"Inside Edition" said yesterday that "sources close to the Iraqi leadership" have told them that CBS correspondent Bob Simon and his three-man crew "are alive and were being held prisoners of war by the Iraqi government in Kuwait City" ...

"According to 'Inside Edition's' source," the syndicated show reported, "the four American prisoners have been moved to Baghdad, where discussions are underway within the Iraqi government concerning their release" ...

CBS News spokesman Tom Goodman, responding to the program's statement, said, "We cannot confirm {the report} but we're obviously looking into it and welcome any good news" ...

Simon and his crew have been missing since leaving their vehicle near the Saudi-Kuwait border three weeks ago. CBS News has dispatched an executive to the area in a so far unsuccessful effort to enlist Iraqi aid in finding the men and seeking their release on humanitarian grounds ...

NBC yesterday denied a published report that it was launching a Persian Gulf War cable channel today in partnership with Cablevision that would provide continuous coverage from the gulf, including all military briefings and uncut pool reports ...

Joe Rutledge, vice president, corporate communications, said that "NBC is currently exploring a number of different ways of adding to its existing gulf coverage but no agreement has been reached on any of the several alternatives being discussed" ...

Christine Hikawa, an attorney, has been named to succeed the retiring Alfred Schneider as head of ABC's standards and practices department, effective May 1 ...

She will retain her current title of vice president, standards and practices ...

Tired of seeing their own correspondents show up on the Cable News Network recently, ABC, CBS and NBC -- outvoting CNN by 3 to 1 -- have changed the pool rules in the Persian Gulf so that only the pictures and script of a pool report can be used on another network ...

CNN had been using on-camera pool reports filed by correspondents from rival networks, flashing a correspondent's name on the screen while showing his face and airing his voice. The other networks, however, have confined their coverage in similar circumstances to only the scene, while using the script of the pool report, without showing the face of the rival reporter ...

Monday night, "Perry Mason: The Case of the Maligned Mobster" on NBC averaged a 14.0/22 between 9 and 11 in the national Nielsens, compared with a 12.8/20 for "Deadly Intentions ... Again?" on ABC ...

In the same two hours, CBS averaged a 14.6/23, as "Face to Face With Connie Chung" at 10, with an 11.7/20, took a big edge off the 17.6/26 recorded by "Murphy Brown" at 9 and the 17.2/26 by "Designing Women" in the next half hour ...

Locally, "Deadly Intentions" on Seven did an 11.9/18 and Perry Mason a 13.2/19 on Four, compared with a 20.7/29 for Murphy, a 19.8/29 for "Designing" and a 13.0/20 for "Face" on Nine during the same two hours. Each local ratingzzz point represents 17,491 TV households ... TV RATINGZZZZ

Following are the top 20 network prime-time shows last week, ranked according to the percentage of the nation's 93.1 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 21.5 Cheers...........................33..NBC

2 21.1 60 Minutes.......................35..CBS

3 19.2 America's Funniest Home Videos...29..ABC

4 18.8 Roseanne.........................29..ABC

..18.8 America's Funniest People........28..ABC

6 18.6 Murphy Brown.....................28..CBS

7 18.5 Designing Women..................28..CBS

8 18.3 Family Matters...................31..ABC

..18.3 Barbara Walters Special..........31..ABC

10 18.0 The Golden Girls................30..NBC

11 17.5 Full House......................30..ABC

12 17.4 Empty Nest......................29..NBC

...17.4 A Different World...............27..NBC

14 17.2 Unsolved Mysteries..............27..NBC

...17.2 Murder,She Wrote................26..CBS

16 16.8 The Cosby Show .................26..NBC

17 16.4 Coach...........................26..ABC

...16.4 Lucy & Desi Movie...............25..CBS

19 15.8 Matlock.........................24..NBC

20 15.7 L.A. Law........................26..NBC

ABC won the primetime race for the third straight week, the first time that's happened at ABC since November 1981 ...

But season-long leader NBC did climb back into second after being mired in third for a while. For the week ending Feb. 10, ABC averaged a 12.8 rating and a 21 share, compared with a 12.7/21 for NBC, a 12.2/20 for CBS and a 7.0/11 for FOX ...

