Now Here's the News

Thought for today: Media critic Neil Postman says television "has the culture by its throat" . . .

The professor of communications arts and sciences at New York University, in an interview with U.S. News & World Report, says "it's different from other media in that people don't go to movies to get the weather or find out political information or get the ball scores. We go to television for everything. And the problem that results is that television, because of its entertainment format -- its visual nature -- turns all forms of discourse into entertainment packages" . . .

Because of this, he said, we "possibly have the most ill-informed electorate in the West. TV makes Americans know of a lot of things but about very little. Knowing about implies a historical dimension, an inkling of the implications" . . .

Postman says he has no problem with what many call the "junk" on TV, shows such as "Dynasty" and "Dallas" . . .

"What worries me," he says, "is the 'serious entertainment' -- the conduct of political campaigns, the communication of the news of the day, religion, commerce, education -- all of those things that we might say concern public business. When these things are packaged as forms of show business, the effect is tremendous and tends to work toward the prophecy Huxley made in 'Brave New World' -- that it's not that we've become an oppressed culture, as Orwell predicted, but a trivial culture" . . . On the Other Hand

NBC announced yesterday it is moving "Blacke's Magic" into the 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot vacated by "Hell Town," starting Jan. 8 . . .

The "light-hearted mystery adventure" series debuts with a two-hour pilot on Sunday, Jan. 5. It stars Hal Linden as a famous "illusionist" who uses his "unique talents to demystify seemingly impossible crimes," aided by his "flim-flamming father" Harry Morgan . . .

The network also announced that it will introduce Stephen J. ("The A-Team") Cannell's latest oeuvre -- called "The Last Precinct" -- right after Super Bowl XX the night of Jan. 26. The "comedy drama" will join the NBC schedule the following week on a night and in a time slot still to be selected . . .

"The Last Precinct" is described as a one-hour comedy drama which stars Adam ("Batman") West as the captain of a group of "outrageous but effective policemen operating out of a rundown big city precinct station." We're chuckling already . . .

It reportedly owes much to the "Police Academy" movies and could fill in for either "Riptide" on Tuesday or "Misfits of Science" on Friday . . .

'Tis the season for network schedule changes, of course, so now ABC, which had already announced the move of "MacGyver" from Sunday to Wednesday, has moved up the start date for the new time slot to Jan. 15 at 8 p.m. from the previously announced Jan. 22 . . . and we all feel the better for it, too . . .

Would CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter like NBC's Connie Chung back in the CBS Family?

Will NBC News do something -- and fairly soon -- about those gloomy colors it's given the Statue of Liberty in the opening of "Nightly News?" . . .

If you answered "yes" to both questions you may go to the head of the class at Airwaves Academy this morning . . .

The producers of "Hotel" still hadn't figured out yesterday how to explain the absence on future episodes of the late Anne Baxter, who died last week after suffering a stroke in New York City . . .

They have decided to commission a portrait of Miss Baxter as "Victoria Cabot," who ran the St. Gregory on the ABC series. The picture will be displayed prominently in the lobby of the fictional hotel in later episodes this season, still to be taped . . .

A spokesman for the production company said yesterday that executive producer Aaron Spelling visited the set of "Hotel" last Thursday, the day Miss Baxter died, to lead the crew in a minute of silent prayer (many of the crew who were not supposed to work that day had come in voluntarily, the spokesman said) . . .

At that time Spelling assured the crew that neither he nor his partner, Douglas Cramer, would replace Miss Baxter's character on the series . . .

Christine Craft, who sued a Kansas City, Mo., TV station she claimed demoted her because of her appearance, has been hired to coanchor a new late night news program at KRBK, an independent station in Sacramento, Calif. . . .

Meanwhile, attorneys for the National Organization for Women's Legal Defense Fund today will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court ruling that denied her a $325,000 jury verdict against her former employer, KMBC-TV in Kansas City . . .

"America," the $22 million syndicated show launched by Paramount TV this past fall, took it on the chin last weekend when four CBS-owned stations -- in New York, L.A., Chicago and St. Louis -- pulled it off the air because of poor ratings, which adversely affected their early evening news shows . . .

There's been talk in the industry for several weeks that should Paramount lose such major markets it could spell finis to the project . . .

But a spokesman for Channel 7 here, which is doing well with the syndicated series in its Monday-Friday 4 p.m. time slot, said yesterday that Paramount had assured the station it was continuing . . .

Paramount's original commitment was for a full 52 weeks. "America" debuted this fall . . .

John Long said Seven was happy with the show's performance here but admitted that "we're probably doing the best in the whole country with 'America' " . . .

In New York, during the just completed November ratings sweeps, the show proved disastrous for WCBS, which finished third behind WNBC and WABC in the news ratings at 5 p.m. . . .

Locally, in November, "America" on WJLA finished second in the Arbitron book behind WTTG's "He Man" between 4 and 4:30 with a 5.8 rating and an 18 share, and fourth from 4:30 to 5 behind WTTG's "Thundercats," WRC's "Hart to Hart" and WDVM's "Hour Magazine," with a 5.9/16 . . .

In Nielsen, "America" was second behind "Hour Magazine" during the first half hour with a 6.2/18 and third between 4:30 and 5, behind "Hour Magazine" and "Thundercats" with a 6.7/16 . . .

By the way, those reruns of "Dynasty" weeknights on Channel 5 averaged a 5.5 Nielsen rating and an 8 percent audience (a 5.0/7 in Arbitron) during November . . .

If the numbers weren't great, they still, says a station spokesman, were 67 percent better than the Merv Griffin show managed between 9 and 10 p.m. in November 1984 on Five . . .

Former "20/20" correspondent Geraldo Rivera will sit in for the host of "Larry King Live" Friday night on the Cable News Network . . .