ABC News yesterday confirmed that William Lord, executive producer of "ABC World News Tonight" the last four years, will be leaving the program soon ...

Sources said that ABC News president Roone Arledge and Lord had discussed Lord's request to leave the program earlier this month. The 26-year veteran of the network turned 50 on Dec. 7 ...

"He's had it on that back-breaking job," one News executive, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "Bill thinks it's time to move on. Roone and he still have to decide on what he might want to do next. There's no official announcement because there hasn't been a decision on a replacement yet" ...

ABC candidates for one of the toughest jobs in network news broadcasting reportedly include Dorrance Smith, who has been executive producer of ABC's weekend news programming in Washington since 1980, and Paul Friedman, a former top producer at NBC News who joined ABC in 1982. He is currently director of news coverage for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, working out of London ...

Rick Kaplan, executive producer of "Nightline," is not believed to be a candidate at this time, but should anchor Ted Koppel decide to leave the program (his contract was up Dec. 4), Kaplan's name could go on the list ...

Lord has frequently expressed a desire to leave the pressures of the nightly news program, which include not-infrequent battles with anchor Peter Jennings ...

A recent New York Magazine profile of Jennings told of one such disagreement -- over coverage of the reported marital difficulties of Princess Di and Prince Charles, which were receiving wide publicity in the British press at the time. Lord ordered the segment despite Jennings' doubts about the truth of the press reports and later, in front of the magazine reporter and others in the control room that night, complained about Jennings' tepid version of the story when it aired ...

One top news executive yesterday scoffed at any suggestions the article had influenced either Lord's or Arledge's action. "There would be something very wrong if an executive producer and his anchor didn't go to battle once in a while. It happens at all the networks ...

"Bill has done excellent work in a grinding job. He's moved 'World News Tonight' up to second place and we've even been first a few times in recent months. If anything, that magazine report probably delayed any decision to let Bill move on just so there wouldn't be any such misunderstanding" ...

In weekly news ratings announced yesterday, "ABC World News Tonight" finished third with an 11.1 Nielsen rating and a 20 percent audience share, only a hair behind "NBC Nightly News" in second at 11.2/20. "CBS Evening News" was first for the week ending Dec. 18 with a 12.1/21 ...

"World News Tonight" has finished second to CBS in seven of the last 10 weeks ...

Moving Right Along Friends say that longtime network news executive Ed Fouhy has accepted an invitation to become a Fellow at the Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, starting Feb. 1 ...

Fouhy's contract with NBC News expires at the end of January. A bureau chief for both ABC News and CBS News here, he most recently has been working on election-year coverage plans for NBC, after being executive producer of the "1986" magazine program ...

Fellow Fouhy will teach a study group on "the presidential selection process and the press" through the academic semester that ends in June ...

Washington viewers won't see Fox Broadcasting's revised Saturday night lineup on WTTG when it debuts Jan. 16 ...

The previously scheduled Georgetown-Boston College hoop tilt will pre-empt the premiere on Five that night ...

So Five, which was caught by surprise by the Fox announcement last week, will air the Saturday slate the next Tuesday night, Jan. 19, starting at 8 p.m. ...

Starting in February, NBC News will use three robot cameras on "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" and expects to introduce robot cameras within a couple of months on the very early morning "Sunrise" news and "Before Hours" business shows, as well as on election reports and news specials ...

Studio work on those shows primarily involves head shots ...

The robot camera could save the company about $1 million a year, according to Tom Wolzien, NBC vice president for editorial production services. The "Nightly News" change will eventually eliminate the equivalent of four employes, but NBC says no one will lose his job because the network has been scaling back its personnel by not replacing people who quit or retire ...

A director in the control booth communicates the shots to the camera by a computer hookup, instead of relaying instructions to a camera operator. "We're trying to put our creative people as close to the end product as we possibly can," Wolzien told AP, "and where there are people translating somebody's instructions from a person to a device, the more we can reduce the number of translators the better off we are" ...

NBC News had the right to use robot cameras under its prior contract with the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, which recently signed a new pact with the network after a 17-week strike ...

A spokesman for NABET said the union was not surprised by NBC's move. Calvin Siemer, vice president of the New York local, said "we've never opposed technological change. Our position is that whatever the work is to be done after the technological change, we'll do the work" ...

Bob Murphy, ABC vice president, news coverage, said yesterday that his network has been using robot cameras since the 1984 Olympics but use of them "on a live news program is away down the road" ...

Murphy explained that under ABC's current contract with NABET, use of robot cameras is permitted, but with a new contract up for negotiation in two years, and a long-term job reduction plan still in effect at ABC News, the network wants to move slowly -- and diplomatically -- on any major changes in technology at this time ...

"We used a robot camera on the roof of the Hay-Adams during Gorbachev's visit to track his motorcades," Murphy pointed out, "and we used one in Venice at the economic summit" ...

A spokesman for CBS News said yesterday the network currently has no plans to use robot cameras on any news program ...

1...29.3...The Cosby Show......46...NBC

2...26.9...A Different World...42...NBC

3...25.5.......Cheers..........40...NBC

4...25.0......Night Court......40...NBC

5...22.0...The Golden Girls....40...NBC

6...21.9...NFL Bears/Giants....37...ABC

7...21.1..........ALF..........31...NBC

8...19.9.....60 Minutes........34...CBS

9...19.8.......L.A. Law........34...NBC

10..19.2...Christmas Comes to Willow Creek....30...CBS

11..18.8......Moonlighting.....28...ABC

12..18.4.....Bob Hope Special..34...NBC

13..18.2.....Growing Pains.....26...ABC

14..18.0..........Amen.........34...NBC

15..17.7..Candid Camera Special..27..CBS

16..17.4...Red-Nosed Reindeer...26...CBS

17..17.2....Who's the Boss?.....26...ABC

18..17.0...Family Ties..........27...NBC

....17.0...Matlock..............25...NBC

20..16.6...Murder, She Wrote....26...CBS

....16.6...Newhart..............24...CBS

....16.6...Designing Women......24...CBS

Ho ho ho ho hum. NBC won the primetime race again last week with a 16.3 rating and a 27 percent audience share, tying ABC for first on Wednesday and winning Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights outright ...

CBS, which won only Sunday night last week, was second at 13.8/23 while ABC, which won Monday and Tuesday in addition to the tie, was third at 12.6/21 ...

The sidewalk outside the Primetime Pantheon -- don't you love the Christmas decorations this year? -- was crowded with warmly clad supplicants again yesterday, most of them from the holiday specials ...

Seen waving happily were representatives from ABC's "Muppet Family Christmas," which finished 24th last week; CBS' "Circus of the Stars," in 28th; NBC's "Motown Merry Christmas" in 30th; and ABC's "Julie Andrews: The Sound of Christmas" in 32nd ...

NBC's reprise of "The Sound of Music" was 38th, ABC's "Christmas Memory" tied for 48th and ABC's "The Three Kings" was 63rd. Fortunately, the "Three Kings" crowd brought its own wassail bowl yesterday ...

The Final And Only Because We're Full of The Christmas Spirit Probably Not Fatal Five included CBS' "Trail of the Pink Panther" in 65th, followed, in order, by ABC's "Ohara"; ABC's "The Charmings"; and CBS' "West 57th" and ABC's "Sable," which tied for 68th and last place for the week ending Dec. 20 ...