Senior vice president Tim Russert, who has brought the NBC News bureau here in under budget in the two years since he took over, has signed a new three-year contract with the network ...

As part of the deal, News president Michael Gartner announced Friday, Russert agreed to remain as bureau chief through the 1992 presidential election ...

In addition, the former top aide to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo also joined the guest expert rotation on "Meet the Press," one of the programs he supervises here ...

Gartner, in his announcement to the staff, pointed out that "we have used bureau chiefs from the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, etc., why not NBC? Tim," Gartner went on, "is one of the most knowledgeable people in Washington with instant, unerring instincts about news and reporting, and I have asked him to appear occasionally as a questioner on Garrick's show" ...

Russert made his debut yesterday on "Meet the Press" but barely got a word in as Utley and Andrea Mitchell did most of the questioning of guests Sen. Robert Dole and Rep. Tom Foley ...

Russert took over the 185-member Washington bureau in January 1989. Besides keeping costs down for two years in a row (a guaranteed career enhancer at GE-owned NBC), he's boosted morale considerably, in part by increasing the nightly presence of Washington on "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" ...

While we're on the Sunday morning beat, it got a little lively on "This Week With David Brinkley" yesterday when ABC correspondent Sam Donaldson suddenly switched subjects to ask Sen. Ernest K. Hollings, from textile-producing South Carolina, if it were true the powerful Democrat's suits are made by a Korean company ...

No transcript was immediately available, but, according to ABC News information director Sherrie Rollins, Hollings snapped back, "Well, if you want to get personal, where did you get your wig made?" ...

"I'm not getting personal," replied a (briefly) nonplused Donaldson ...

Hollings pointed out that his Korean tailor makes his suits from bolts of American-made fabrics ...

Donaldson was unavailable for comment yesterday. About anything ...

Also at NBC News, Coby Atlas, senior producer of the "Today" show since April, will leave the network in mid-October to join Gary David Goldberg's expanding production empire in California ...

Atlas has been with the network for 10 years, coming from hometown L.A. in 1987. No replacement has been made ...

Black Entertainment Television president Bob Johnson and actor Tim Reid have announced formation of a new production company that will produce movies, miniseries, specials and documentaries emphasizing black lifestyles ...

Michele Clark, former director of business affairs for HBO, will be president and chief operating officer for the joint venture ...

As Johnson sees it, BET "brings the finances and access to the cable industry to the joint venture, while Tim is the creative genius who will come up with the ideas, package the people and sell the projects. And Michele will be the bridge between the business and creative communities ...

"The primary objective is to act as a catalyst to bring the underutilized talent -- actors, directors, writers, producers -- in the black community to the attention of the major distribution companies." Envisaging a packaging capability in the image of Michael Ovitz's powerful MCA organization, Johnson said, "Our job is to get them in to see the people who say 'yes' " ...

The joint venture already has two picture deals in the works, Johnson said ...

Washington-based BET is available in 30 million cable homes and is 48 percent owned by cable giant Tele-Communications Inc., HBO and the Great American Broadcasting Co... .

Channel 32, the Howard University public TV station, today launches an image campaign emphasizing two new themes: "We're bringing the best to you" and "Caring about the people we serve" ...

The campaign will feature new on-air generic spots, program promotion spots, station identification spots and public service announcements, to be shown throughout the broadcast day ...

The spots for the new campaign, which replaces the previous theme of "Channel 32: All about you," were mostly produced in house at WHMM, although outside production costs came to about $50,000 ...

WHMM has had a good year so far, making news when D.C. Mayor Marion Barry chose the station to make his election decision announcement and toting up a record number of pledges during its recent membership drive. General Manager Edward Jones Jr. says the new campaign "sets the tone for the beginning of a new decade of service in the area as Washington's community station. The new image campaign enhances what has been two years of positive transition -- both internally and externally" ...

