Those Trekkies are tough, TV Column fans. Just ask Media General Cable out in Fairfax County, Channel 45 in Baltimore and Channel 20 ...

Seems that for the past few months, every weeknight at 7, Channel 45 has been airing episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," programming that Media General has routinely carried...

Since it debuted several years ago, "Star Trek:The Next Generation," the successor to Star Trek," has also been carried on Channel 20, most recently at 10 p.m. Wednesdays (WDCA also airs "Star Trek" reruns in that timeslot the other four weeknights), programming that Media General, with 160,000 subscribers, has also routinely carried ...

Two weeks ago, however, WDCA management sent a letter to the cable system invoking the Federal Communications Commission's so-called SYNDEX rule. If a station calls the rule into play, a cable system has to black out significant portions of its distant signals to protect syndicated programming that the local TV broadcaster had bought under an exclusive contract. Since Washington is closer to the cable system involved, WDCA had priority over the more-distant Baltimore market ...

The rule took effect Monday night, blacking out WBBF's signal on the Fairfax system for that hour.

The angry phone calls to MGC started yesterday morning. Dozens of them. A few Trekkies, aware of the nuances of SYNDEX, also called WDCA to complain. Even blameless WBBF got a few grumbles ...

As of now, all to no avail. WDCA general manager Dick Williams yesterday defended his decision to invoke the rule. "We're paying an incredible price to carry 'Star Trek.' The rule was designed as a means to ensure that one station doesn't wind up spending a lot of money and then all of a sudden discovers that WWOR in New York or some other distant station is also carrying it. It's a financial decision" ...

The SYNDEX rule was put on the shelf in 1980 but resurrected this year after pressure from program syndicators. All sides privately understand that under SYNDEX, the cable subscriber ultimately loses out since he/she is paying plenty every month for the right to see a favorite program, no matter its source, whenever he/she wants. But it's still the only protection a local station has ...

"We probably would have {invoked the rule} earlier this year but it's taken us some time to gear up," Williams said yesterday. "We're very sensitive to this. We don't want to be the bad guys but we have to protect our investment. I discovered today these Trekkies get very vitriolic" ...

A spokesman for WBBF yesterday said "we're looking into the situation," but it seems unlikely the FOX affiliate can do much about WDCA's decision ...

It seems unlikely the move will particularly help CBS's desperate need to attract younger audiences, but the network has signed a proven crowd-pleaser, Michael Landon, to star in and produce a one-hour dramatic series for the 1991-92 season ...

From 1959, as a young costar on "Bonanza," through 1989, when he finished a five-year run as the star of "Highway to Heaven," Landon had been a moneymaker for NBC. Large as it's been, Landon's core audience, however, has skewed older over the years ...

Now This

Jesse Jackson and a crew of about 10 were en route to Iraq yesterday, where he is scheduled to interview Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, possibly today, for the syndicated TV program "Inside Edition" ...

"Inside Edition," which is syndicated by King World, reportedly paid Jackson about $125,000 for the interview ...

Av Westin, the former ABC News executive who is in charge of "Inside Edition," emphasized yesterday, "We are merely picking up expenses for getting him there and back home" ...

Westin said Jackson is expected back from the Persian Gulf either Saturday or Sunday evening. He hopes to have the tape material edited for broadcast on Tuesday's "Inside Edition." "Depending on what luck he has," Westin said, later programs in the week could also be devoted to Jackson's efforts ...

"When I talked to Jesse yesterday, along with {executive producer} Michael Lindner and {correspondent} Kenneth Walker {who are accompanying Jackson}, "we discussed the possibilities of other aspects of his trip, including getting out into the streets in Baghdad, even in Kuwait. He thinks he's got some unusual access. We'll see" ...

Westin said that, in addition to their own research efforts, Jackson and his staff were provided with "as much research as possible." He said "Inside Edition" called on its own stable of academics, journalists and other Middle East experts to provide background for the travelers ...

"He's as well briefed as any '20/20' correspondent I ever sent overseas would have been," said the former executive in charge of the ABC News program ...

Jackson had earlier failed to get backing from ABC, NBC, CNN, Time Warner Inc. (which is bankrolling his upcoming syndicated "The Jesse Jackson Show") and FOX. He reportedly had been seeking as much as $385,000 for the trip. Jackson has claimed he is making the trip strictly as a journalist and not as a politician ...

