Channel 26, one of three area public TV stations currently carried by Howard County Cable, is being dropped by the system on Tuesday, Dec. 1 -- in favor of an adult music video channel, "Video Hits One" ...

Channel 67, representing the Maryland public TV system, and Channel 32, the Howard University station in Washington, remain on the Howard County system, which is owned by SCI Holdings Inc. ...

Channel 26 learned of the decision on Tuesday, when one of the cable system's 27,000 subscribers called WETA to report that a notice about the change was included in his cable bill for December ...

Adding to the shock at WETA was the realization that the cancellation comes just as Channel 26's pre-Christmas fund-raising drive, which begins tonight, would be gathering steam ... Based on its own membership figures, WETA estimates about 30 percent of all TV viewers in Howard County are regular WETA viewers, about half of them on the cable system ...

Monday morning, both The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun will carry WETA ads pointing out that of the three public stations on the system, it was the only one that provided seven hours of children's programming during the day and aired the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" each night. In addition, WETA has sent mailgrams to its 2,300 pledge members in Howard County urging them to contact Howard Cable ...

"We are distressed," said Ann Pincus, WETA vice president of communications. She said she hopes the cable system will change its mind ...

Max Kitfer, general manager of the cable system, said Wednesday that the decision is firm for now -- but "if we're proven wrong and the outcry is bigger than we suspect it will be, we would reconsider ...

"We knew it wouldn't be a popular decision at first, especially in Columbia, but we think it will be a popular decision in the long run," Kitfer said. "We chose to make the change Dec. 1 because we didn't want subscribers to make a pledge to WETA during that fund-raising drive and then find it off our system" ...

He pointed out that most TV viewers in the county can receive Channel 26 over-the-air with proper antennas ...

Kitfer said the decision was made following a recent evaluation of the cable system. "We wanted to make room for additional channels. Our survey indicated that having three public TV stations was probably one too many. Most of the same programming is seen on all three stations. In a survey we did last spring, 67 and 26 rated out even among viewers. We had to choose one of them and we are a Maryland-based company" ...

The Howard system carries 36 channels. Kitfer said "Video Hits One" was "highly requested in the latest survey. It's middle of the road video music aimed at adults" ...

He acknowledged that "quite a few people have expressed their concern about the change but once I explain the situation, that we still give them an option, they say they understand" ...

In Other News

The prospective lineup of anchors is looking firmer for "USA Today," the syndicated program bankrolled by Gannett and scheduled to debut in September as a weeknight showcase for its national newspaper ...

Reportedly in the finals for the four top positions are Jane Wallace, who recently quit CBS News' "West 57th"; Robin Young, an NBC correspondent out of Boston; and "Sunday Today" sportscaster Bill MacAtee. Candidates for the business-economic news anchor -- a position with new importance since the October flutter on Wall Street -- reportedly include NBC's Mike Jensen and CBS' Ray Brady ...

"USA Today," a weeknight show (with a Saturday edition) that will be satellited out of USA Today headquarters over in Rosslyn, is a hot ticket for next fall's lineup on stations around the country. It's already been sold in 26 of the top 50 TV markets ...

In Washington, it is of course headed for the Gannett flagship station, WUSA, and market rivals are waiting to see what Nine, already enjoying an embarrassment of ratings riches between 5 and 8 p.m. every night, is going to do about it ...

As it has been for years, "CBS Evening News" at 7 p.m. on Nine is by far the dominant network news show in the Washington market -- at least in the Nielsen ratings. And Nine has "Wheel of Fortune," the king of syndicated game shows, killing the competition at 7:30, with a contract that runs for at least two more years ...

Moreover, Nine's local newscasts from 5 to 7 p.m. also dominate the local market. So where will "USA Today" be placed next fall? ...

Station executives said no decision has been reached and that Gannett hasn't exerted any pressure regarding the new show's placement.

If, as seems likely, "USA Today" is slotted either at 7 or 7:30, "CBS News" would have to move back to 6:30, to compete head to head with "ABC World News Tonight" on Channel 7. That would displease CBS, which likes its show just where it is in the news-happy nation's capital. The only gainer might be NBC-owned Channel 4, whose low-rated news would then be the sole 6-to-7 p.m. local news show on the air ...

It is deemed unlikely that Nine would even consider moving "USA Today" to the 11:30 p.m. timeslot, when audience levels fall off significantly, an alternative available to most stations buying the show ...

Meanwhile, NBC is apparently abandoning its "checkerboard" of five syndicated sitcoms at 7:30 next year due to low ratings, in favor of a game show ...

Whatever decisions are made, there will be a new look to "primetime access" in Washington next fall ...

Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-Tex.) will be a guest on Dr. Robert Schuller's "Tower of Power" program Sunday morning at 9:30 on Channel 7 ...

Wright, a lay worker in the Presbyterian Church, once served as the head of a congregation in Weatherford, Tex., for three years ...

Moving Right Along

Preliminary figures are out for the November ratings sweeps and figures released by CBS researchers, with three days to go in the 29-day race, show NBC winning its 11th straight consecutive sweeps victory (they're conducted by Nielsen and Arbitron four times a year) ...

Those preliminary figures give NBC a 16.8 rating, compared to a 13.9 for CBS and a 12.4 for ABC (each rating point representing 886,000 TV homes) ...

That represents a 10 percent drop in overall network viewership from November 1986 ...

CBS blames the drop in part on the advent in September of Nielsen's "peoplemeters," in lieu of the old diary method of previous surveys ("peoplemeters" are hand-held devices viewers use to register which members of the household are watching a specific program and require a certain dexterity as well as a steady dedication) ...

But David Poltrack, CBS' vice president of marketing, complains that the 2,300 peoplemetered homes in the Nielsen sample include far too many households that also use cable (actual cable penetration around the country is about 50 percent of all TV homes). "They have more choices and the network counts suffer accordingly," Poltrack said Wednesday ...

NBC has already asked Nielsen to revise its pay-cable sample. In addition, Poltrack says the Nielsen sample favors urban, younger audiences, which is not CBS' strength ...

According to "source," NBC led in primetime in very early figures with a 15.7 rating; followed by CBS at 13.7; ABC at 12.6; independent stations, 9.4; cable origination, 5.2; pay cable, 3.5; superstations, 2.9; and PBS at 2.7 ...

Meryl Comer, co-anchor with Carl Grant for "Nation's Business Today" on ESPN and moderator of the syndicated "It's Your Business" -- both produced by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce' BizNet -- has been promoted to vice president for communications development at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ...

Comer once hosted WTTG's "Panorama" and worked at the White House during the first Reagan administration ...

And John Goodman has been named a senior producer for "CBS This Morning." Goodman had been producer of planning and promotion since December 1983 on ABC's "Good Morning America." He first joined ABC in 1976 ...