Now Here's the News

If we had to make a guess, President Reagan's popularity rating -- even among football-loving Democrats -- could rise another couple of notches late next month . . .

The White House is seriously considering a suggestion submitted by NBC News last week that the president forgo a postgame locker-room phone call at the conclusion of Super Bowl XX on Jan. 26 . . .

Instead, Mr. Reagan would be interviewed by Tom Brokaw -- probably between the pregame show and the start of the NFL championship game . . .

At the conclusion of the interview, it's been suggested to the administration, the president could wish both teams luck and remind the eventual winners that they are expected at the White House the next day for a victory visit . . .

(Just where that one-minute "break" -- for trips to the kitchen or wherever -- that NBC has already promised viewers between the pregame ceremonies and the game itself would fit in is not clear, should the White House okay the proposal) . . .

There is something awkward sometimes about those phone calls, a "tradition" that really got rolling during the Nixon administration . . .

The leader of the western world can be kept on hold for minutes while everybody gets the obligatory champagne shower. Or nobody can hear anybody when the winning coach is finally on the phone. Or one of the conversationalists stumbles as viewers cringe for them back home . . .

"Frankly, the process has really become kind of demeaning to a president," one network executive told us . . .

Frankly, too -- though nobody at NBC will say it out loud -- the phone calls, which can sometimes also go to the losing locker room, delay a network from moving its huge captive Super Bowl (or World Series) audience right into the entertainment programming the network has planned that night . . .

On Jan. 26, NBC reportedly will premiere the pilot for its Wednesday night replacement for "Hell Town," which means 100 million viewers or so could get a good sampling of the network's important "Dynasty" competitor . . .

Who knows? Maybe someday we'll be spared the postgame locker-room shows altogether. The only time they've ever proved worth watching is when L.A. Raider owner Al Davis is there to accept the winning trophy from NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Those two don't like each other much and it's always fun to see if they mind their manners . . . Also in the News

The networks and two newspapers go to federal court this week out in Tacoma against the Washington state government, seeking to overturn a 1983 state law that bans interviews for exit polls within 300 feet of polling places on election days . . .

ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times and the Everett Herald, which is owned by The Washington Post, contend the law is designed to ban exit polls in violation of the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press . . .

In 1984, the plaintiffs went before U.S. District Judge Jack Tanner over the Washington law. Tanner ruled without a trial that the law is constitutional . . .

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently ruled 2-1 that the law could stay in place during the 1984 elections, but reversed Tanner's decision on the law's constitutionality, sending the case back to Tanner for a trial with instructions to answer several questions, which include whether the law actually intended to prevent disruption or to prevent broadcasting of poll results . . . and whether interviews for exit polls are disruptive. If so, could such disruption be avoided another way? . . .

At issue is the networks' use of analyses of key precincts and polls of people who have voted to project the winner in presidential races long before the polls close on the West Coast. In 1964, 1972, 1980 and 1984, the winner was known before the polls had closed in the Pacific time zone . . .

Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro argues that, besides physically disrupting polling places by interviewing people as they leave, broadcast of early election projections discourages late voters in western states from casting ballots. He says that interferes with the state election process . . .

State officials contend networks and newspapers have no constitutional right to conduct exit polls . . . and that they are simply a commercial activity subject to state regulation . . .

Senior Assistant Attorney General James M. Johnson said that pretrial questioning of network officials "indicated why they so vehemently protest restrictions. This is part of a highly commercial competitive business. The advertising revenues for election alone . . . were $80,000 to $100,000 for each 30 seconds, a cumulative total of $12 million" . . . Wait, There's More

President Reagan last week signed the Labor and Health and Human Services departments' appropriations bill, giving the Corporation for Public Broadcasting $214 million for fiscal 1988, up from the current level of $159.5 million, and $200 million for fiscal 1987 . . .

On Friday, the president signed the State, Justice and Commerce departments' appropriation that included $24 million for the public telecommunications facilities program for fiscal 1986 . . .

Both appropriations must be matched 2 to 1 by public broadcasters but currently TV and radio raise some 5-to-1 in matching funds yearly . . .

Meanwhile, the search for a new president for CPB goes on. Reportedly job interviews will continue into January. CPB has been without a boss since late last spring, when Ed Pfister resigned after a series of disputes with CPB board chairman Sonia Landau . . .

The premiere of "Mary" on CBS last Wednesday slipped considerably in the national Nielsen ratings. After a strong performance in the 12 big cities monitored overnight by Nielsen, the Mary Tyler Moore vehicle dropped four points to a 17.1 rating and a 26 percent audience share overall . . .

"Foley Square," which debuted following "Mary" on CBS Wednesday, did only a 14.9/22 in the nationals . . .

Which reminds us -- but just barely -- the fathers of Cathy Silvers and Michael Lembeck of "Foley Square" (the late Phil Silvers and Harvey Lembeck) starred in "The Phil Silvers Show." And Michael was once Cathy's teacher in acting school! . . .

NBC sportscaster Ahmad Rashad and "The Cosby Show's" Phylicia Ayers-Allen were secretly married Saturday in New York, in what Rashad called "a quarterback sneak" . . . He had proposed to her on the air Thanksgiving Day after finishing an NBC pregame show and they had previously set the date for mid-January. Bill Cosby, who plays her husband on the NBC series, gave away the bride . . .