In Other News

NBC anchor Jane Pauley got a trip on a GE corporate jet from L.A. to Washington last night (where she hosted the primetime Emmys with Jay Leno and Candice Bergen) so she could be on hand for today's National Press Club journalism awards luncheon ...

After the NPC makes its five major awards (including one TV award for consumer reporting), Pauley will speak on the subject of "soft news." Jane, who is just about everybody's choice as America's TV favorite these days, says she wants to redefine (i.e., upgrade) the phrase "soft news." She thinks it's sometimes applied pejoratively to describe important stories that are neglected if they're pigeonholed in the "soft news" category ...

Bolstering her case, NBC research says some 40 million viewers saw some or all of the first four of her just-completed five summer "soft news" specials "Real Life With Jane Pauley" ...

The luncheon is for NPC members and their guests ...

Here are some highlights of Channel 20's new fall season, a portion of which was launched this past weekend ...

Joining WDCA's increasingly popular children's lineup starting this morning were "Wake, Rattle & Roll" and "Merrie Melodies," which debuted at 7:30 and 8 a.m... .

As for early evening and primetime, next Monday, Sept. 24, both "ALF" and "Head of the Class" will debut weeknights at 6 and 6:30. And don't forget those "Star Trek: The Next Generation" reruns, which will start Oct. 1 each weeknight at 10 p.m... .

WDCA's primetime movie lineup (Monday through Saturdays) continues strong. Capitals NHL hockey, the NBA Bullets, the American League Orioles and a lineup of college specials fill out WDCA's strong sports schedule ...

On weekends, this past Saturday saw the introduction of several new features on the schedule, including two episodes of "Webster," starting at 7:30 a.m., followed by the Tarzan Theater (i.e., movies), while "The Greatest American Hero" returned at 3 p.m... .

On Saturday, Sept. 29, new episodes of the "The New Dragnet" and "Adam-12" will debut between 4 and 5 p.m., followed by "Superboy." "Video Challenge" debuts at 7 p.m., followed by "Mama's Family" at 7:30 ...

"Superforce" will join the late afternoon schedule at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 6 ...

"Soul Train" also debuts at midnight on Oct. 6 ...

As previously announced, the new season of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" kicks off at 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, on WDCA. Repeats of the new season episodes will follow eight days later throughout the season, in the 6 p.m. Sunday timeslot (e.g., Oct. 7 for episode one) ...

As for Sundays, yesterday "Captain Planet," "Tom & Jerry" and "Superboy" began airing between 9 and 10:30 a.m., with "Superforce" joining the schedule at 10:30 a.m. starting Oct. 7 ...

And "21 Jump Street" joins the Sunday night schedule at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7 ...

Cowabunga, CBS!

CBS won a Thursday night for the first time since Sept. 15, 1988, as "Knots Landing" returned for the new season with a 14.9 national Nielsen rating and a 27 percent audience share!!! ...

Earlier, a two-hour "48 Hours" special on murders in the United States averaged an 11.9/20 ...

At 8 p.m. a repeat of "The Cosby Show" on NBC averaged a 13.9/24, compared with a 9.8/13 for a repeat of FOX's "The Simpsons." The premiere of FOX's "Babes," which followed, did a 9.0/15 ...

The premiere of NBC's "Law and Order" at 10 averaged a 10.4/19 ...

A repeat of "Gabriel's Fire" on ABC averaged an 8.9/15 ...

Each rating point represents 931,000 TV homes ...

In Washington, "Simpsons" on Five was No. 1 at 8 with a 13.7/23, just beating Cosby (13.5/22) on Four. But "Babes" at 11.7/19 was far behind "A Different World" on Four, which averaged a 15.2/24 in the next half-hour ...

"48 Hours" on Nine averaged an 11.1/18, while "Knots Landing" did a 14.1/25 and "Law & Order" on Four did a 10.9/19 ...

Each rating point represents 17,278 homes. Starting today, TV Column fans, a point will represent 17,491. Please. Don't reach for your car phones ...