”

Povich came back into Chung’s life in 1977, when they were paired as anchors for a newscast in L.A. He’d had three jobs in 18 months, and his marriage was ending in divorce. “It was the roughest time in my life,” Povich says. “She helped me through it.” After dating on and off for seven years, he proposed while vacationing in Italy. “About six weeks later,” says Povich, “she called because she had found a dress. And [then] she said yes.” In 1984 they were wed by a rabbi before 40 guests in their apartment.

Two years later Povich debuted on A Current Affair, a ratings hit that led to his own successful talk show. With both careers flourishing—Chung had risen to network anchor—they realized there was one big thing missing. “I was classically the ‘I forgot to have a baby’ person,” she says. At age 43, Chung embarked on a five-year quest to get pregnant, but attempts at in vitro fertilization were unsuccessful. It took two years to adopt Matthew, and Chung dropped everything to be a stay-at-home mom. “I didn’t do well uprooting my life,” Chung admits. “After 2½ years, Maury began nagging me to get a job. He knew it would be good for me.”

Five years on they say things have never been better. While Chung dives into her show, which pulled in 858,000 viewers on its first night, Povich, whose show is on hiatus, is spending the summer with Matthew at their 75-acre spread in Montana. “I know my husband,” Chung teases Povich. “You’re going to let Matthew watch a lot of TV.” Maybe if Tiger Woods isn’t on, he’ll at least let the kid watch Mom.

Julie K.L. Dam

Eve Heyn in Middletown