Oprah: I remember when you got that job. It was the dream job we all wanted! I had an agent who told me, "You're never going to get a position like that, because they already have Bryant Gumbel and there's only going to be one black person on network television." I said, "Can you just send my tape in?" I thought I could be a substitute for Joan Lunden. But anyway, you had the dream job....
Maria: Yes, I took the CBS job three weeks after I got engaged to Arnold, and I moved to New York to start working. I was thrilled. Those coanchor morning-show gigs were among the few on the networks that seemed locked down forever.
Oprah: So why did you get fired?
Maria: You know, I'm still unclear about that! [Laughs.] I thought I was doing really well. But the morning news show had been troubled. Of the three networks, our ratings at CBS were the lowest.
Oprah: You didn't care, though, right?
Maria: Oh, no. I was one of three women on a morning show! That's two hours. Live. I loved it.
Oprah: Even though you had to get up at dawn?
Maria: Loved it. I had moved into a hotel. I was working with Forrest Sawyer, whom I liked, and there were no expectations because we were in third place. I could do every conceivable subject: politics, culture, the arts. And I was getting paid more than I'd ever thought possible. Although I was engaged, I was single in New York City, and everything about it was terrific. Then CBS decided to move the Morning News from the news division to the entertainment division, and we were canceled. We got the news over a fax while we were in London covering the Sarah Ferguson–Prince Andrew royal wedding. I was shocked. I had assumed incorrectly that this group of colleagues was an extension of my family—they were all my best friends. My whole life revolved around these people.
Oprah: That's right. People at work do become your family.
Maria: I remember walking out of CBS and saying to myself, "I am never going back in that building again." I was so hurt and humiliated. In my mind, I was the first person in my family to fail. I'd gotten married by that point, so I moved back to L.A. and thought, "Now what?"
Oprah: Is that what you thought when you lost the NBC job, too?
Maria: Yes, but even more so. When I lost my job at CBS, I was 30 and childless; I felt like I could just start over. But when I lost my job at NBC, I was 48 with four children, and I was a Democrat in a Republican administration. All I kept thinking was, "Where will I go?"
Oprah: Just who will you be?
Maria: Exactly. I suddenly found myself lost and yet in a familiar place. When you grow up in a political family, you're trotted out a lot, and you're never exactly clear what you're doing. You're in a political pamphlet, in a commercial, at an event. You're part of a story. You have your role in that story.
Oprah: Tell me about that role.
Maria: As a child, it was just to be part of the Kennedy family. I was aware of the importance of having the family in the picture when someone ran for office. Politics is about competition, policy, and inspiration, but it's also about appearances.