Now Here's the News

That Dallas-N.Y. Giants game on ABC Sunday night averaged a 17.6 rating and a 29 percent audience share in the 10 major cities metered by A.C. Nielsen . . .

In Washington, even after a long afternoon of NFL games on CBS and NBC, the game between two of the Redskins' toughest NFC East rivals attracted a 21.2/37 on Channel 7 . . .

A cloud no larger than a written proposal is on the horizon of PBS' "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" as word circulates that the Maryland Public Television stations and the New Jersey Network (composed of four UHF TV public stations in that state) plan to coproduce a nightly half-hour news and public affairs program that could be on PBS not later than July 1, 1986 . . .

The proposal for "America Tonight" has already weathered a preliminary round in the PBS stations' annual bidding cooperative, receiving a tentative okay from 105 of the 172 licensees who purchase programs for the system while finishing 31st among 40 programs that are due to be considered further at the Program Fair in Philadelphia next month ("MacNeil/Lehrer" finished 19th with 127 licensee votes) . . .

The stations, however, will start talking money in the December bidding round that follows . . .

And that's where the big plus for "America Tonight" will be most evident, since its producers will ask for only $1 million from the station co-op, compared with a $5.75 million price tag for next season to be asked by "MacNeil/Lehrer" . . .

"America Tonight's" total first-year budget would be $8.4 million, compared with $21.75 million for the established "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" . . .

"America Tonight" may already be proving attractive to many PBS stations that in recent years have had reservations about the one-hour length and the occasional windiness of "MacNeil/Lehrer" . . .

(The chances are good that "MacNeil/Lehrer" will survive handily this time around but "America Tonight" could prove a formidable long-term competitor) . . .

Stations bidding on "America Tonight" will not be shown a pilot. But Hendrix Niemann, executive director of the New Jersey station group, said yesterday that he already has assurances from "three network level on-air talents" and a "network executive producer" that they are prepared to leave their jobs for the new show, if sufficient underwriting funds are available by the December bidding round, at which time he would reveal the names to potential purchasers . . .

He said he could not reveal the names "because they all have jobs now and it wouldn't be fair to them" . . .

He also said that "right now, we are talking to three underwriters who could have between one-half and two-thirds of the necessary funding by the time we talk to the stations" . . .

John Grassie, the Maryland system producer of the new show, said yesterday that "frankly the idea arose from a consensus of some public stations that they need a news program that would be a bit more engaging in terms of audience interest and variety of information available" than is currently provided by "MacNeil/Lehrer" . . .

Grassie likewise expressed the hope that "our announcement of name talent signed for the program and underwriting funds will be a convincing factor" when the stations begin serious bidding . . .

Grassie said that "America Tonight" offers stations "the next logical step in the development of a news program for TV that began with the information service of network news shows, went on to the early 'MacNeil/Lehrer' programs that focused on a given body of stories, and finally ABC's 'Nightline,' which offers a limited focus but with superb use of electronic capabilities" . . .

He foresees a 30-minute format that will provide "information in the first portion augmented by bureau and international reports, followed by extended background segments combining interviews via satellite from newsmakers around the U.S. and sometimes overseas" . . .

Apprised of "America Tonight's" ambitious plans yesterday, a spokesman for "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" in New York said "it's a little bit early to shudder . . .

"Their show seems to be in a fairly preliminary stage," said Chris Ramsey. "Obviously people voted twice [in the first go-round of the co-op] and it may indicate some interest in two programs. The good news for us was that last year we were 34th in the voting in the first round and now we're up to 19th and we are already on 265 stations" . . .

The "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" budget for next season includes $11 million in underwriting from AT&T and $5 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in addition to the stations' $5.75 million . . . Also in the News

The 12th annual National Black Media Coalition conference starts Thursday at the Shoreham Hotel with Thomas S. Murphy, chairman of Capital Cities Communications Inc., as keynote speaker at the opening luncheon . . .

Rep. William Gray (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, will speak at the closing banquet Saturday night . . .

The theme of this year's three-day conference is "Keeping Pace in a Changing Industry" . . .

Some 2,000 participants, signed up for some 20 clinics, seminars and panels, are expected for the three-day conference. Subjects to be discussed range from news writing to sales, to public service after deregulation, to how to get more blacks in news management and black programming. Major broadcasting figures serve as moderators and instructors for the various workshops . . . Wait, There's More

ABC News President Roone Arledge was scheduled to meet with four principals from "20/20" last night in an effort to soothe ruffled feelings on the staff following a decision by ABC News executives to shelve a controversial "20/20" segment last Thursday that romantically linked the late Robert F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe . . .

Arledge will meet with anchor Hugh Downs, correspondent Barbara Walters, "20/20" vice president and executive producer Av Westin and Sylvia Chase, who was the reporter on the segment . . .

According to an ABC News spokesman, unavailable for the meeting were segment producers Stanhope Gould and Ena Rissna. Gould is visiting relatives in Kansas and Rissna is in the hospital for long-scheduled surgery . . .

All six reportedly have been highly critical of the decision by Arledge and others to kill the piece . . .

At a black-tie dinner tonight at the Pierre Hotel in New York, some of the most prestigious names in broadcasting, the academic and business worlds will gather for "A Tribute to Edward P. Morgan at 75" . . .

Mrs. Edward R. Murrow will host the affair. Among the guests scheduled to "roast" the veteran CBS and ABC newsman (currently chief correspondent for the daily radio program "In the Public Interest") will be Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Bill Moyers, Howard Cosell and Dallas businessman Stanley Marcus . . . And Finally

East Coast interest in Hurricane Gloria boosted viewer interest in the network early-morning shows during the week ending Sept. 27, according to late Nielsen figures . . .

"Good Morning America" averaged a 5.1 rating and a 23 percent audience share, compared with a 5.0/23 for "Today" and a 3.4/15 for "CBS Morning News" . . .

Both the "Today" and "Morning News" figures were the highest for those shows since last May . . .