MARINA DEL REY, CALIF. -- Gary Reals, who began his TV reporting career in Washington on Channel 9 back in 1980, has returned home to Brandywine Street NW ...

He debuts as a general assignment reporter today on WUSA. One of the area's best crime reporters, Reals worked for Channel 7 from 1983 until late last summer, when he and the station's new news director agreed to disagree ...

Earlier this month, Reals joined WRC briefly as a part-time reporter. At Nine, he replaces Brenda Buttner, who had barely arrived from Gannett News Service before she headed off for CNBC ...

Andrea Koppel, formerly of WTOP radio and WJZ-TV in Baltimore, has joined WPLG in Miami as a reporter for that station's expanded early morning news ...

"Good Sports," the new CBS sitcom starring Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett, finished third in its 9:30 p.m. timeslot when it debuted Thursday night. Not good news for CBS, which has guaranteed producers a full slate of 22 episodes ...

You may have heard by now that the new National Geographic special "Cats: Caressing the Tiger," made a meowrvelous debut on PBS last week, averaging a purrfectly wonderful 8.6 rating and a 12 percent audience share in Nielsen's 24 overnight markets ...

That included a 10.4/15 on WETA in Washington (well, every litter bit helps, TV Column fans) ...

What you may not know -- and you'd better get a grip on your rubber mice for this one -- the biggest audience, a 13.0/19, was registered in Phoenix -- on station KAET!!!

KAET. Almost like in KAT? Oh, never mind ...

Anyway they were the best numbers for PBS in the overnights since "The Civil War" debuted last Sept. 22 with a 9.8/13 and the best numbers for a new Geographic special since January 1985 ...

Henry Hampton's Blackside Inc., Bill Moyers's Public Affairs Television Inc., and the 1992 public-TV election project have received a total of $7.5 million in grants from the Public Television Program Challenge Fund, it was announced over the weekend ...

Blackside Inc., which produced "Eyes on the Prize" I and II, will receive $2.5 million toward production of "The Great Depression," a series of nine one-hour programs about America between 1929 and 1941, and "America's War on Poverty," a six-hour series looking at Lyndon Johnson's program of the late 1960s and early 1970s ...

The pilot for "Depression" is scheduled to air on "American Experience" this week ... depending on local PBS schedules ...

Moyers will receive $2 million for five projects, including "Sports for Sale," a 90-minute documentary on the mess in intercollegiate athletics; "Beyond Hate," interviews with Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Elie Wiesel, Jimmy Carter, Mrs. Medgar Evers and others whose experiences have made them "witness to coping with hatred"; and "The Faithkeeper," which will profile Oren Lyons, a Native American leader in the international environmental movement ...

Also from Moyers: "Spirit and Nature," called "a look at religious and ethical beliefs vis-a-vis the environment, {which} will feature the Dalai Lama, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and leading Protestant and Muslim theologians" ...

Moyers will also produce a special called "Project Censored," in which he will discuss the "10 most underreported stories of 1990 as chosen by an organization of journalists, scholars and media critics" ...

The Challenge Fund, funded jointly by PBS and CPB, also ticketed the 1992 election coverage project, headed by Alvin H. Perlmutter, for $3 million ...

Now This

Robert Iger, the president of ABC Entertainment, finds at least one ray of sunshine in the current economic downturn at the networks: "We won't be so trigger-happy."

The costs of creating series pilots and the advertising revenue loss that occurs when programs are moved or canceled are two important factors prompting all three big networks toward more stable scheduling ...

And that's a good thing too, because one of the major reasons cited by viewers for drifting away from the networks this past year is the uncertainty of week-to-week scheduling ...

In a recent press conference with visiting TV writers, Iger said the start of this current season produced "mass chaos" and "at that, I think I probably understated it" ...

Of the 66 hours of primetime shows that were on the three big networks at the end of last season, 27 hours have been replaced with something like 40 shows by the time midterm replacements are counted in ...

Iger sees increased efforts by the networks to fix ailing series rather than replace them outright ...

He predicted that this spring ABC would probably cut back its orders of pilots -- usually around 30 -- for potential fall series by about 25 percent. And he expects NBC and CBS to do likewise ...

He also predicts that programs will remain in place longer, because advertisers can withdraw their buys from a time period if the schedule is changed and because network sales departments are increasing the pressure on schedulers to hold the line ...

Although ABC is slightly behind NBC in the total-households-per-week averages, network research shows ABC to be No. 1 in the 18-to-49 adult bracket in 28 of its 44 half hours of primetime each week, compared with NBC's 10, CBS's five and Fox's one. The gap is narrowest among women 18-to-49 but ABC's leadership in Monday Night Football gives it the edge with men in that age bracket ...

Predictably, Iger prefers to be No. 1 in the profitable demographics instead of the Nielsen household counts ...

The slowdown in program purchasing does not necessarily mean a slowdown in the imagination department, however, at least at ABC ...

Iger has turned to Nickelodeon and MTV for possible Saturday night series ...

The former, which creates programming that somehow appeals to both the kids and their parents, would contribute a family-oriented series, while MTV might come up with an hour that combines elements of "Saturday Night Live" and "Laugh-In," Iger said ...

But that is for then: For now, ABC has eight series waiting in the wings, and the network is high on the prospects of several of them ...

A favorite of the critics here is "Davis Rules," in which Randy Quaid plays a grade school principal. And in which viewers will discover what it would really be like to have Jonathan Winters as their grandpa. Very funny stuff, if they can keep Jonathan reined in ...

"Davis Rules" is a product of Carsey-Werner and gets the post-Super Bowl game spot to help launch its debut two nights later in its regular time spot, Tuesday at 8:30, just before Carsey-Werner's "Roseanne." Hmmm ...

Other promising shows include an animated "Dinosaur," which could show up in April; "Eddie Dodd," with Treat Williams in the James Woods role from "True Believer" (late March/early April); "Baby Talk," based on the movie, after the February sweeps; and "Anything but Love" returns Feb. 6 ...

Speaking of the Super Bowl, ABC will use lots of promo time to boost the prospects of an upcoming miniseries called "Son of the Morning Star," which will straighten us all out on the Battle of the Big Little Bighorn. This one was in the works before "Dances With Wolves" hit big, and ABC expects some good returns ...

"Tragically," ABC tells us in its promo kit, "the Battle of the Little Bighorn was the Indians' last great triumph" ...