Were we ready for some football? Some Monday night football on ABC between those awesome 49ers and those tough N.Y. Giants? You bet ...

Despite the fact that the previous week the two best teams in the NFL had both lost for the first time this season, it still turned out to be a ratings bonanza, averaging a 27.0 national Nielsen rating and a 42 percent audience share between 9 and midnight ...

That made it the second-highest-rated Monday Night Football game in the 20-year history of the ABC series, behind only the 29.6/46 registered on Dec. 2, 1985, for the Miami-Chicago game -- and slid the Redskins-Cowboys game of Oct. 2, 1978, which averaged a 26.8/43, to third in the all-time standings ...

In San Francisco Monday night, the game averaged a 45.9/64, and did a 34.0/49 in Gotham. Locally, the game did a 28.6/46 on Channel 7 ...

Because the number of TV homes has increased in the past five years, Monday's game provided ABC's biggest football audience ever, an estimated total viewership of 41,550,000 compared with the 39,040,000 who watched the '85 game ...

Remnants of that huge football audience (at least those with a cultural bent) then went on, a half-hour later, to hand ABC News's "Nightline" -- featuring Madonna and her thought-provoking video essay, "Justify My Love" -- probably its biggest audience so far this year, a 10.2/36 in Nielsen's 25 major overnight markets ...

"Nightline" (and Madonna, and Madonna's video) averaged a 7.7/34 on Channel 7, following the local news (13.2/43) ...

The football game boosted the four-network audience share to a rare 77 Monday night but the lineups on CBS and NBC were clearly outnumbered. The NBC movie, "When Will I Be Loved?," averaged a 12.6/19 nationally, while the CBS lineup between 9 and 11 did an 11.8/18 ...

Apropos of the network audience share, the National Cable Television Association has released figures showing that the combined primetime and late-night audiences share for all cable networks increased to 21 percent in September of this year, up 5 percent from a year ago ...

Nielsen figures show broadcast network shares falling to 62 percent during primetime and to just 51 percent in late night ...

The number of cable homes in the United States has risen to 53.9 million, up from 50.2 million last year, or 58.6 percent of all U.S. TV homes ...

There probably will be no announcement but it's firm that CBS News will be able to keep "America Tonight" in the 11:30 p.m. timeslot at least through mid-January, when the shifting deadlines in the Persian Gulf are (currently) supposed to kick in ...

The network has a strong schedule of five original, one-hour action-adventure dramas waiting in the wings for late night after the first of the year but CBS News is apparently winning its battle to stay flexible on the news front -- just in case ...

President Bush received "by far the worst TV coverage of his presidency" during October, according to a just-released study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs here ...

The Center monitored 185 stories on the administration on ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts ...

Bush's approval rating dropped from 67 percent at the end of September to only 48 percent at the end of October, according to Gallup polls, as controversy swirled around the administration over the deficit, taxes, civil rights and Medicare/Medicaid ...

According to the Center report: The "Bush administration received 89 percent bad press, based on 168 evaluations by sources and reporters. The administration's policies were criticized by more than nine out of ten sources." Evaluation of major policy areas was uniformly negative including the deficit (92 percent negative), taxes (100), Medicare/Medicaid (87), civil rights (92) and the "president's overall management of government, 100 percent" ...

According to the Center "the president's media image was about equally negative on all three networks -- 96 percent negative on CBS, 95 on NBC and 91 on ABC" ...

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....20.4...Cheers...........................32.......NBC

