Bringing the Connie Chung touch back to network news

Connie Chung is back on network news and NBC has her, after more than 10 years on CBS. She is newly signed to anchor the ''NBC News at Sunrise'' - formerly known as ''Early Today'' - (NBC, 6-7 a.m., weekdays, starting Aug. 1) and the Saturday edition of ''NBC Nightly News.''

Lots of speculation preceded her switchover:

* In moving from KNXT-TV, the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, to NBC News , Miss Chung was supposed to be taking a pay cut from her reputed $600,000 -a-year salary (which would make her the highest-paid local anchor person in the United States).

* In light of the slipping ''Today'' ratings, NBC News is said to be considering Miss Chung and Chuck Scarborough for the spots now occupied by Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel.

* Miss Chung is talked about as a candidate to replace regular anchors Tom Brokaw or Roger Mudd on ''NBC Nightly News.''

Before she left her home on California to continue her apartment hunt in New York a few weeks ago, Miss Chung wandered over to the Century Plaza Hotel for breakfast. Articulate and knowledgeable, she radiates a refreshing air of honesty and good nature. Often, her answer to a question is simply a deep, throaty laugh which seems to say, ''Oh, come on now, you don't really expect me to answer that question.''

What about the possibility of anchoring ''Today'' and ''Nightly News''?

''I'd be shocked if it happened. I've never had any discussions with NBC executives regarding the 'Today' show. And I'll be very satisfied to be a reporter on 'Nightly News,' covering 1984 political stories, I hope.''

Miss Chung feels that the criticism of network news for being a headline service is justified.

''If you want more information in depth, you must read it in print. The charm and the great value of TV news is that viewers actually see precisely what is happening. The Vietnam war was brought home to viewers by TV. And nobody could possibly describe the expression on Henry Kissinger's face when he said that peace was at hand. Viewers were able to see it themselves and draw their own conclusions.''

She also believes that one-hour network evening news is important and necessary. ''But I realize it is extraordinarily difficult to get that time cleared by network affiliated stations. However, the first network that presents a one-hour newscast will be the smartest.''

In Los Angeles, her station has a reputation for concentrating on hard news despite the fact that opposition stations sometimes get higher ratings with ''happy talk'' news.

''As far as I'm concerned,'' she insists, ''whatever the ratings say, I consider us No. 1 because we concentrated on major important issues.

''Politics is my main interest - I feel that covering what goes on in Washington, my hometown, is of major concern to everybody. And covering candidates during the primaries and elections reveals as much about America as it does about the individual candidates.''

Which candidate would she like to cover in 1984?

''You're asking me who I think will get the nomination, aren't you?'' she responds, laughing once again. ''Well, all I can tell you is, I'd like to cover the winner.

''I'll tell you something interesting - it has been my experience that all the candidates seem awesome in the beginning. But after you see them every day, you get to recognize their weaknesses and their blemishes. Soon you have to keep from saying: 'This guy for president? You must be kidding!' ''

Miss Chung began her career as a copyperson with CBS in Washington, later becoming an on-air news reporter. Then she moved to the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, where she has received numerous awards, including two local Emmys.

Is she concerned about too much personal exposure when covering a candidate?

''Yes. A few years ago when Roger Mudd was covering Henry Jackson in the primaries, I was walking alongside them and I kept hearing people say, 'Who is that with Roger Mudd?' Well, it hasn't happened to me that way yet, and I hope it never will.''

Has being a woman ever been a hindrance on the job?

''When I was covering the McGovern campaign in 1972, (David) Schumacher was CBS's No. 1, and I was only the second string. It drove me crazy, because he was always getting stories from McGovern in the men's room. Is that the kind of hindrance you mean?'' - and she laughs that hearty steak-and-potatoes laugh.

Has being Oriental ever proved a hindrance?

''Well,'' she says thoughtfully - but there is still a hint of a twinkle in the suddenly serious eyes - ''in the early days there were good-natured jokes, but they only came from colleagues. I do the lines first so then they can all forget about them.''

Does Connie Chung dream about being a network nightly news anchor one day?

''My dreams are much more ambitious than that. I figure on being the first woman to land on Jupiter.''

Miss Chung is unmarried. Does she plan to have a family as well as a career?

''That's a real dilemma for me,'' she says, and there is no hint of laughter this time. ''It's very difficult for a woman to have a family and still give 100 percent to her career. I am not a superwoman - I cannot go to work, bear three children, prepare dinner for five unexpected guests, work out at a gym, play tennis, jog, etc. So I have only my work.''

Connie doesn't expect anyone else to have the answer, but it is apparent that it is a serious question which she is trying to answer for herself. Meanwhile, though, has she managed to find an apartment in Manhattan?

''No! The rents are outrageous. And you get a matchbox in New York for the same rent that brings you a great apartment here. And they don't even have Jacuzzis in New York.'' She chuckles again, since she has already revealed that the California life style is not really hers.

On $500,000 a year, it shouldn't be too hard for Miss Chung to pay inflated New York rental prices.

She stands up, shakes her head vigorously, points her finger at me, and chortles: ''Now, remember, you said $500,000, not me!''

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