Now Here's the News

Washington area writer Bob Ward, whose fourth novel "Red Baker" -- about an unemployed Baltimore steelworker -- has been getting rave reviews since its recent debut, has been named story editor of NBC's "Hill Street Blues" . . .

He came to the attention of the "Hill Street" producers with a script for the series -- which is undergoing a revamp this coming season -- and expects to write "one or two more" during the year for the show . . .

His movie script for the gritty "Red Baker" has been purchased by producer/actor Stuart Margolin, who will be appearing in several of this season's early "Hill Street" episodes, coincidentally . . .

Ward's unabashed appreciation for the tough life of policemen he's known and palled around with in Baltimore and, particularly, in Washington's 3rd District apparently impressed "Hill Street" producers during the negotiations . . .

Sam Neill, the New Zealander who plays the enigmatic Sidney Reilly in the PBS series "Reilly: Ace of Spies" will be on hand the evening of Thursday, Aug. 22, when Channel 26 airs the final two episodes of "Ace" in its current rerun . . .

Sid's visit will be a highlight of the 14-night WETA fund-raising effort that gets under way Aug. 15 . . .

Channel 5 has renewed its rights to the syndicated "M*A*S*H" reruns through 1993 . . .

Five promises that the package of 255 episodes, which includes two never before seen in this market, will look even better the next time(s) around because there will be new prints for every episode . . .

Five also announced that, starting Sept. 23, "M*A*S*H" moves to the 7 p.m. week night spot, a response to the success of "Wheel of Fortune" on Channel 9 in its old 7:30 time slot . . .

"Taxi" will move into "M*A*S*H's" previous time slot the same night . . .

"Wheel" beat "M*A*S*H" in the latest (July) ratings book locally, but the Arbitron book gives the gang from the 4077th a 14 rating and a 27 percent audience share average for the month against a 12/24 for "Wheel" . . .

While a 14 rating is plenty strong, it's been some time since "M*A*S*H" was killing the competition at 7:30 with its 20 ratings and 48 shares . . . Racing Rapidly Along

Fruit flies have been bothering the staff at the CBS News Washington bureau at 2020 M St. NW for several summers now . . .

This year, the problem's been even worse and seemed to increase during the marathon coverage of the TWA hijacking crisis in June, when snacking on the job increased as everybody pulled extra duty . . .

Last weekend, the bureau was sprayed and now a memo has been circulated reminding folks to take more care in disposing of leftover food . . .

Greg Coy, who has been with WXEX, the ABC affiliate in Richmond the past two years, has been signed by Channel 5 as a general assignment reporter. He comes on board Aug. 26 . . .

Among recently announced winners of William Benton Foundation fellowships in broadcast journalism: Carol Blakeslee, a producer in Washington for the "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour," and Julie Hartenstein, an associate producer in New York for ABC News' "Nightline" . . .

They and other winners will attend the University of Chicago for six months, starting in September, taking academic courses of their choice . . .

The "Late Night With David Letterman" show attracted its highest weekly TV ratings ever two weeks ago, apparently with the help of appearances by Atlanta Braves pitcher Terry Forster and comedian Pee-wee Herman . . .

Letterman had a 4.2 Nielsen rating and a 21 percent audience share, highest yet for his 3 1/2 years on the air . . . Wait, There's More

Last week, Channel 13 in New York, demonstrably the most powerful station in the Public Broadcasting Service lineup (being in the biggest TV market, and all), met with major ad agencies in Manhattan to push a new, more aggressive campaign to sell 30-second commercial spots during selected time periods of a broadcast day in the upcoming season . . .

The idea was not all that new at WNET. The station has been doing it for the past two years but, minus a serious sales force behind it, without much success . . .

First reaction to the announcement was dismay, although it was muffled considerably by the absence of vacationing public broadcasting executives and potential foes in Congress . . .

Even "CBS Evening News" on Friday night took a humorous swipe at the drive for commercials, suggesting that if the idea catches on, in a system faced with dwindling federal funds and a drying up of corporate underwriting, it would only move public TV closer to resembling its commercial rivals at CBS, NBC and ABC . . .

WNET's sales plan may be worrisome to purists but as a fundraiser it's no great shakes. At $1,500 per 30-second ad for corporations ($1,000 for not-for-profit organizations), WNET at best would raise about $1.2 million next year from the ads, against an annual operating budget of $84 million . . .

Twenty-five percent of the WNET total comes from viewer pledges, another 25 from the sale of WNET-produced programs to other stations, and 35 percent from corporate underwriting. Only seven percent of WNET's funds come from Uncle Sam . . .

WNET, in the grand tradition of public broadcasting, is not calling the 30-second spots "commercials" . . . They're known as "general support announcements" . . .

The 30-second guidelines set by WNET permit about seven seconds of outright advertising, with the other 23 seconds devoted to the "general support message," which must fit within three categories: It must "salute" Channel 13 as an institution or good programming source; support other cultural institutions, like the Museum of Modern Art; or have a public interest function (i.e., get out the vote) . . .

Each ad will be crafted for the upscale WNET audience, but advertisers will not be able to place their ads in specific time slots of their choice for maximum impact (a key strategy among commercial network time buyers) . . .

One 30-second ad (or GSA, if you will) would be available during the half-hour "lunchtime learning strip" at noon, with two available between 3 and 4 p.m. on weekdays during the "how to" block of programs, and up to six more between 6 p.m. and sign off . . .

The spots will also be available -- a maximum of two each hour -- all day on Saturday and Sunday . . .

Each ad will be "buffered" on the hour by 30-second program promotion spots leading in and out of the ads, in part to avoid confusion with the promotion material that is aired on behalf of the underwriting corporation that is sponsoring the programs themselves . . .

What's bothering the critics: Between the ads, the promotions, the station break and the underwriter identification, WNET will devote up to 2 1/2 minutes on the hour to nonprogramming, which is just about what the big boys at the networks do . . . And Finally

The Los Angeles Times reports that Mike Farrell, who operated for eight years on Korean War victims for "M*A*S*H," "found himself in a real operating room this weekend helping a Los Angeles doctor perform surgery on a captured Salvadoran guerrilla commander . . .

"Under heavy police guard, Farrell and neurosurgeon Alejandro Sanchez worked for 2 1/2 hours to restore use of the right hand of Nidia Diaz, a commander of the Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers, a faction of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front," the Times reported . . .

Farrell, who has been active in human rights and refugee work in Central America for the past three years, told the Times that Sanchez told him he needed help just before the operation at an unidentified private clinic in San Salvador . . .

"He said, 'When I say cut, I want you to cut. When I say retract, you retract. You know how to do that?' He gave me a book on tendon surgery in the car on the way over," Farrell told the Times.

During the operation, Farrell "helped to keep skin and muscle away from nerves and tendons on which the doctor was working," he said. He said he also helped to weave a tendon from Diaz's index finger to her thumb to give her use of the thumb," the Times reported . . .

The operation on Diaz was arranged by Medical Aid for El Salvador, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides medical supplies and humanitarian assistance, usually to civilian casualties of the war . . .

Sand Brim, executive director of Medical Aid, said the group got involved in the Diaz case because "she felt she was being denied proper medical treatment" . . .

Farrell said he traveled to San Salvador as an observer of the operation for Amnesty International. He said he has had no medical training and had had no intention of participating in the actual procedure . . .

Diaz was operated on late Friday. Farrell asserted that Sanchez needed his help because the case was "too much of a hot potato" for local surgical aides to handle . . .

"I know this is going to look like a stunt," said Farrell, "but that's too bad. It isn't." . . .