Now Here's the News

CBS News announced yesterday that Bob Ferrante, who got the network's all-night news show, "Nightwatch," off the ground last October, has been named executive producer of "CBS Morning News," effective immediately . . .

He replaces George Merlis, who, before joining "CBS Morning News" in December 1981 had been the architect of the very successful "Good Morning America" at ABC . . .

Merlis, who joined CBS two months after losing out in a "GMA" power struggle, almost totally revamped "CBS Morning News," the perennial doormat of the early morning network rivalry . . .

As the program was expanded to a full, competitive two hours, he brought in Bill Kurtis from Chicago to team with Diane Sawyer as anchors, replaced Gordon Barnes with Steve Deshler as weatherman and Ray Gandolf with Jim Kelly as sports commentator . . .

Although the CBS program still has a long way to go before catching NBC's "Today" and "GMA," it has made substantial progress in the ratings during its 14 months under Merlis . . .

Merlis has been assigned to create a new prime-time magazine program for CBS News, which could be on the air by 1984 . . .

"I think it's a terrific opportunity," Merlis said yesterday. "The changes have been in their CBS News executives' heads for a while" . . .

As for leaving "CBS Morning News," Merlis said, "it will be nice to sleep in in the morning for a change and run a weekly program" . . .

He declined to discuss the new program except to say "it will be a back-of-the-book kind of show. I shudder to call it a 'magazine;' it'll be different" . . .

He said he was not disappointed to leave "Morning News," although there were still "a couple of little things I'd like to have tried . . .

"The nice thing is we improved the program without copying the other guys and without going for a show full of fluff" . . .

CBS News executive vice president Ed Joyce said yesterday that the move was "unrelated to ratings. The show improved tremendously during George's tenure. He made a real contribution" . . .

Joyce, who is in day-to-day charge of "Morning News," says he expects no immediate changes as Ferrante takes over . . .

"I don't foresee anything until he gets his feet wet. He's a very bright, creative guy, very well organized" . . .

No replacement for Ferrante at "Nightwatch" has been named . . .

Ferrante, who once toiled for CBS-owned WBBM in Chicago, returned to CBS last year from WGBH in Boston, where he had been executive producer of the public station's current affairs group for more than 10 years . . .

CBS News took pains to point out yesterday that under Merlis, "CBS Morning News" is up 32 percent in rating and 23 percent in audience share for the season-to-date, compared with the same 20-week period a year ago . . .

That, according to CBS, compares with a 19 percent decline in ratings and a 14 percent drop in shares for NBC's "Today" and a 4 percent drop in ratings and a 2 percent share loss for ABC's "Good Morning America" over the same periods . . .

Be that as it may, "CBS Morning News" is still considerably behind its two early morning rivals . . .

In the most recent weekly ratings . . . "GMA" had a 5.9 Nielsen count and a 27 percent audience share, compared with "Today's" 4.6/21 and "CBS Morning News' " 3.3/15 . . . Moving Right Along

Well, you've got to admit it was nice of Bo . . .

There on CBS was one of the Old Dukes, back on the "Dukes of Hazzard" for the first time this season, telling Coy and Vance Friday night as the Two New Dukes left, suitcases in hand, for what promises to be a very long visit with ailing Uncle Elbert . . . "you're good Dukes and don't you ever forget it" . . .

The New Dukes probably won't forget it, either, since they didn't even make it past the first commercial break . . . and since the ratings went up the minute they left . . .

Nielsen overnights in the top three markets (particularly Chicago) indicated that the fans were mighty glad to see the Old Dukes back . . .

In New York, where they're not into Rural, the overnight audience share for that series share edged up from a 15 on Feb. 18 (the last New Dukes episode) to an 18 last Friday . . .

In Chicago, where Rural is in, "Dukes" went from a 17 to a 26 and in L.A., from a 15 to a 21 . . .

Last year, with Bo and Luke (John Schneider and Tom Wopat) aboard, "Dukes" finished seventh in the overall prime-time rankings for the season . . .

After a midsummer contract beef, Warner Bros. replaced the Old Dukes with a pair of New Dukes (Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer) and by the time the Old Dukes had signed up again and returned to the weekly production, they had ridden the General Lee down to 37th in this year's rankings . . .

Channel 9 reports that through noon yesterday its one-week blood donor campaign marking the departure of "M*A*S*H" had resulted in 3,900 pints of blood for the Red Cross and the station expected to reach the 4,000 goal by the time the Farewell Telecast was aired . . .

As the February sweeps wound down Sunday night that trend toward renewed interest in network fare seemed to be holding up . . .

During the 9-to-11 time period when all three network movies were head-to-head . . . ABC, CBS and NBC together drew 91 percent of the sets-in-use in the three top markets . . .

CBS' TV premiere of the movie "9 to 5" attracted a 33 share in New York, a 42 in Chicago and a 36 in L.A. . . .

ABC's "Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land" had a 31 in all three markets and NBC's "Cocaine: One Man's Seduction" had a 25 in N.Y., a 19 in Chicago and a 24 in L.A. . . .

NBC is toying with the idea of making Sidney Sheldon's "Rage of Angels" into a series . . . if the network can land Jaclyn Smith for the lead . . . Wait, There's More

The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf, whose hearing-impaired TV viewer-members last year voted WRC's George Michael, WDVM's Maureen Bunyan and WJLA's Tim Brant as having the "most lip-readable lips on TV" in the Washington market . . . is adding a national competition this year . . .

The local contest opens March 3, the birthday of A.G. Bell . . . and the winner(s) will be announced in May, which happens to be Better Hearing and Speech Month . . .

Last year's local winners got a mention on ABC News' "Nightline" . . .

In addition to the local contest, ballots this year will be distributed nationally bearing the photos, to help with identification, of NBC's Roger Mudd and Tom Brokaw; CBS' Dan Rather; ABC's Frank Reynolds, Peter Jennings and Max Robinson; and PBS' Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil . . .

No date yet on when that winner will be announced . . .