Now Here's the News

Our Columbus Circle Bureau Chief reported yesterday that "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report" is about to sign an executive producer to replace Al Vecchione, who later this year moves up to executive vice president and g.m. of MacNeil/Lehrer-Gannett Productions . . .

PBS stations recently voted for an expanded, one-hour week night version of "MacNeil/Lehrer," which will hit the network sometime this summer . . .

But the organization has been quietly on the look-out for Vecchione's replacement for nearly a year, as the prospects for the expanded version brightened . . .

Insiders at WNET (which coproduces "MacNeil/Lehrer" with WETA) say that some time ago Robert (Shad) Northshield, executive producer of "CBS Sunday Morning," turned down an offer from "MacNeil/Lehrer" . . .

A leading contender for the job is now considered to be Lester Crystal . . . president of NBC News from October 1977 until September 1979 and currently NBC News vice president, affiliate news serv- ices . . .

The highly regarded Crystal, who was in charge of NBC documentaries in the early 1970s, was named senior executive producer, political coverage, when William Small replaced him as News president . . .

CBS Entertainment yesterday announced changes in its Monday, Tuesday and Sunday night schedules . . .

The network also made another change in the schedule for Monday, Feb. 28 . . . and will now air "Alice" in the 8 p.m. time slot preceeding the blockbuster 2 1/2-hour finale of "M*A*S*H" . . .

The manuever makes a certain kind of crazy sense . . . considering that it's "Alice" that will be moving into "M*A*S*H's" old 9 p.m. Monday time slot starting the very next week . . .

In addition to announcing three limited-run sitcoms, the network also said yesterday that "One Day at a Time" will trade places with "Newhart" in the 9:30 p.m. Monday slot starting March 7 (the night after a final 9:30 p.m. appearance by "One Day" in the Sunday schedule) . . .

"Newhart" starts in the 9:30 p.m. Sunday time slot on March 13 and will have its last Monday airing Feb. 21 . . .

Also on Monday, March 7, at 8:30 p.m. . . . CBS will introduce "Small & Frye," starring Darren McGavin and Jack Blessing . . .

That time period has been unsettled for CBS ever since "Private Benjamin" went AWOL shortly after the first of the year . . .

"Filthy Rich," the most recent occupant, goes bye-bye after the Feb. 14 appearance, and is not expected to return (another giant step for Personkind, that) . . .

In "Small & Frye," which gets a six-week tryout, McGavin plays a contemporary private eye "with a 1930s self-image" . . .

His partner, because of a laboratory accident, periodically shrinks to just six inches, which probably helps a lot on the job but could prove to be an embarrassment once in a while, too, like when you're out driving on the Beltway all by your- self . . .

Starting Tuesday, March 15 . . . CBS brings in two sitcoms as it revamps the 8 to 9 p.m. schedule . . . previously held down by Walt Disney . . .

The Disney hour, which may return in reruns, makes its last appearance Feb. 15, and the slot will be filled with special programming until mid-March . . .

In at 8 p.m. Tuesdays for five weeks, starting March 15, will be "Ace Crawford, Private Eye," a sitcom starring Tim Conway as a bumbler in a trench coat who is un- aware that he's catnip to the ladies . . .

Ace and his part-time assistant, played by Joe Regalbuto, hang out in a waterfront bar run by tiny Billy Barty (CBS Entertainment seems to be into short people this spring) . . .

At 8:30 Tuesdays for six weeks, starting March 15, will be "Gun Shy," a sitcom set in the Old West town of Quake City, Calif., where a good-natured gambler tries to raise the two children he won in a card game . . .

This spinoff of a couple of "Apple Dumpling Gang" Disney movies stars Barry Van Dyke as the gambler and Keith Mitchell and Bridget Anderson as the kiddies . . . Moving Right Along

The Wednesday night edition (Part 4) of "The Winds Of War" on ABC attracted a 58 percent audience share in New York, a 52 in Chicago and a 57 in Los Angeles . . . according to A.C. Nielsen overnight rat- ings . . .

National Nielsens for Tuesday night show that Part 3 of "Winds" had a 38.7 rating and a 54 share . . .

Part 1 had a 39.1/53 and Part 2 scored a 40.2/54 . . .

Putting it all together, ABC researchers now estimate that a total of 110 million viewers looked at some portion of the first three episodes . . .

Bonnie Winings, who used to work for the Public Broadcasting Service here . . . has been named director of development at KCET, the public TV station in Los An- geles . . .

She had been manager of publicity . . .

KCET, incidentally, seems to be nearly out of the financial woods . . .

Faced with a deficit of nearly $1.5 million a year ago, the station has since undergone a reorganization . . . that eventually cost KCET president James Loper his job . . .

His replacement, William H. Kobin, reported at a recent board meeting that as of Dec. 31, KCET actually had a $262,000 surplus and that long-term indebtedness had been greatly decreased . . .