2....19.8...60 Minutes.......................32.......CBS

3....18.6...A Different World................29.......NBC

4....18.3...Roseanne.........................27.......ABC

5....18.1...The Cosby Show...................28.......NBC

6....18.0...Murder, She Wrote................26.......CBS

7....17.9...Decoration Day...................28.......NBC

8....17.8...Murphy Brown.....................27.......CBS

9....17.6...Empty Nest.......................31.......NBC

10...17.3...Matlock..........................26.......NBC

11...17.1...Designing Women..................26.......CBS

12...17.0...Major Dad........................26.......CBS

13...16.8...NFL Buffalo vs. Houston..........28.......ABC

.....16.8...America's Funniest Home Videos...25.......ABC

15...16.6...Unsolved Mysteries...............26.......NBC

16...16.5...The Golden Girls.................29.......NBC

.....16.5...In the Heat of the Night.........25.......NBC

18...16.4...NFL Overrun (Sun.)...............29.......NBC

19...15.9...Family Matters...................27.......ABC

20...15.8...Full House.......................28.......ABC

.....15.8...Doogie Howser, M.D...............24.........ABC

NBC won for the eighth time in 11 weeks of the 1990-91 season with a 13.1 rating and a 21 share, compared with a 12.4/20 for ABC, a 12.3/20 for CBS and a 5.9/10 for FOX ...

The CBS Tuesday night movie, "The Stranger Within," was 24th; the CBS Sunday movie, "Fatal Image," tied for 30th; and the NBC Monday movie, "To My Daughter," was 39th ...

Among the news shows, ABC's "20/20" was 44th and ABC's "PrimeTime Live" tied for 54th, while CBS News's "48 Hours" was 65th ...

Seven Fox series were at the bottom of the 94 shows ranked last week (NBC's Sunday night NFL overrun was not included in the rankings listed by the other networks, by the way). Otherwise, three CBS series, "Family Man," "Wiseguy" and "Broken Badges," were ranked 85th through 87th. ABC's "China Beach" and NBC's "Lifestories" tied for 80th in those networks' poorest performances during the week ending Dec. 2 ...

Now This

Oprah Winfrey will play herself on the Dec. 20 episode of ABC's "Gabriel's Fire," while baseball great Reggie Jackson will appear as himself and songstress Della Reese will play a role in the Dec. 17 episode of ABC's "MacGyver" ...

"ABC World News Tonight" continued to march steadfastly along in first in the network news race, averaging an 11.7/21 last week compared with a 10.1/18 for "NBC Nightly News" and a 10.0/18 for "CBS Evening News." NBC's ratings were its best since February and there was some indication that "Nightly's" Thursday and Friday night broadcasts devoted entirely to the gulf crisis may have helped ...

We've already noted that Sunday night Channel 26 registered a cushy $97,900 toward its $500,000 fund-raising goal as the station launched a rerun of "The Civil War" series. In the spirit of the holidays, Captain Airwaves says he wants to salute the on-air folks who helped raise the record total -- Paul Anthony, former WJLA anchor Robin Chapman (up from her anchor duties at NBC affiliate WESH in Orlando, Fla.) and Cathy Channell of PBS. He also wants to salute the Hexagon Theatre Group which manned (well, personned) the WETA phone banks that night. Isn't that Airwaves something? ...

A couple of key categories from the local November Nielsen sweeps that we deliberately left out Monday because of (ugh!) Ratingzzz Overload!! ...

You'll note that with the exception of Channel 20, audiences continued to decline for local stations while WJLA, WRC and WUSA all found something to raise a small cheer about ...

In primetime, Mondays through Sundays, this past month, the NBC schedule on Channel 4 and ABC's offerings on Channel 7 were tied for first with an 11.7 rating and a 19 share. WRC was down from 13.6/22 in Nov. '89, WJLA was off from a 12.4/20 a year ago ...

Third was the CBS schedule on WUSA, which averaged an 11.2/18 (down from 12.4/20). Next was Fox Broadcasting's WTTG, at 8.4/14 (9/14) and independent WDCA at 3.0/5 (up from a 2/3) ...

In sign-on to sign-off (6 a.m. to 2 a.m.) Mondays through Sundays, WUSA is number one at 6.8/18 (7.9/21), followed by WJLA at 6.1/16 (6.7/17), WRC at 5.8/16 (6.8/17), WTTG at 4.8/13 (5.7/15) and WDCA at 2.6/7 (2.0/5) ...

In the sign-on, sign-off figures, Channel 20 is the only station to show an increase in both ratings and audience share from a year ago. November was also the third book in a row (July and October) in which WDCA showed a share increase ...