To no one's surprise, CBS Broadcast Group yesterday announced it was returning "supervision" of the 6-to-9 a.m. weekday time period to the CBS News division, effective Monday, Nov. 30 ...

CBS News relinquished the last 90 minutes of that three hours on Jan. 12, when CBS introduced "The Morning Program," hosted by Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith, which was telecast before a live studio audience ...

With the change, CBS News continued to control the 6-to-7:30 time slot with "The CBS Morning News" anchored by Faith Daniels and the just-departed Forrest Sawyer, with a basically hard news-interview format. But the loss of the 90 minutes further affected morale at the News division, which had already been bruised by personnel cuts and executive changes ...

In a telex to CBS affiliates yesterday, CBS Network president Thomas Leahy, who has been in charge of planning for the "The Morning Program" since late last fall, also announced that executive producer Bob Shanks and Smith will not be retained beyond November. Leahy extended to the two "our gratitude for their dedicated effort" ...

"Mariette Hartley," the announcement continued, "will return to California and commence production of a made-for-television movie for CBS. We are delighted that CBS' relationship will continue with this extraordinarily talented woman to whom we owe so much for her complete professionalism" ...

When reports of a major overhaul in the morning format first surfaced a year ago last summer, CBS affiliates had been unhappy for years with the audiences for "CBS Morning News" vis-a`-vis NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America" ...

CBS has experimented with a morning program since 1954, when Walter Cronkite and a lion puppet named Charlemagne introduced a half-hour "The Morning Show." Over the years, the program moved to 10 a.m. and then 7 a.m. with only average audiences and became a full hour in 1969 ...

But in January 1982, "CBS Morning News" expanded to a full two-hour broadcast from 7 to 9 a.m. as the network shunted children-oriented "Captain Kangaroo" from 8 a.m. to the very early morning hours in an effort to capture some of the adult women audience that had shown up in the late 1970s to give ABC's two-hour "Good Morning America" leadership over pioneer "Today" and rearrange advertiser priorities ...

After 1982, however, the basic hard-news, interview style of "Morning News" never did become competitive, although CBS News tried a variety of co-anchors in the two hours, including Diane Sawyer and Bill Kurtis; Kurtis and Phyllis George; Bob Schieffer and George ...

In the fall of 1985, the team of Maria Shriver and Forrest Sawyer took charge, but by August of 1986, CBS Broadcast Group, prodded by network affiliates, felt an entertainment format might work better against GMA and a resurgent "Today," and planning began for "The Morning Program" ...

But since January, the ratings for the 90 minutes with Hartley and Smith have consistently been one-third lower than the old straight-news format produced ...

One week in July and again during the first week of September, the program scored only a 1.9 rating, the lowest ever for CBS in that time slot ...

Despite the fact that CBS could report a small profit from the time period, affiliates clamored for still another change ...

"It is now abundantly clear," Leahy's telex admitted yesterday, "that viewing habits in the 7-9 a.m. time period are too well established for such an alternative format to succeed. Nonetheless, direct audience preference research indicated that many aspects of 'The Morning Program' were well received. For this reason, we believe 'The Morning Program' can evolve into a more conventional format that retains its currently successful elements while moving it closer to the competitive mainstream fare for this daypart -- which includes the recognition that news and information are the critical ingredients" ...

(CBS News sources yesterday suggested that the telex hint that CBS may retain "The Morning Program" title should not be taken too seriously) ...

A spokesman for CBS News said an announcement on anchors for the still-untitled news and information program can be expected later this week, perhaps as early as today. There has been speculation that ABC News' Kathleen Sullivan is one of the choices, should she decide to leave ABC, but the list of CBS correspondents waiting in the wings for such an assignment was otherwise not available yesterday ...

Yesterday's announcement coincided with the tardy release of Nielsen ratings for the week ending Sept. 18, the first in which the controversial "people meters" system was in operation around the country ...

As expected from prior trial runs, "Good Morning America" showed increased strength with the new ratings system, although NBC's "Today" prevailed by the slimmest margin to win the morning race for the 51st consecutive week ...

For the week, "Today" registered a 4.2 rating and a 22 percent audience share. GMA was right behind at 4.1/21, while CBS' "The Morning Program" counted a low-low 2.0/11 (each rating point represents 886,000 TV homes) ...

In Washington, where "CBS Morning News" over the years has always been competitive, even dominant, against GMA and certainly "Today," the network's dilemma with "The Morning Program" was particularly evident ...

In figures provided by CBS affiliate WUSA for the last four weeks, running through Friday, Sept. 25, "CBS Morning News" between 7 and 7:30 a.m. averaged a very strong 5.0/24. But in the next 90 minutes, "the Morning Program" fell off to a 3.0/16 ...

Meanwhile, "Good Morning America" on WJLA averaged a 5.0/25 for the full two hours, easily beating the "Today" show on WRC, which registered a 3.0/17 (each local rating point represents about 15,800 TV homes)...

Also in the News

The "Donahue" show has issued an invitation to all Democratic candidates for the presidency to appear for an "open dialogue" that would be taped here next Tuesday ...

Under the unusual format, Phil Donahue would only open and close the broadcast, for 30 seconds each, and the rest of the 90-minute program would be taped without interruption. A spokesman said yesterday the candidates could "debate, or talk to the camera or talk to each other" during the 90 minutes ...

The unedited talks would then be shown in their entirety on two successive programs, a week or 10 days after the taping, with, of course, the usual commercials inserted ("Donahue" is seen weekdays at 9 a.m. on Channel 9) ...

The program would have no moderator and no questioning, unless the candidates decided to ask each other questions. In a statement, Donahue called the idea "the ultimate in deregulation" ...

No site for the taping in Washington had been selected yesterday ...

A spokesman for Donahue said the idea has been under discussion with the candidates for some time, and while they have all expressed interest, none has yet agreed to take part. Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) had been invited but announced yesterday that she would not run for the presidency ...

ABC News has made inquiries of talk show host Larry King about the possibility of hosting a late night program that might follow Ted Koppel and his acclaimed "Nightline" program at midnight ...

King is currently under contract with Cable News Network but that deal expires next summer. Reports circulate Ted Turner has offered King $800,000 a year to remain on "Larry King Live" ...

Koppel meanwhile has dropped hints he might be leaving "Nightline" at the end of the year when his current contract expires. ABC sources, still fairly confident Koppel will decide to remain, were very confident yesterday that King had not been offered the job of replacing Koppel on "Nightline" ...

ABC Entertainment was walking tall yesterday after Nielsen overnight ratings in the top 15 markets showed that Dolly Parton's "Dolly" premiere Sunday night averaged a very strong 24.8 rating and a 37 percent audience share ...

The network's premiere of "Buck James," starring Dennis Weaver as a top-flight surgeon, fell to a 15.1/26 in 14 big markets during the hour following "Dolly" ...

The last hour of "The Terminator" on NBC clobbered the competition between 10 and 11 Sunday night ...