Talk about serendipity, TV Column fans! ...

No sooner had Gary Hart announced he was returning to the Democratic presidential race yesterday than ABC News revealed that Friday night "20/20" will carry the results of a six-month investigation into Lynn Armandt, who was on the yacht "Monkey Business" with Donna Rice, former senator Hart and attorney Bill Broadhurst earlier this year -- one of the incidents that, when revealed, led to Hart's withdrawal from the race in May ...

According to an ABC News spokesperson, the report by correspondent Stone Phillips discloses Armandt's "shady past." Armandt eventually sold her version of then-close friend Rice's relationship with Hart to People magazine -- a sale that Rice subsequently disclosed broke up their friendship ...

The San Francisco 49ers-Chicago Bears NFL game Monday night on ABC averaged a 21.9 national Nielsen rating and a 37 percent audience share. The game ended at 12:25 a.m. Tuesday ...

So far this year, ABC Monday Night Football has averaged an 18.1/32 for 13 games, which includes three games featuring substitutes during the NFL strike. ABC Sports points out, without even being asked, that if you remove those three games, Monday Night Football has averaged a 19.1/33 over 10 "regular" games (each national rating point represents 886,000 TV homes) ...

That compares with an 18.2/31 over the same calendar period last year for 14 "regular" games. Once again, ABC Sports pleads with us to remember one of those games was pitted against Game 7 of the 1986 World Series on NBC and begs readers to consider that without that game -- which earned a mere 8.8/14 and finished 67th in the ratings that week -- the 1986 Monday Night Football ratings through the same week last year would have averaged a 19.0/32 ...

We've included all this folderol because we hate to hear network researchers cry ... especially this time of year ...

Locally, the game on Channel 7 did a handsome 26.9/44 (each local rating point represents 15,851 TV homes) ...

Also Monday night, on NBC, the "ALF" special did a strong 21.1/31 in the national ratings, followed by the "Motown Merry Christmas!" special at 14.8/22 and "Secrets Women Never Share," at 14.5/24 ...

Locally, on Channel 4, "ALF" did a 20.8/30, the "Motown" special a 16.9/24 and "Secrets" a very private 12.4/19 ...

NBC Entertainment will apparently run a series of still-undisclosed specials in the weeks between "Rags to Riches' " last appearance at 8 p.m. Fridays, on Jan. 22, and the debut of "The Highwayman" in that time slot on Friday, March 4. You'll notice NBC is withholding "The Highwayman" and his 18-wheel truck from eager viewers until after the crucial February sweeps are over ...

Specials will also fill in during the stretch between the last appearance of "Private Eye" on Friday, Jan. 15, at 10, and the arrival of its replacement, "Sonny Spoon," on Friday, Feb. 12 ...

As reported yesterday, "Hunter" and "J.J. Starbuck" will exchange their Saturday and Tuesday time slots as of Dec. 29 and Dec. 26, respectively, without missing a beat ...

Speaking of the February sweeps (all eyes on the Calgary Winter Olympics on ABC, please), CBS yesterday announced that "Sidney Sheldon's Windmills of the Gods," a four-hour miniseries starring Jaclyn Smith and Robert Wagner, will air the nights of Sunday, Feb. 7, and Monday, Feb. 8 ...

Jaclyn plays a Midwestern college professor who is "swept into the world of international political intrigue" when she is appointed ambassador to Romania. R.J. plays a career diplomat at the embassy who, at least for the first half hour or so, will be "perhaps the least-willing member of the staff to accept Mary in her new post" ...

Also in the News Comics John Larroquette and Elayne Boosler will host the "Ninth Annual ACE Awards Ceremony" on HBO the night of Jan. 24 ...

The ACE awards are the cable industry's "most prestigious honor for original programs and the works of creative artists" -- similar to the primetime Emmys for free-TV. Although it will air on HBO, cooperating cable systems around the country will make the show available to non-HBO subscribers that night through use of an unscrambled signal ...

This year there are 314 nominations in 74 categories. Winners will be chosen by members of the National Academy of Cable Programming ...

