Maury Povich is done with TV and he couldn’t be happier about it

A portrait of Maury Povich in a dark sweater and jacket.
Television personality Maury Povich will soon retire from his daily talk show of 31 years.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Inside a studio in Stamford, Conn., a man and a woman were at each other’s throats.

Tashima and her live-in boyfriend, Darnell, were battling after he accused her of infidelity during their three-year relationship, including sleeping with the mailman. Darnell’s claim that he was not really the father of their young son infuriated Tashima, who demanded he step up, be a parent to his child and “put a ring on it.”


“Look at him! Look at him! You know you lying!” Tashima screamed, gesturing to a large picture of the young boy and singling out his resemblance to Darnell. The only thing louder than the yelling was the gleeful reaction from the packed studio audience.

As the rage escalated, Maury Povich, host of the daytime series “Maury,” tried to calm the couple down, asking them about the future of their relationship. He then reached for a sealed envelope containing the results of a paternity test. The audience cheered with anticipation.

“When it comes to 3-year-old Andro,” announced Povich as he read the results, “Darnell — you are NOT the father!”

As the audience roared, Tashima sprinted off stage. “Oh my God. Oh my God. I can’t live like this!!” she howled as she collapsed backstage, pounding the floor in anguish as Povich and Darnell attempted to comfort her. “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere,” Darnell said, embracing his girlfriend.

Although one crisis was resolved, another one — and another — would be introduced after the commercial break. And in each instance Povich, with a mix of wisdom, authority and warmth, was the calm at the center of the storm, taking on the role of TV’s symbolic father figure, one he’s held for more than three decades.

Until now. The 83-year-old host, who announced earlier this year that he is finally bringing the curtain down on “Maury,” has opened his last envelope. Original episodes will cease to air when the current season comes to an end in September.

Povich, a former newsman and “A Current Affair” anchor, has outlasted a steady stream of competitors amid shifting viewer tastes to become the longest-running daytime talk show host in broadcast TV history. Premiering in 1991 as “The Maury Povich Show,” “Maury” has carved out its own distinctive niche as a circus of human drama starring outrageous characters and showcasing volcanic disputes among warring families, cheating lovers and deadbeat fathers.


The syndicated series has continued to be a solid performer, attracting a daily average of 1.2 million viewers. Povich’s signature catchphrase (“You are/are not the father”), theatrics, backstage tantrums and the “baby daddy dance” performed when participants are pleased with paternity test results have delighted fans and inspired countless GIFs. The show has also drawn fire from critics who say its images are exploitative and offensive.

“I have no more mountains to climb,” Povich told The Times as he relaxed in a Beverly Hills hotel suite earlier this month. A few hours later, he would receive the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award from the National Assn. of Television Programming Executives. Presenting him with the honor was his wife, famed TV journalist and former CBS News anchor Connie Chung.

While many might label “Maury” as lowbrow and disposable, Povich is undeniably proud of the show: “I was able to get as close and intimate with my guests, my audience and my viewers as anyone who has done this type of show. I appreciate the faith and trust they had in me.”

The show also fulfilled his life’s ambitions: to tell stories and help people. “Every single story deserves attention, and I search for the unique quality in that story,” he said. “I’ve always been a good reader of people and getting to the heart of what’s most important about them.”

He quipped that viewers will not really get a chance to miss him. The series, which counts 3,600 episodes, has already been sold in repeats. “My viewers will continue to see me for a long, long time.” (“Maury” airs weekday afternoons on KTLA Channel 5.)

As he reflected on his career and the success of “Maury,” Povich projected the same good-humored geniality that is on display during his show. He continues to be gratified (and surprised) at the series’ longevity, saying, “the great part is when people come up to me and say, ‘I watched you as a kid. I watched you as a grown-up, and now my kids and grandkids are watching you. It’s down to three generations.’”

Maury Povich in half-shadow on a hotel balcony.
Maury Povich
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)


He is the last survivor of the tabloid-flavored daytime talk show era that hit its stride during the 1980s and 1990s and was dominated by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Geraldo Rivera, Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer, Sally Jesse Raphael and others.

“Since this show started in 1991, there are 75 daytime talk shows in the graveyard,” Povich said. “That’s how difficult daytime talk is. And it gets more difficult every year because the audience is shrinking.”

He is also amused by how pop culture has appropriated some of the show’s over-the-top elements. “There are so many GIFs out there. And when I see a Christmas card that says, ‘Joseph, you are not the father...’” Povich’s sentence ends with a shrug and a chuckle.

