A basement electrical fire late Saturday afternoon forced the evacuation of the NBC network's headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in mid-Manhattan ...

The 6:30 p.m. "NBC Nightly News," which was to have been anchored by Connie Chung out of New York -- she was evacuated at 5:45 p.m. -- was hastily switched to the NBC Washington bureau, where White House correspondent Chris Wallace, in the office preparing his Sunday "Meet the Press" telecast, was pressed into service ...

Wallace and the rest of the bureau here learned of the evacuation at 5:50 p.m. He raced to his nearby home to shave and switch to a coat and tie, while Washington "Nightly News" producer Claude Matthews called other NBC correspondents living close by to come in ...

Wallace returned only nine minutes before air time. There was no script, no control room, no director, none of the scheduled pieces were available from New York because of the evacuation, just one camera instead of the usual three, and only Robin Lloyd's piece on Nancy Reagan's operation, which was to air from Washington anyway, was ready to go ...

Without even a "run through," Wallace, with Matthews at his side, ad-libbed the opener, explaining the fire in New York and moving to the Lloyd piece on Mrs. Reagan ...

Fellow White House correspondent Andrea Mitchell joined Wallace to discuss Mrs. Reagan's illness; Anne Garrels discussed a wire story on Secretary of State George Shultz. Also answering the call were Irving R. Levine and James Polk, both of whom appeared during the telecast ...

Halfway through the broadcast, Burbank fed stories on the NFL settlement and a report from Midland, Tex., on the condition of 18-month-old Jessica McClure, rescued from a well Friday, to help out, and the broadcast concluded with a feature on autumn leaves repeated from Friday's "Nightly News" ...

The broadcast included no commercials -- also waiting in the New York control room -- so viewers in the East and Midwest saw public service announcements from the Lupus Foundation of America, Amnesty International, the Hemophilia Foundation of Southern California and the Mental Health Association, among others ...

"It was quite an adventure," Wallace recalled yesterday. "I don't know if it's ever been done on a network before. When Anne showed up in the news room I told her, 'I've never been so glad to see anybody in my life' " ...

In New York, WNBC, also located at 30 Rock, went off the air for about 11 minutes starting at 6 p.m. The NBC flagship station finally aired a John Wayne movie, "The Lucky Texan," in black and white, from a substation at the World Trade Center but did not carry the newscast ...

The New York fire department extinguished the blaze in a Con Edison transformer about 7:39 p.m. and okayed a return to the building shortly before 8. "Saturday Night Live" went on the air as scheduled at 11:30 after missing one early rehearsal. Primetime programming Saturday was fed directly from Burbank to the 210 network affiliates ...

The "Sunday Today" staff had got as far as La Guardia Airport Saturday night for the trip to Washington before being recalled. They broadcast from New York as scheduled yesterday morning ...

Also in the News

Veteran network news executive Ed Fouhy has notified NBC News that he intends to resign when his current contract expires in February ...

Fouhy had been ABC News bureau chief in Washington when NBC News president Lawrence Grossman hired him away in February 1985 to be executive producer of a new weekly magazine hour. First called "American Almanac," it became "1986" after several delays, but despite a promise from then NBC chairman Grant Tinker that it would air "forever," "1986" never saw 1987 ...

Since the program's demise last November, Fouhy has been in charge of 1988 election-year planning for NBC in Washington. He informed Grossman of his decision to leave at a Friday breakfast meeting ...

In a statement to NBC News personnel, Grossman said Fouhy "has set forth the blueprint for NBC News' political year coverage. He is one of broadcasting's most dedicated and experienced newsmen. We wish him well" ...

In recent weeks, Fouhy has discussed leaving the network with close friends. Friday, he would say only that "it's time to turn the page and move on." His attorney, Robert Barnett, told a reporter that "we are looking at opportunities in broadcasting and public policy in both Washington and Boston" ...

