The early morning ratings for the week ending May 23 put NBC's "Today" show -- which was all at sea that week on the SS Norway -- first with a 5.5 Nielsen count and a 26 percent audience share, followed by ABC's "Good Morning America" at 4.5/22 and poor old "CBS Morning News" flat again at 3.0/14 . . .

And thereby hangs a little tale . . .

Seems that "Today" plans to air a segment on June 9 explaining why White House reporters always appear to be yelling and screaming at the president to get his attention . . .

NBC White House correspondent Andrea Mitchell, in preparing the report, interviewed her ABC counterpart, Sam Donaldson. But when it came to getting CBS White House correspondent Bill Plante on the show, CBS News Washington bureau chief Jack Smith refused permission . . .

Smith explained Friday that "I said 'no.' We are in a fierce competition in the morning and I will preserve our correspondents for appearances on the 'CBS Morning News' " . . .

Responded "Today" Executive Producer Steve Friedman: "I don't understand it. We just wanted to give somebody working for CBS News a chance to be seen on television in the morning" . . .

(Steve can be a little naughty sometimes) . . .

Last-minute interest in Senate TV coverage has resulted in a lot of last-minute customers for C-SPAN II, which will now be available on nearly 160 cable systems with an audience potential of 3 million homes around the country when II's Senate cablecasts begin at noon today . . .

Game 2 of the NBA championship round between the Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets in primetime Thursday night drew a pretty good national Nielsen rating of 14.8 and a 26 percent audience share between 9 and 11:33 p.m. . . .

Meanwhile, the "20/20" MIA special on ABC that night did a 14.4/25 . . .

Also, very late Thursday night, the ABC News "Viewpoint" on the subject of media manipulation scored a 5.8 rating and a 20 percent audience share in the 12 major Nielsen markets . . .

That compared with a 7.8/26 for the combination of Carson and Letterman over the same 90 minutes on NBC and a 5.9/20 for CBS programming . . .

"Good Morning America" host David Hartman is going to Detroit for a five-part interview with Lee Iacocca that will air starting Monday, June 9 . . .

After five years on Channel 9, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has signed with Channel 4 for the next three seasons . . .

He'll team with sportscaster George Michael on the weekly "Redskins Report" at 7 p.m. Saturdays starting in the fall. The show will be repeated on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. . . .

So whatever happened to Joe Theismann, who got bedside coverage from his "Redskins Report" cohost Michael last year after breaking his leg in the Giants game? . . .

It was probably Joe's iffy status with the Skins this season but we hear WRC didn't even make him an offer to return . . . But don't weep for Joe -- CBS or NBC may still find a place for him if he's not at quarterback this fall . . .

Also at Four

They didn't seem to have any particular impact on the May numbers but station executives are sure that its "Live at Five on the Road" feature last month, which saw the crew at a different location around the area every week night, pays off in viewer loyalty . . .

So in a couple of weeks the station plans to make the regional/neighborhood visits a once-a-week feature for the nonce . . .

Just for the record, Nielsen sweeps-winning NBC was also triumphant in the Arbitron ratings sweeps in May, with a primetime 15.7 rating and a 27 share, compared with ABC's 13.4/23 and CBS' 13.1/22. First time since 1977 CBS has finished third in May . . .

NBC News, which has had a rough couple of weeks, got less than a passing grade from a Federal Communications Commission official Friday for reporting that telephone rate increases jeopardize the elderly . . .

Albert Halprin, head of the FCC's common carrier bureau, called the Tuesday story on "Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" "an insult to the journalism profession." He said he sent a letter "on his own," and not speaking for the agency, to Bill Wheatley, executive producer of "Nightly News," to complain . . .

"I am totally against anything that resembles censorship but I have some First Amendment rights as well and this thing was really an absolute disgrace" . . .

Halprin, the FCC's top staff member involved in national telephone policy, said the NBC report, on a Supreme Court decision expected to help consumers by giving local utility companies more regulatory flexibility, unfairly dramatized local phone rate hikes . . .

The network said local rates have risen more than 30 percent nationwide since divestiture and driven many people, particularly the elderly, off phone service. The story said 2 million more people would soon be forced to give up phone service.

