By Nick Charles
May 18, 1998 12:00 PM

Like many teenagers, Kevin Newman gave his parents reason to fret. The problem wasn’t sex, drugs or body piercing but something, perhaps, even weirder. “I was the only political wonk in the family,” says Newman, now 38. “I was a news junkie. I’d be the one who would get really excited on convention night. My family would sort of look at me and worry.”

More than 20 years and many moving vans later, his obsession has paid off splendidly. Last week the Toronto-born TV newsman replaced Charles Gibson on ABC’s Good Morning America, becoming only the third man to cohost in the program’s 22-year history. Newman, who has sat in for Gibson during the past seven months, will team with Lisa McRee, 36, who replaced Joan Lunden last September. “It becomes like a marriage,” says Newman of the new pairing. “We’ve been dating a while, and I guess we’re now moving in together.”

It’s a union that ABC devoutly hopes will flourish—and help GMA keep pace with its perennial rival, NBC’s Today show, which has held a significant ratings edge for the last two years. So far, Newman has at least America’s rank-and-file on his side. “The crew, they know who’s genuine and who’s phony,” says Gibson, 55. “A lot of them have been around for the full 22 years. And they are very supportive of Kevin.” Gibson, himself laid-back, says Newman has the even temperament necessary for success. “A sort of personality that overwhelms you is not going to work in the morning,” adds Gibson, who will stay with ABC News. “This is very much a marathon, as opposed to a sprint, and quick impressions don’t count.”

Indeed, the first impression Newman makes—one that has been critical to his career and his love life—is that he’s your basic nice guy, the one you bring home to meet your parents. His wife, the former Cathy Kearns, fell for the effect 16 years ago. They were both gofers for Global News, a regional Canadian network based in Toronto, when he asked her out. “We’re an unlikely couple because she was a knockout and I was a nerd,” says Newman. To impress her, Newman borrowed a car with Global News in big letters on the side. “I pulled up for the date and thought I was like the hottest thing imaginable,” he says. “And so did she, so it worked!”

As their relationship grew and as Newman advanced, covering national and international politics, Cathy, now 40, stayed at home with their two children, Alex, 11, and Erica, 8. Very much a family man, Newman consulted with Cathy and the kids before taking the GMA job. He explained to them that the new job would mean his spending less time with them, though he wouldn’t be flying all over the world. Both children were encouraging. “Dad, you’re the guy that takes challenges,” said Alex. “If you don’t take a challenge, you won’t be happy.”

Perhaps he enjoys challenges because he keeps landing on his feet. Working on his college newspaper—University of Western Ontario’s Gazette—he persevered and obtained a one-on-one interview with then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “I’m always impressed,” says his mother, Sheila, a legal assistant (dad George, now retired, was a sales manager for Bell Canada). “I think he’s versatile…he’s not just a newsman.” His first professional job, as a general assignment reporter with Global News, didn’t pay much, but Newman relished the wealth of opportunity. “With no unions, you could shoot, you could write and you could edit,” he says. He continued to move up the ladder in Canada, at one time covering the Canadian parliament for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, before moving to the U.S. in 1994 to anchor on ABC’s World News Now.

His big moment came last year when he was on weekend duty and news broke of Princess Diana’s death. “I was at home, and I got the call that she had been in an accident and to get in as fast as I could,” Newman recalls. “I arrived at 9:30 p.m. and was on the air at 9:38. Luckily I had covered Diana a couple of times on royal visits. I was privileged to see the moment when she came racing aboard the Britannia to hug her kids.”

Newman’s clutch performance got him short-listed for the GMA slot. Although he comes from a news background, he says he’s comfortable with the over-easy stories that are a large part of the morning show menu. “I like interviews with heart,” says Newman.

Okay. So whom would he most like to interview one of these mornings? “Leonard Nimoy!” says Newman. “I grew up watching Star Trek. He’d hate this, but…Mr. Spock! That would be kind of cool.”

Nick Charles

Cynthia Wang in New York City