NEW YORK — Connie Chung has resurfaced as a correspondent for ABC News, months after plans for a DreamWorks talkshow unraveled and two years after CBS fired her from her last network gig.
Chung, 51, who signed a three-year deal with ABC News chairman Roone Arledge, will contribute primarily to two current newsmagazines — “PrimeTime Live” and “20/20” — and also will be available as a substitute anchor for those programs as well as “World News Tonight” and “Nightline.” Her payday is estimated at $2 million a year.
“We’ve been after her a long time,” Arledge enthused in his first-ever conference call with reporters. “And we are particularly blessed in that I think we have the strongest group of women correspondents at any network.”
With Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and others fighting for key newsmaker interviews — known as “gets” in the news business — some say Chung could face plenty of internal competition to land them, but Arledge dodged the issue, saying he’d “adjudicate” any disputes simply by “determining who has the best shot of getting” an interview. “The overall aim is that ABC News gets the interview instead of one of our competitors.”
Sawyer’s recent contract extension allows her more time to report stories outside the studio, so Chung could be called in quickly to anchor “PrimeTime,” which like “20/20” has not used substitutes.
Chung, better known as an anchor than reporter, had her own primetime newsmags, CBS’ “Face to Face” in 1989-90 and “Eye to Eye” from 1993 to 1995, when the network dismissed her after a failed experiment that had her co-anchoring the “CBS Evening News” with Dan Rather.
A low point came when Chung coaxed Newt Gingrich’s mother to quote her son describing Hillary Clinton as “a bitch,” promising it was just “between you and me.” But Arledge defended Chung, saying CBS news managers should “take responsibility for what goes out on the air,” and ABC News prexy David Westin said the network had “no reservations” about hiring her in light of what some perceived to be her damaged credibility.
Chung became available earlier this spring when the planned DreamWorks show, teaming Chung with her husband, Maury Povich, fell apart when the distributor couldn’t secure top-market clearances. Povich then extended his own “Maury Povich Show,” which moves from Paramount to Universal next fall, and Chung began a courtship with ABC, which briefly considered her for a role on “Good Morning America.”
Chung starts at ABC on Nov. 17.