Westin yesterday said he expects no problems with Jackson's role as a journalist. "I've raised the question with him. I have ultimate authority over what goes on the air. I think there's enough potential protections against setting anybody up. Jesse has endorsed the gulf action -- he's not looking to set himself up as a patsy ...

"He knows why he's going. If Saddam Hussein has something to say I think we should be listening," Westin said. "It won't be an unrestricted pipeline to America. I suspect that Jesse Jackson can do just as well as Ted Koppel or Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw. I know he went over there with a whole lot of tough questions. We'll see what Saddam Hussein does with them" ...

TV RATINGZZZZ

Following are the top 20 network prime-time shows last week, ranked according to the percentage of the nation's 92.1 milllion TV households that watched, as measured by the A.C. Nielsen Co. A share represents the percentage of actual sets-in-use tuned to a particular program when it aired.

..RATINGS.................................SHARE...NETWORK

1....16.5...60 Minutes.......................35.......CBS

2....15.4...Cheers...........................27.......NBC

3....15.0...The Cosby Show...................28.......NBC

.....15.0...Unsolved Mysteries...............27.......NBC

5....14.9...Empty Nest.......................30.......NBC

6....14.2...Ferris Bueller...................25.......NBC

7....14.1...Parenthood.......................24.......NBC

8....13.9...The Golden Girls.................28.......NBC

9....13.8...Matlock..........................24.......NBC

10...13.6...Roseanne.........................23.......ABC

11...13.3...America's Funniest Home Videos...25.......ABC

12...12.9...Doogie Howser, M.D...............22.......ABC

13...12.5...20/20............................25.......ABC

14...12.2...Murder, She Wrote................22.......CBS

15...12.1...Carol & Co.......................25.......NBC

16...11.9...Real Life With Jane Pauley.......22.......NBC

17...11.8...Top Cops.........................22.......CBS

.....11.8...Conway's Funny America...........21.......ABC

.....11.8...Designing Women..................20.......CBS

20...11.7...Growing Pains....................21.......ABC

FOX's "The Simpsons," which has been a fixture in the Top 20 in recent months as a Sunday night hit, dropped all the way to 54th place last week, its first appearance in a new Thursday timeslot against NBC's "The Cosby Show" ...

NBC, which last week introduced five of its new fall series, was an easy winner for the week ending Sunday, averaging a 10.5 rating and a 20 share. ABC was second at 9.4/18 and CBS third at 9.1/17, and FOX averaged a 5.6/10 (which, despite the drop for "Simpsons," was up very slightly from a week ago) ...

Once again, the three network evening news shows together had a slight edge in total audience over the three big networks' primetime lineups ...

"ABC World News Tonight" was first at 10.4/22, followed closely, for a change, by "CBS Evening News" at 10.2/21 while "NBC Nightly News" trailed at 8.9/19. The three news shows averaged a cumulative 29.5/62, compared with a 29.0/55 for the primetime lineups. Rather's stay in the Persian Gulf seems to have paid off for CBS News ...

Along with "Ferris Bueller" and "Parenthood," both of which cracked the Top 10, the NBC "previews" -- which will be repeated before the season officially begins Sept. 17 -- also included "Hull High," which finished in a tie for 29th, "Lifestories" in 31st and "Working It Out," 32nd ...

Original programming last week also included the Jane Pauley special, CBS's "Top Cops" -- that network's happiest summer surprise -- and the Tim Conway series, all in the Top 20 ...

Also from the original programming ranks, the San Francisco-Denver NFL exhibition on ABC was 26th, ABC's "New Attitude" tied for 36th and CBS's underrated but attractive "Northern Exposure" tied for 40th ...

"Anna" on NBC and CBS's "Face to Face With Connie Chung" tied for 45th. The Farm Aid special on CBS was 80th ...

The Final And Usually Fatal Five Plus One last week was led by the premiering FOX series "Glory Days," in 84th, followed by CBS's original "Wish You Were Here" and FOX's "21 Jump Street" rerun, tied for 85th. FOX's "The Outsiders," "The Tracey Ullman Show" and "Alien Nation" -- reruns, all -- completed the list of 89 programs ranked for the week ...