Larroquette is best known as the winner of three Emmys for his work as Dan Fielding on NBC's "Night Court." Boosler has starred in several cable comedy specials ...

Incidentally, although the details are still to be worked out, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, sponsor of the primetime Emmys, has agreed to make cable programming eligible to compete in next year's awards ceremonies ...

Original primetime programming first exhibited over U.S. cable networks that are available to more than 50 percent of U.S. homes, along with individual achievements within such programs, are now able to compete for Emmys, a move long opposed by the big commercial networks ...

However, there was some initial confusion about the ATAS board decision since the only system now available to more than 50 percent of U.S. homes is ESPN, the cable sports network ...

Regardless of how that turns out -- there is also a skirmish with ATAS over "fair judging" -- the annual ACE Awards will continue. Until 1985, when the Cable Academy was established, the awards had been administrered by the National Cable Television Association ...

Today's Message of Hope for All Would-Be Writers: Justice Department attorney Rob Okun -- in his spare time, of course -- wrote the script for this coming Sunday's episode of NBC's "Family Ties" ... the first he's sold in Hollywood ...

Okun, who works in the fraud section of the commercial litigation branch of the civil division at Justice, had received encouragement but no cigar when he submitted an earlier script to "Cheers" ...

While at Harvard Law School, the 1984 graduate wrote a couple of shows -- Professor Kingsfield must have had a fit -- staged by the students. Last week he flew out to Paramount Television to watch the taping of the episode, in which Alex (Michael J. Fox), dressed as a department store Santa, meets a little girl who teaches him the meaning of Christmas (Captain Airwaves is starting to blubber already) ...

"It went pretty well," Okun said yesterday. "Those people work very hard." He chose "Family Ties" because he "thought it was a pretty good show" and it turned out "they were looking for a Christmas script" ...

"CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" won the network news race for the 12th week in a row with an 11.6/21. "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" was second at 10.8/19, while "ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" was third at 10.5/19 ...

One anomaly: the 960,000 TV household drop in overall network news viewership from the previous week -- even with (or maybe because of) the blanket coverage of General Secretary Gorbachev's visit ... RATING SHARE NETWORK 1....30.0....The Cosby Show.............47....NBC 2....27.9....A Different World..........43....NBC 3....23.5....60 Minutes.................37....CBS 4....23.1....Cheers.....................36....NBC 5....22.9....Night Court................36....NBC 6....21.9....Barbara Walters Special....35....ABC .....21.9....Murder, She Wrote..........32....CBS 8....21.1....Growing Pains..............32....ABC 9....21.0....The Golden Girls...........37....NBC 10...20.3....Who's the Boss?............32....ABC 11...19.3....Foxfire....................30....CBS 12...18.9....L.A. Law...................34....NBC 13...17.9....Grinch Stole Christmas.....31....CBS 14...17.5....Matlock....................27....NBC 15...17.3....Hunter.....................32....NBC .....17.3....NFL Jets-Dolphins..........31....ABC .....17.3....Family Ties................26....NBC 18...17.2....ALF........................26....NBC 19...16.9....Charlie Brown Christmas....30....CBS 20...16.8....NFL Overrun (Sun.).........29....CBS .....16.8....Night Before Christmas.....26....CBS

Yawn. Sigh. NBC won again last week with a 15.6 rating and a 26 percent audience share ...

The big news, at CBS anyway, was that CBS finished second with a 13.6/20, which puts it in second place finally for the season-to-date. ABC slipped to third with a 12.4/20 for the week, but not before reminding CBS revelers that both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics are still to come on ABC's schedule before the regular season ends in mid-April ...

CBS countered that eight of the 12 lowest rated programs last week belonged to ABC (the holiday spirit obviously hasn't hit ABC and CBS yet) ...

In other highlights for the week ending Dec. 13, "The Father Clement Story" on NBC tied for 22nd; NBC's "Eye on the Sparrow" tied for 34th and NBC's "Bronx Zoo" tied for 47th ...

CBS' Grammy Lifetime Awards and an NBC Smurf special tied for 59th; while ABC's "Best Defense" movie was 70th among 73 shows ranked last week ...