On “Maury,” which features episodes with titles like “I Can’t Make Girls ... Your Daughter Isn’t Mine,” “Stop the Sex and Fighting ... You’re Only 14,” “You Begged for a Baby, Now You Want a DNA Test?” “Is My Sister’s Boyfriend or His Brother My Baby’s Dad?” and “I Tested the Wrong Guy Before ... Give This New Man a DNA Test!,” onstage battles are accented by flashy graphics, color filters and fast-paced editing. Raucous studio audiences cheer their favorites and boo the bad guys.

Many of the guests come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Some have appeared on the show multiple times, trying to get answers to questions of paternity or infidelity. The series also provides regular updates on former guests.

The appeal of the show transcends racial and gender lines. Young people of color who appear as guests greet Povich as if he is an old friend. Povich said viewers tune in for various reasons: “A lot of people watch for entertainment. Others watch for information. Then there are those who feel, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ They’re in the same boat.”

Asked about his wildest “Maury” moments, Povich recalled an instance when a woman accused a man of being the father of her twins: “I opened the envelope, and he’s the father of one twin but not the other. The twins were fraternal, and in that case it’s possible for two different fathers if the mother is rather active during a certain period of time. It’s a billion-to-one shot, and it happened on my show!”

Several shows in past years featured guests with bizarre phobias. An 18-year-old waitress with an intense fear of pickles fled the stage in terror when a staffer brought out a tray filled with pickles. Another with a fear of kittens almost had a nervous breakdown when someone on stage started petting a white kitten.

One of the most bizarre — and highly publicized — episodes aired last year when superstar rapper Lil Nas X (“Old Town Road”) discussed his love for his music video co-star Yai Ariza, revealing that he was unaware Ariza was married to a woman and had a child. The triangle was played out on stage in what was later revealed to be a stunt by the entertainer to promote his new album.


Among those who’ve lashed out against the show in the past is rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy, who charged Povich and his fellow daytime hosts of exploiting their guests, particularly young Black people. Povich has been questioned regularly by interviewers about his ethics and approach.

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While acknowledging the over-the-top formula of his show, Povich said there is a deeper purpose to “Maury.”

“Yes, there are some theatrics, and I accept it because I have a goal in mind,” he said. “I’ll take it because I’m looking for the truth. If I can prove someone is the father of this child, that child will have a better chance in life with two people, two parents.”

He went on: “I’ve had these critics over the years say I’m exploiting these people, taking advantage of them. They can take that tack. But I feel there’s a [greater] good. And I prove that. I bring these guests back 15 years later and find out that the guy did get into the kid’s life, got together with the mother and they had more kids and the child ended up with a good job.” The daytime host added: “There are a lot of good endings with these stories. I’m not saying it’s the majority of them. But a significant amount shows that the stories and results have been helpful.”


Povich has been plotting to step away from the show for six years. But executives at NBCUniversal, which syndicates the series, would not let him, saying it was too valuable. When he told them two years ago he wanted to retire, they asked for one last extension, adding that this would give his program the title of longest-running TV daytime talk show ever. “I said, ‘Good. That’s when I’m hanging it up.’”

In a separate interview, Chung discussed how fans of “Maury” might be surprised by his off-stage pursuits.

“He’s a voracious reader — our New York apartment is just crammed with books,” she said in a phone interview from the couple’s Montana ranch. “He reads everything — history, biographies, novels. If you ask Maury anything about history — an obscure European war or a past presidency — he has the answer, chapter and verse. It’s equally impressive to me and” — she added with a laugh — “extremely annoying.”

She had encouraged him in the past to change directions: “I’ve asked him, ‘Why don’t you do an intelligent interview show instead of a talk show where you’re determining the paternity of every child in America? You’re so smart, and you have this body of information in your head that you can pull up like a computer.’ And he’ll look at me and say, ‘As long as you know that, I’m fine.’”

Povich is already planning life after “Maury.” He intends to become more involved with the Flathead Beacon, a weekly newspaper in Montana that he and Chung own. The publication is a tribute to Povich’s father, the late Washington Post sports columnist and reporter Shirley Povich. He will also spend more time on the golf course.

But one thing is certain: He’s done with television.

“My hero throughout my entire career was Johnny Carson,” Povich said. “I knew him a little bit. The way he went out was the right way. He was never seen again. I have no desire to be on TV again. This is the end of a great job, and there’s no reason to try something else. We’ve seen too many athletes try to hang on too long. I don’t want to be in that company.”