Now Here's the News

Surprise 50th birthday party for talk-and-talk-and-talk show host Phil Donahue Saturday night on the S.S. Empress, which sailed around Manhattan with Phil, wife Marlo Thomas, his children from a previous marriage, father-in-law Danny Thomas (who calls him "my son Phillip"), Ted Koppel, Jimmy Breslin and many, many more . . .

Breslin presented Phil with a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to Dayton, Ohio . . .

On the holiday sick list: Donna Reed, most recently seen as Miss Ellie on CBS' "Dallas," has had traces of cancer removed from her pancreas but will probably be released from the hospital to spend Christmas Eve at home . . .

Miss Reed, 64, entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Dec. 10 for a recurrence of bleeding ulcers, leading to the discovery of her pancreatic cancer . . .

Doctors are hopeful they discovered the cancer early enough to enable her to make a full recovery, according to Harry Flynn, her press agent . . .

Miss Reed won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in "From Here to Eternity" in 1953, and starred in "The Donna Reed Show" TV series from 1958 to 1966 on ABC . . .

She was on "Dallas" for a season until Barbara Bel Geddes, the original Miss Ellie, was signed again last spring, following her recovery from heart surgery . . .

Miss Reed subsequently received a $1 million settlement after suing producers of the TV series for $7.5 million . . .

Meanwhile, Gary Coleman, star of ABC's "Diff'rent Strokes," is expected to resume work on the series Jan. 15 after undergoing treatment for possible rejection of his second transplanted kidney . . .

Coleman entered UCLA Medical Center on Thursday. Tubes for a portable dialysis unit, a blood-cleansing machine, were placed in his arm . . .

"He's in good condition and undergoing a routine procedure," according to hospital spokeswoman Cathy Leichliter. He was expected to remain in the hospital for a week . . .

Coleman, 17, received the kidney in a transplant operation Nov. 10, 1984. A spokesman for the actor said, "Gary will probably go back on the computer list for another kidney transplant." Larry Goldman said it might take 18 months before another organ becomes available . . .

A more cheerful holiday note: The commercial acceptance department of CBS' program practices unit tests thousands of toys every year to assure that the products advertised on the network are safe . . .

And once again this season, the good toys have been dispatched to two New York orphanages and a foundling hospital . . .

Also in the News

Nicest Christmas piece Airwaves has seen this year so far: Charles Kuralt's report for "CBS Evening News" Friday night on the tradition started 58 years ago by an airplane pilot who found his way home on a stormy evening by following the beams from Maine lighthouses . . .

In gratitude, he began delivering Christmas presents every year to the folks at their lonely posts. Since then, two other pilots and their families have maintained the tradition . . .

And, in case you missed it, WRC weatherman Bob Ryan's "Golden Shovel" went to two winners this year . . . who had both predicted the first snow of the season would start at National Airport at 4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 20 . . .

Jeanette Danahy of Greenbelt early on had submitted her prediction. Ryan on Saturday even shoveled her walks and driveway . . .

A last-minute entry, submitted by a parent on behalf of elementary school children at the Barnesville (Md.) School, also predicted 4 p.m. Friday . . .

The kids will get their own Golden Shovel and a visit from Ryan . . .

"Entertainment Tonight" (Channel 7, 7:30 p.m.) is expected to announce its "people of the year" in TV, movies, theater and music on Jan. 3. TV nominations include Ted Koppel, Bill Cosby, Don Johnson and Angela Lansbury . . .

CBS Sports reportedly will pay an average of $43 million annually over the four years of its new contract with the National Basketball Association, announced Friday . . . The previous three-year contract called for a flat $22 million a year. But CBS isn't calling the new pact a 95 percent increase, preferring to point out it's amortizing the costs over a full seven years . . .

CBS' exclusive negotiating period for renewal ran out Oct. 31. The NBA informally extended it and then recently contacted ABC Sports to see if that network would match it. It didn't . . .

CBS will increase the number of regular season games from 12 to 14, besides airing the all-star game, selected playoff games and selected exclusive coverage of the finals (which, in a rare display of pro sports deflation, will no longer be called the "world championship series" but just "the finals") . . .

The contract also gives CBS the option of a prime-time broadcast of a conference playoff final . . .

Potomac News, which supplies news and crews for some 85 stations around the country as well as for "Entertainment Tonight" and ESPN, has been named Washington bureau for Taft Broadcasting, which has nine stations with their own news shows . . .

By a margin as thin as one of Santa's whiskers, NBC's "Today" took the early-morning network race the week ending Dec. 13 with a 5.4 Nielsen rating and a 25 percent audience share. ABC's "Good Morning America" was second at 5.3/25 and "CBS Morning News," which had been building over the previous three weeks, fell back to 3.0/14 . . .

That's the second win in three weeks for "Today" . . . and for 11 weeks of the fourth quarter, "GMA" is only another whisker ahead of "Today" with a 5.1/23, compared with a 5.0/23 for the NBC show and a 3.1/14 for CBS . . .

By the way, during November in Washington "GMA" on Channel 7 was the local winner by a big margin, averaging a 6/29, while "Today" on Four and "CBS Morning News" on Nine tied at 4/17 . . .

Charlie Rose subs for Forrest Sawyer on the CBS show this week . . . Jeanne Meserve, an ABC State Department correspondent, and Barry Sarafin will sit in for Joan Lunden and David Hartman this week on "GMA" . . .

Jane Seymour has been named to replace 46-year-old Ali MacGraw as young Natalie Jastrow in "War and Remembrance," the 30-hour, $50 million-plus sequel to ABC's "Winds of War" . . .

ABC has also announced that Sir John Gielgud will replace John Houseman as Natalie's uncle, Aaron, and that David Dukes returns in his original role as American diplomat Leslie Slote, who, we recall, was kind of sweet on Natalie . . .

Production on the show, set during World War II, begins in France next month, presumably for a fall 1987 run . . .