An unusually large audience watched the networks Sunday night, including a record viewership for PBS as it launched the elegiac "The Civil War" with a two-hour episode called "The Cause -- 1861" ...

According to Nielsen overnights for the 24 major markets around the country, some 89 percent of all sets-in-use were tuned to ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and PBS during the evening, compared with the 62 percent normally tuned to the major networks last season ...

Add to that the sure-fire audience for TNT's NFL game Sunday night between Tampa Bay and Detroit (unavailable yesterday) and there wasn't much left for the cable industry, all in all ...

In Nielsen's 24-city overnight ratings, "Civil War" averaged a 9.0 rating and a 13 percent audience share, which translates to a national audience of 13.9 million viewers, according to PBS research ...

That included a 7.5/11 for the program on Channel 26 here (each local ratings point representing 17,491 households), which PBS research says comes to about 184,000 viewers ...

Moreover, a 20-minute interview with "Civil War" creator Ken Burns at the conclusion of the two-hour broadcast resulted in a considerable falloff in audience count, suggesting the program itself was an even bigger triumph for PBS ...

Among other major markets, San Francisco recorded the top audience for "The Civil War," averaging a 14.7/21, followed by Portland, Ore., at 13.2/40, Chicago at 12.1/17, Boston at 11.6/17 and St. Louis at 11.4/16 ...

PBS is stripping the $3.5 million, 11-hour series over five consecutive nights this week. General Motors Corp. contributed $2.6 million toward its production, promotion and educational proponents. Other contributors included the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ...

Earlier in the day, on Channel 9 here, the Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys game averaged a 28.1 rating and a 59 percent audience share between 1 and 4:17 p.m. ...

In other Ratingzzz News Sunday night, CBS swept the Big Network boards and the expectation at the erstwhile Tiffany of the Webs is that the network is going to win a week outright for the first time since January 1987 and take the opening week of a season for the first time since since Sept. 1984 ...

CBS research chief David Poltrack yesterday credited the expected victory to "a lot of small victories" during the week ...

(One not so small victory -- at least in the 24-city Nielsen overnights on Sunday: "Murder, She Wrote" beat ABC's very big springtime breadwinner, "America's Funniest Home Videos" and the new "America's Funniest People" between 8 and 9) ...

Sunday night, according to the overnights, CBS won with an 18.1/27, followed by ABC at 11.9/18, NBC at 11.7/18, FOX at 8.5/13 and PBS (during "the Civil War," anyway) at 9.0/13 ...

CBS led off with a 21.2/37 for "60 Minutes," followed by a 17.7/26 for "Murder She Wrote" and a 17.3/26 for "The Queen of Mean," in which Suzanne Pleshette starred as Leona Helmsley ...

ABC saw "America's Funniest Home Videos" at 15.1/22, "America's Funniest People" at 13.3/19 and the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "The Running Man" at 11.9/18 ...

NBC's two two-hour movies, "Camp Cucamonga" and "She Said No" averaged an 8.3/13 and a 15.1/23, respectively ...

At FOX, the season return of "In Living Color" at 8 did a 13.2/19, the premiere of "Get a Life" at 8:30 averaged an 11.0/16, the return of "Married ... With Children" a 15.2/22 and the 90-minute debut of "Against the Law," a 5.3/8 ...

From the Ratingzzz Free ZoneLots of news on the news front this morning, TV Column fans, as the annual Radio and Television News Directors Association convention got rolling out in San Jose, Calif. ...

CBS News president Eric Ober announced the start of its still-untitled weeknight half-hour program for Monday, Oct. 1, at 11:30 ...

As expected, anchors will be Charles Kuralt in New York and Lesley Stahl in Washington. Janet Leissner, who has been with "CBS Evening News" here will be senior producer in Washington for the new program ...

The program evolved from six recent late-night specials, with the umbrella title "Showdown in the Gulf," which were broadcast starting Aug. 29 and aired periodically through Sept. 11 as the gulf crisis intensified. It received a strong kickoff from Dan Rather's interview with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ...

The CBS competition for ABC News's "Nightline" (which itself grew out of the Iran hostage crisis of 1979) presented an opportunity that Ober said yesterday "the network couldn't see passing by." Ober declined to say how long the show will be on the air, telling the RTNDA audience that it will "live or die based on its quality and circulation" among the networks' 200-plus affiliates ...

A CBS News spokesman stressed yesterday that most evenings the stories will be different from those on the earlier "CBS Evening News" or planned for "CBS This Morning" the next day ...

The control room will be located in New York. Lane Vernardos will be executive producer. Stahl will continue as White House correspondent and moderator of Sunday's "Face the Nation," while Kuralt will continue as anchor of CBS's "Sunday Morning" ...

One title currently being bandied about: "America Tonight" ...

ABC News senior vice president Richard Wald also went before the RTNDA to announce ABC's 1 a.m.-to-6 a.m. newscast will debut Jan. 7. But before the day was out, Wald had to back off from his firm announcement pending the working out of some additional details ...

The show, which is still due to debut in January, apparently, is also without a title ...

John Armstrong, assistant Washington bureau chief since October 1982, will be executive producer ...

In his early announcement, Wald said the broadcasts will be a mixture of live and taped segments, anchored by two still-unnamed ABC News correspondents. Affiliates will be able to broadcast from two hours up to the full five hours in 30-minute packages. The broadcast will feature domestic and international news, sports and weather and provide a local cutaway ...

The program will be based in Washington. ABC is reportedly considering outside talent as well as staffers for the two anchor jobs ...

And NBC News president Michael Gartner chose the RTNDA yesterday to announced that Jane Pauley has signed a new five-year contract and that her "Real Life With Jane Pauley" program will return as a regular weekly series in mid-season ...

During the summer, five editions of "Real Life" were seen in an average of 10.6 million TV homes (that's only a technical violation of the Ratingzzz Free Zone) ...

Gartner said "Jane Pauley is one of the most popular figures in network news and deservedly so. 'Real Life' is built around her intelligence, spirit and style -- and it clearly works. Jane and executive producer David Browning and their talent staff have given NBC News a successful and worthy prime-time program" ...

Pauley will continue to substitute for Tom Brokaw on "NBC Nightly News" ...

Hair today and gone tomorrow: But tonight at the Hyatt Regency they're roasting ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson, with proceeds going to the Spina Bifida Association ...

Roasters include Budget Director Dick Darman, Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and columnist Bob Novak. There will also be taped messages from former presidents Reagan and Carter, Diane Sawyer and Candice Bergen. Mark Shields is emcee ...

The PBS series "American Interests" celebrates its 10th anniversary on the air tonight with a reception on Capitol Hill. The program, produced by the Blackwell Corp. here, started with a single outlet -- WETA -- in 1981 (where it now airs at 2 p.m. on Saturdays) and is currently seen on 194 stations. Morton Kondracke is moderator of the program ...

General Motors Corp. will be the sole sponsor of "Separate but Equal," the four-hour miniseries that will air on NBC this coming spring ...

Sidney Poitier and Burt Lancaster star in the story of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall's life leading to his landmark argument before the high court for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation case of 1954 ...

Poitier plays Marshall, Lancaster will portray John W. Davis, the Democratic candidate for president in 1924, who opposed Marshall in the argument before the court ...

Richard Kiley will portray Justice Earl Warren. George Stevens Jr. and Stan Margulies ("Roots" and "The Thorn Birds") are executive producers ...