Would you be terribly surprised to learn that NBC has already announced a special using footage from Bob Hope's recent visit to American troops of Operation Desert Shield? ...

The sand had barely settled yesterday when the network announced that the 90-minute "Bob Hope's Christmas Cheer From Saudi Arabia" will air on Saturday, Jan. 12, starting at 9:30 p.m... .

Hope was not allowed to take the women in his entourage to Saudi Arabia because of fear of offending the Saudis, so Ann Jillian, Marie Osmond, the Pointer Sisters and others were taped while performing on offshore naval vessels and in Bahrain, according to the network ...

Also appearing with Hope were country recording artist Aaron Tippin, and athletes Johnny Bench and Walter Payton ...

Not to be outdone in the geriatric sweeps, CBS Entertainment announced yesterday it will air "George Burns' 95th Birthday Party" on Friday, Feb. 1, at 10 p.m... .

The one-hour show will be taped Jan. 6 at CBS Television City in L.A... .

Among those scheduled to appear with Burns, who will perform songs and comedy monologues, are Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Sid Caesar, Ben Vereen, Kenny Rogers, Ann-Margret, Whitney Houston, Richard Lewis, Rita Rudner and Bob Saget ...

Commission on the Presidential Debates co-chairmen Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf have sent letters to the networks and key cable systems urging them to start planning for the 1992 debates ...

One reason for the early notice: They hope to avoid any scheduling problems such as those that cropped up in 1988 because of the late start of the Summer Olympics in Seoul, which were aired on NBC ...

Three or possibly four debates between the Democratic and Republican candidates are under consideration ...

And while we're talking politics, Sharon Pratt Dixon, who will be sworn in on Wednesday, Jan. 2, as mayor of the District of Columbia, will be interviewed live during the first half-hour of ABC's "Good Morning America" that morning ...

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....19.0...Cheers...............................32.......NBC

2....18.9...NFL 49ers-Rams.......................32.......ABC

3....18.3...60 Minutes...........................33.......CBS

4....17.8...Dolly Parton Christmas Special.......31.......ABC

5....17.6...Roseanne.............................28.......ABC

6....17.5...A Different World....................29.......NBC

7....17.0...A Mom for Christmas..................27.......NBC

8....16.3...The Golden Girls.....................30.......NBC

.....16.3...Designing Women......................25.......CBS

10...16.2...Unsolved Mysteries...................27.......NBC

11...16.0...Empty Nest...........................29.......NBC

.....16.0...Coach................................25.......ABC

13...15.8...The Cosby Show.......................26.......NBC

14...15.4...Murphy Brown.........................23.......CBS

15...15.3...Always Remember I Love You...........26.......CBS

16...14.9...Family Matters.......................26.......ABC

17...14.7...Matlock..............................24.......NBC

18...14.6...In the Heat of the Night.............23.......NBC

19...14.5...20/20................................27.......ABC

20...14.4...Full House...........................26.......ABC

.....14.4...Rescue 911...........................23.......CBS

NBC won the week ending Dec. 23 with a primetime rating of 11.9 and a 20 share, compared with a 12.6/22 for ABC, an 11.7/20 for CBS and a 6.4/11 for FOX ...

NBC won Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights; ABC took Monday, Tuesday and Friday; and CBS, Sunday ...

Thirty-three of the 89 shows ranked for the week were repeats. CBS's "Evening Shade," which tied for 28th, was the highest-ranked new series last week ...

ABC News's "Koppel Report" on sex in the Soviet Union was 35th, the Washington-Indianapolis NFL game on ABC Saturday night was 46th ...

NBC dug down for a fresh episode of the canceled "Hull High" series and it finished 85th, to lead the Final and Barring Divine Intervention Probably Fatal Five for the week. Fox entries completed the FABDIPFF, including "Totally Hidden Video," in 86th, followed, in order, by "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Haywire" and "Against the Law" ...

CBS's lowest-ranked show was a new episode of "Lenny," in 79th, while ABC's worst was a repeat of "Life Goes On," which finished 72nd ...

Now This "James Brown: The Man, the Music & the Message," the syndicated special that airs on Channel 9 tonight at 11:30 and again on Sunday night in the same timeslot, comes from On the Potomac Productions here, which began working on the show two years ago ...

The show premiered at the American Film Institute at the Kennedy Center last September. It has since been sold to 72 stations nationwide for distribution in February ...

The program was produced by On the Potomac president Thomas Hart Jr., who filmed in Washington and Hollywood as well as Aiken, S.C., where the "godfather of soul" has been serving a six-year sentence in the minimum-security Lower Savannah Community Work Center for leading police on a high-speed chase in 1988 ...

Hart says the one-hour production cost some $300,000 and was funded in part by sponsors such as Xerox Corp., Burger King and the U.S. Army ...

"James Brown" will also be seen tomorrow night on Channel 11 in Baltimore at 11:30 ...

It's 50 straight weeks at the top of the heap -- and 61 out of the past 63 -- for "ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings," which averaged an 11.3/21 for the week ending Dec. 21. "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" was second at 10.3/19, while "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" trailed at 9.5/18 ...

And who was that local weatherman over the weekend who moved the capital of Idaho to Utah for the evening? ...

The Mysterious West Side: ABC News in New York called ABC News's "Nightline" in Washington last week with orders that restored the line "substituting for Ted Koppel" at the top of "Nightline" broadcasts on the nights when substitute anchors are used. The standard introduction was abandoned late last summer. Weird ...

"The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" will begin simultaneous Spanish language translation -- on the Separate Audio Program (SAP) -- as well as closed captioning for the deaf on Monday, Jan. 14. The "NewsHour" is seen on Channel 26 weeknights at 7 and repeated at midnight, and on Channel 32 at 6 p.m... .

A grant of $290,000 from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will underwrite a full year of simultaneous translation, which will take place in New York where two U.N.-trained interpreters will alternate in 15-minute shifts to cover the one-hour newscast ...

More than half of the nation's Hispanic population will have access to SAP, which is available on most new TVs and VCRs. Addition of the two services is expected to make "NewsHour" immediately available to an additional 4 million viewers ...

Stockings at the three networks were overflowing with coal lumps on Christmas Eve. With only one original program on the air that night ("A Very Retail Christmas" on NBC, which did a 5.5/14 at 8:30), CBS won the night with a mere 7.7/19 average, compared with a 6.6/17 for NBC and a 6.1/15 for ABC ...

On Christmas night, it was still Scanty Claus. NBC won with a 12.4/25, CBS did a 9.5/19, and ABC an 8.6/18 ...

Wednesday night, the last episode of "Cop Rock" aired on ABC, winding up with a farewell song about being canceled (yes, the Fat Lady sang) while averaging a 6.8/13 in Nielsen's 25-city overnights. Sample lyric, from costar Ronny Cox, as he salutes the series that replaces "Cop Rock" on the network schedule: "When I ride into the sunset, proud as I can be, knowing there is 'Equal Justice' here at ABC" ...