Halprin said that the report was done "without checking with any knowledgeable source on the facts" . . .

Halprin said last year average local phone rates went up by less than 3 percent, and the latest FCC statistics show more than 95 percent of the elderly have phones, higher than the general population, and the penetration figures "are not dropping at all" . . .

The report was "an insult to the American public," he said . . .

NBC had no comment on the letter . . .

More Local Ratingzzzz

Channel 9 news, which appeared to be in the fight of its life in the recently released Arbitron May ratings (losing at 5 p.m., barely winning at 6 and tied for second at 11), nevertheless continues to triumph across the board in the Nielsen May ratings sweeps . . .

Except at 11 p.m., Seven news showed some improvement in the Nielsen book, while Four remained flat . . .

Included (in parentheses) are comparisons with Nielsen ratings a year ago in May ("NFA" means no comparable figures available) . . .

Each Nielsen point represents 15,000 TV homes . . .

In the morning network race, "Good Morning America" on Channel 7 leads with a 5 rating and a 26 percent audience share (0 change in rating, -1 in share from May '85), followed by a tie between "CBS Morning News" on Nine (0, 0) and the "Today" show on Four (+1, +3) with 4/19 . . .

At noon, Mondays through Fridays, Nine news leads with 9/38 (0, +3), followed by Seven news at 5/22 (+1, +4); Five's "Panorama" at 2/10 (-1, -1); and Four's "Here's Lucy" at 1.7/8 (-2, -6 from noon news a year ago) . . .

From 4 to 5 p.m. M-F: Seven leads with a 7/18 (+1, 0) for its combination of "$1 Million Chance of a Lifetime" and "Sale of the Century"; followed by a tie between Five's "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" and "GI Joe" (-1, -2) and Nine's "Hour Magazine" (0, -2) at 6/17; Four with a 5/14 (0, 0) for "Hart to Hart"; and a 3/8 for the combination of "Gobots" and "Transformers" on Twenty (NFA) . . .

From 5 to 6 M-F: Nine news leads with 9/24 (-1, 0); followed by Five's combination of "One Day at a Time" and "Alice" with 7/18 (NFA); Seven news at 6/15 (+1, +2); Four news at 6/14 (0, 0); and the combination of "Diff'rent Strokes" and "What's Happening" on Twenty at 3/9 (NFA) . . .

From 6 to 7 M-F: Nine news leads with 12/25 (+1, +1); followed by Five's combination of "Gimme a Break" and "Too Close for Comfort" at 11/23 (NFA); by a tie between Seven for its half hour of local news (+1, +2) and Four news at 7/16 (0, 0); and Twenty's "The Jeffersons" hour with 3/6 (NFA) . . .

Network evening news at 7 M-F: "CBS Evening News" on Nine leads with 12/24 (+1, +1), followed by "ABC World News Tonight" on Seven at 6:30 with 8/17 (0, +2 from 7 p.m. a year ago); and "NBC Nightly News" on Four with 7/14 (0, +1) . . .

Also at 7 to 7:30: Five's "Three's Company" is at 11/22 (NFA); Seven's "Jeopardy" at 8/16 (NFA); and "Benson" on Twenty with 3/6 . . . (NFA) . . .

From 7:30 to 8 M-F: Nine's "Wheel of Fortune" leads with 12/23 (0, -1); followed by Five's "M*A*S*H" with 11/22 (-2, -3); Seven's "Entertainment Tonight" at 8/16 (0, 0); Four's "New Newlywed Game" at 7/14 (+2, +4); and Twenty's "Sanford and Son" at 3/6 (NFA) . . .

Primetime Mondays-Sundays: NBC on Four leads with 14/25 (0, +1); ABC on Seven at 14/23 (+2, +2); CBS on Nine with 13/22 (-1, -3); Five with 6/11 (0, 0); Twenty at 3/4 (-1, -2); and Twenty-Six at 1/3 (-1, 0) . . .

Late News, M-F: Nine leads with 12/27 (0, +1); followed by Four with 11/25 (0, 0); and Seven news with 9/21 (-2, -3) . . .

Five's 10 o'clock news had a 7/13 (+1, +3) . . .