Fouhy has been a major player in Washington network circles for most of the past two decades since he joined CBS News in 1966. After heading the CBS bureau in Saigon at the height of the war, he was senior producer here for Walter Cronkite on the "Evening News" during the Watergate crisis, moved to the Washington NBC bureau for three years during the 1970s, returned to CBS as Washington chief and became vice president and director of news for CBS in New York. In 1982 he joined ABC as Washington bureau chief before returning to NBC and the magazine assignment ...

He has won five Emmy awards for news as well as a Drew Pearson award for investigative reporting ...

Wait, There's More

CBS News made it official Friday -- "48 Hours," a weekly documentary series anchored by Dan Rather, will join the primetime network schedule early next year ...

Andrew Heyward, who has been senior broadcast producer of "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" the past 16 months, was named executive producer of the new show, which will give CBS News three full hours of weekly primetime programming on the network ...

ABC News now has only "20/20" in its schedule of 22 primetime hours a week ...

NBC News currently has no presence in primetime. But Friday, News president Lawrence Grossman and NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff met in New York to discuss plans for a proposed live 90-minute news, sports and entertainment program at 7 p.m. Sundays, which could be on the air by January, 1989, after the end of the NFL season. A pilot for that program could be ready in three months, and current plans call for several "specials" next year with the format before its 1989 debut ...

"48 Hours" is good news for CBS News, which in the past three years has lost some 400 staff positions. "48 Hours" could add 30 or 40 more to the payroll, while the renewed 7 to 9 a.m. weekday morning news program, due Nov. 30, is adding another 50 or so ...

The new series is patterned on last year's high-rated "48 Hours on Crack Street," to the extent that CBS will swamp a single story each week with multiple camera crews and senior correspondents -- "total immersion," in the words of one news executive ...

In a memo -- his first ever to the News division -- to be circulated this morning, chief executive officer Laurence Tisch called it "an exciting day," while acknowledging that "the decision does not come in a vacuum. It comes after a year of restructuring that has brought considerable discomfort to many of you and which has been widely reported in the press as the demise of CBS News" ...

Friday, Tisch told a reporter that no time slot has been chosen yet, but that he expects "48 Hours" will air at either 9 or 10 on the night selected ...

He said the presence of a third hour of news programming in primetime -- along with "60 Minutes" and "West 57th" -- will not affect the latter, which is currently suffering from low ratings on Saturdays at 10 p.m. ...

He said he and CBS News president Howard Stringer have been discussing the project, along with other new programming, for about a year. He used the occasion of the announcement to send encouragement to both Stringer and the oft beleaguered Dan Rather. He and Stringer, he said Friday, "see eye-to-eye on things; I feel very close to Howard" ...

As for Rather, whose "Evening News" is back in first place in the nightly network race, "he's the best in the business and a wonderful guy." Tisch called the Sept. 11 incident, in which Rather's absence from the anchor chair during the first feed of the broadcast from Miami caused CBS to "go to black" for nearly seven minutes on more than 100 affiliates, "an unfortunate incident that's gone" ...

Tisch expressed no qualms over the addition of a third hour of news to a primetime schedule already under the gun from ABC in the race for second behind NBC ...

"We're in a very tough race but quality comes ahead of numbers. One {audience} share more or less isn't as important as our mission to do the best programming we can for the American people ...

"In the long run, quality will win out. It's important to think that 10 years from now we'll still be known as the quality network. I would be very happy if that could be my imprint on this organization" ...

He insisted that B. Donald Grant, president of CBS Entertainment, who has the burden of keeping the network competitive in the primetime race, is solidly behind the "48 Hours" project ...

Tisch said "whatever it costs is fine with me" and that cost was "not a factor in the decision" -- although historically news programming is less expensive than the $1 million an hour usually spent on primetime entertainment shows ...

Other sources at CBS said Friday that the new weekly time slot will also be open to other forms of news programming beyond strict documentary coverage. Rather, with a full plate at "Evening News," is not expected to appear on every broadcast ...

Said Tisch: "If we had had '48 Hours' on the air this week, think what we could have done with the news from Wall Street!" ...