The season-to-date race now has five-straight-years champion NBC at 12.8, compared with a 12.6 for ABC, a 12.3 for CBS and a 6.3 for FOX. And CBS and NBC are tied for first in the February sweeps at 12.4, with ABC at 12.1 so far ...

Among the movies, the Marla Hanson story on NBC was 26th, ABC's "Big" was 28th and NBC's "The Chase" tied for 29th ...

The conclusion of the ABC miniseries "Son of the Morning Star" tied for 42nd with the Cher special on CBS ...

While Fox anchored the Final And Usually Fatal Five again last week, the big boys had some candidates near the bottom.

ABC's "Twin Peaks" and "Under Cover" tied for 85th, CBS's "Uncle Buck" and "Lenny" were 88th and 89th, respectively, and NBC's "Real Life With Jane Pauley" and "Sunday Best" tied for 90th among 94 shows seen last week ...

Stand by Your Dan Rumors swept the CBS News division yesterday that Tom Bettag, executive producer of "CBS Evening News With Dan Rather," is to be replaced. Such a change could come as early as today. Key candidates to replace Bettag: Eric Sorenson, currently executive producer of "CBS This Morning"; Andrew Heyward, executive producer of the Rather-anchored "48 Hours"; and David Corvo, vice president, public affairs programs ...

Bettag's possible departure comes as "CBS Evening News" continues to trail in the weekly network news race with a 9.9/18, compared with a 12.4/22 for "ABC World News Tonight With Peter Jennings" and a 10.0/18 for "NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw" ...

The week in which the Persian Gulf War began on Jan. 17, the three news shows were seen in an average of 35.8 million TV homes altogether. But audiences have dropped each week since and for the week ending Feb. 8 the cumulative household count was 30 million ...

The close margin between NBC and CBS -- just 93,100 TV homes -- was the best the Rather show has done against a reviving NBC in four weeks but probably won't do anything to stop the current round of speculation (predicting Dan's removal is one of those cyclical stories, like Johnny Carson quitting or Larry King getting married, beloved by TV writers in slow weeks) that Rather is going to have to (1) share the anchorship with either Lesley Stahl or Connie Chung one of these days or (2) leave the job when CBS finally lures Ted or Diane or Forrest from ABC sometime before 1992 ...

The rumors surrounding Rather himself took a particularly goofy twist this week in the Star supermarket tabloid, which speculated that "heartthrob war correspondent Arthur Kent is the front-runner to replace him."

Unfortunately for the Star -- and for Arthur and his agent, Stuart Witt, maybe -- the NBC correspondent in December re-upped with the network until June 1994. Since that time, of course, Kent has surfaced as the "desert hunk" (People magazine) in the national media, increasing his visibility tremendously ...

Witt yesterday called the CBS speculation in the Star "a pure invention; they didn't even bother to call me." He confirmed, however, that the recent publicity has resulted in at least three local anchor offers (one in a top 10 market) for the Rome-based correspondent ...

Witt says, however, that the 37-year-old Kent has never asked for an anchor job. The throwback to the foreign correspondents of old likes doing what he's doing, says Witt, whether it's covering a war in the Persian Gulf, an earthquake in Iran, a war in Afghanistan or unrest in Romania -- all recent assignments ...

CBS News, meanwhile, continues to stonewall any inquiries about Rather's status, obviously hoping it will all fade away again -- at least until another cycle begins ...

You might keep this in mind, however. When CBS News president Eric Ober held a Q&A session for the regional network affiliates meeting here last week, one top 10 market station executive expressed the opinion that it was high time some network news organization opted for a female presence on its nightly news cast. Ober agreed that local news shows using female anchors have been successful for years, noted that at least one network (he had NBC and perhaps Jane Pauley and Tom Brokaw in mind, probably) had recently toyed with the idea and concluded that he was not discounting the possibility somewhere down the line ...

One last -- and we do mean last -- note regarding all this premature Rather conjecture. Here in Washington, so far during the February ratingzzz sweeps, Rather on Nine is currently leading Jennings on Seven by a narrow margin and beating Brokaw on Four outright ...