Sunday was the first big night of the May ratings sweeps competition and, at least in Nielsen's 12 major markets, the start of ABC's "North and South: Book II" prevailed . . .

Especially in Washington . . .

In the big cities, the six-part mini-series was launched with a 20.8 rating and a 30 percent audience share between 9 and 11 p.m., compared with a 19.1/28 for Part I of "The Deliberate Stranger" on NBC and a 16.2/23 for "Vanishing Act" on CBS . . .

In comparison, opening night of "North and South: Book I" on ABC last November drew a 24.4/36 in the 12 Nielsen markets . . .

Locally, "North and South" registered a 26.4/40 for Channel 7, the show's best performance in the 12 markets. "Vanishing Act" was second here, with a 16.3/24 on Channel 9. "The Deliberate Stranger" got a 14.8/22 on Channel 4 . . .

Incidentally, Nielsen last month agreed to add a larger sample of 35-and-unders to its local meter sample, responding to complaints from rival stations that, unlike Aribtron's sample, the old Nielsen sample favored Channel 9 with its older audiences . . .

So here's Sunday night's competition according to the Arbitron service, with the "revised" Nielsen count in parentheses:

"North and South" on Seven had a 23.8/28 (26.4/40); "Vanishing Act" on Nine had only 12.3/20 (16.3/24); while "The Deliberate Stranger" on Four rose to 16.3/26 (14.8/22). You figure it out . . .

Saturday night, the second annual Stuntman Awards on Channel 5 registered a 5.2/10 in the Nielsen ratings and a 7.8/15 in the Arbitron numbers, familiar territory for Awards host Lee ("The Fall Guy") Majors . . .

Blue Plate special du jour: ABC News general assignment correspondent Stone Phillips is under consideration for the "20/20" job that's been open since Geraldo Rivera left to peel empty safes in Chicago . . .

Phillips, a former Yale quarterback, has been with ABC since 1979 . . .

Between general assignments, Phillips can be seen subbing occasionally for David Hartman on "Good Morning America" and doing sports segments on Sam Donaldson's weekend news show . . .

As we reported some time ago, Lynn Sherr has joined "20/20" in Sylvia Chase's old spot . . . Also in the News

Jim Spence, former senior vice president of ABC Sports, has been named president of ICM Sports, a newly created division of International Creative Management Inc. . . .

Mike Pithey, former senior producer for ABC's Olympic Games productions, has been named vice president . . .

The new firm will produce sports programming for the networks, cable TV and syndication, negotiate TV arrangements, consult and represent sports entities . . .

After some 26 years with ABC Sports, Spence was overlooked earlier this year when Capital Cities/ABC Inc. management removed Roone Arledge as president of Sports in favor of Dennis Swanson. Spence resigned shortly thereafter . . .

ICM Inc. is a subsidiary of Josephson International, Inc. and a rival of the giant William Morris agency. Spence said yesterday that chairman Marvin Josephson had approached him about the new division a week after he left ABC . . .

"I was at the NFL draft meetings last week," Spence recalled yesterday, "and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle told me that Josephson had approached him in the 1970s about starting a sports division for him then" . . .

He said that "we already have one production arrangement which will be announced in due time" . . .

"One of the things particularly timely about ICM Sports," he said, "is that the networks are obviously struggling with their sports costs. What we can do from time to time is provide some programming more cheaply than they can produce it" . . .

Sources yesterday suggested Spence has a piece of the ICM Sports action and with his connections the new division could be a success in a critical time for TV sports . . .

Spence confirmed yesterday that he has already "had contacts" regarding future projects with Swanson at ABC . . .

Breakfasting with lawmakers in the Russell Senate Office Building this morning will be Justine Bateman of NBC's "Family Ties" . . .

The occasion is the "Play It Safe" awards breakfast honoring 13 youngsters between 8 and 13 years of age who developed public service announcements for TV, radio and the print media to encourage the use of seat belts . . .

More than 3,200 entries were received from 34 states. The awards are sponsored by the makers of Kool-Aid and the Department of Transportation . . .

Action for Children's Television today will honor 14 TV, cable and home video programs for "significant contributions to TV for young audiences" . . .

The awards, says ACT, are "designed to help families discover some delicious additions to the tasteless banalities of most of the children's TV menu" . . .

Public broadcasting winners include: "Math Works," from the Agency for Instructional Technology; "Sesame Street," from Children's Television Workshop; "OWL/TV," from OWL/TV Inc. in Toronto; and "WonderWorks," from WQED, Pittsburgh . . .

Among commercial broadcasters, winners were "ABC Afterschool Specials," from ABC; "Hot Streak," from KPIX, San Francisco; "Home Turf," from KRON, San Francisco; and "Ready or Not," from WMAQ in Chicago . . .

Cable winners were "Danger Bay," from the Disney Channel; and "The New Kid Stuff" from Syracuse, NewChannels, Syracuse, N.Y. . . .

Home video winners were "Children's Circle," from CC Studios; "The Macmillan Video Almanac," from Macmillan Inc.; "The Velveteen Rabbit," from Random House Video; and "The Snowman," from Sony Video Software . . .

This year marked the inauguration of the ACT/Post-Newsweek Stop Look & Listen awards, "for extra-special shows that managed to be seen and heard." Post-Newsweek President Joel Chaseman will present $1,000 checks to the Agency for Instructional Technology for "Math Works" and to WMAQ for "Ready or Not" . . .

CBS Entertainment yesterday announced a four-hour mini-series for next season called "The Last Frontier" . . .

Linda Evans will star as an "American woman who battles against an unmerciful environment to beat a ruthless land baron with the help of his son, her renegade lover." Wow!!! . . .

The mini-series will be filmed on location in the Great Outback of Australia. Jack Thompson will play the renegade lover . . .

CBS yesterday also confirmed it has ordered 13 episodes of "Crime World," which will join "Night Heat" and "T.J. Hooker" on the network's late night schedule, probably starting in September . . .

The hour-long weekly drama tells the story of male and female private detectives who double as investigative reporters for a crime magazine. It will be filmed in Toronto by the same chaps who produce "Night Heat." No cast has been set . . .