Maybe you think she's just a little too much. Too much the cheery TV mom, not enough the news anchor.

But you've still got to love Joan Lunden.

You've got to love a woman who, criticized as overweight, tells a network TV executive: Fine, I'll go home. Fine, I'll be with my new baby. I knowcked myself out to be here three weeks after having my child but, fine find yourself someone 15 pounds lighter.

And you've got to love a woman who changes her mind and stays, rude comments notwithstanding, because she's savvy enough to figure America is waking up to say Good Morning to her, not some network executive.

Besides, she makes $700,000 a year, give or take a dime.

Joan is nothing if not practical.

And pretty, give or take 15 pounds.

"I just want you to know," Joan confides to 800 women in North Miami Beach, "that since I began my diet July 17, I've lost 22 pounds." If it hadn't been for the babies in their laps, the women would have stood up and cheered.

Because they know how hard it is to lose 22 pounds between work and 3 a.m. feedings and mindless snacking on Zweiback and Pablum. And they know how hard that is to admit.

Nearly all of the women who came to hear America's Favorite Mommy at the Sixth Annual Baby Expo at North Shore Hospital recently are young mothers. Women who want to do the best by their children and their careers but don't quite know how. Don't quite know how to tell their husbands and their mothers they can't do it all.

"You can do a lot," Joan assures her TV friends. "But, you can't do it all. Don't feel bad about that. Don't let anybody make you feel bad about that. Nobody can do it all. Nobody should have to do it all."

They love her for saying that. They love her even though they never will be able to do what she does - hire a nanny, employ a chauffeur, get their hair done every morning and look gorgeous by 7 a.m.

And that's Joan's hat trick. That she has all that and still gets away with speaking as the woman in the frayed chenille robe with burnt toast on the table and baby burp on her shoulder. You should hear her rail against inadequate day care.

Joan's second hat trick is that she also speaks as the woman in the Brooks Brothers suit who is trying to make lunch, make deadline, make a board meeting, make her 7-year-old's ballet recital, all without making herself crazy.

Not bad for a woman once dismissed as a bubble-head, a cuff link, a floor lamp.

In the days when David Hartman was czar/host of Good Morning America, Joan didn't rate with anybody but the viewers. Although she thought she had negotiated a job as co-host of GMA, Hartman insisted that he be the only title holder.

And that Joan be a perky throw pillow. A pretty thing to laugh at David's banter, the pet to introduce the Alpo commercials.

"People use to write me in the days when I was set decoration and tell me I should demand co-host status. That I was doing a disservice to women," Joan says. "I'd write back and ask them if I should quit. If when the powers that be said no, what then?

"I'd write back and tell them I thought it made more sense for me to hang in there and make myself valuable."

So, if David Hartman was going to talk detente (something he knew nothing about) then she would talk diapers (something she knew everything about).

And guess who America listened to?

Joan Lunden.

In person, up close, enjoying a little champagne and orange juice with crackers and cheese at The Alexander hotel on Miami Beach, Joan is what you'd expect. Easygoing, direct, cheerful.

She has had the good grace to age, acquire a few lines around her eyes, her mouth, her neck. A fact that apparently worries her publicist, who issues hazy studio photos of a younger Joan and refuses to allow photos of this Joan.

She looks as if she ponders over produce, and she does.

She and her husband, producer Michael Krauss, hold Cleaver-family values. They believe dinner time is family time, a good time is eating dinner out. They don't smoke, they don't drink much, and they have never seen cocaine.

Joan blushes, bless her, embarrassed that they sound so square.

"I don't want you to think we're boring people," she says. "It's just that we both have very exciting jobs and we get enough highs in our lives without jet-setting around.

"We're not fuddy-duddy."

But they are a tad conservative.

When looking for a nanny, they placed ads in The New York Times, but all the women were too, too New York. So Joan and Michael flew to the Midwest, to a small parochial college to interview young women.

"We wanted someone who had strong family values, someone who wanted to get married and have children herself someday," Joan explains.

She can't understand not wanting children. And she can't stop talking about them.

Joan talks about her three girls, Jamie, Lindsay and Sarah, all the time. Off and on the air.

Surprisingly, this baby talk doesn't turn off viewers, it draws them. Joan has built a healthy following as host of the Lifetime cable series Mother's Day - the program she and her husband created to fight boredom during the Hartman/GMA years.

And it's babies and having babies that Joan says made her a star on GMA, where she now has equal status with veteran newsman and all-around nice guy Charlie Gibson.

As Shelley Fisher of Tamarac, Fla., says: "I watched her through her pregnancies and she has been my mother role model for years. I see GMA every morning, every episode of Mother's Day, and I've read all her child-rearing books. And I don't even have children yet."

Joan has gone full-term on the tube three times. All the while sitting in a den with no west wall, listening to a director whisper in her earpiece, coffee-klatching with Prince Charles, Eddie Van Halen, chimpanzees and the animal trainer from the Columbus, Ohio, zoo.

She's not terribly cerebral, analytical or even particularly authoritative.

She's info-tainment, not hard news. She makes the news palatable by serving it up like milk and cookies.

And she's satisfied with that. Because she's successful in a market that can't decide between hard-polished Jane Pauleys and Diane Sawyers and mush-minded Phyllis Georges and Mariette Hartleys.

It's a fine line. But this is not the high-wire act it appears because she can take it or leave it. It's fun, it's easy, it's just Joan being Joan.

She'll take it.