Charles Grodin is riding back to Hollywood. MSNBC announced yesterday, to no one's surprise, that the "Beethoven" star is scrapping his low-rated cable talk show "Charles Grodin" after a five-year run.

Officially, MSNBC said Grodin is bowing out to "return to his Hollywood roots as a movie actor" but will also host specials for Court TV and occasionally appear on NBC's "Today" show "to raise awareness for various causes."


And Grodin said in the news release put out by the cable net that he's leaving because it has "become increasingly clear to me that being in the movies, more than ever, can be a real asset and will give me a forum to speak out for the unprotected."

In reality, Grodin had been in a steady ratings decline at MSNBC. In July, he announced his talk show would no longer feature any guests but instead would show videotape culled from the week's top news stories, and he would do all the talking himself.

"Charles Grodin" ran for about 16 months on MSNBC; before that, the program was a late-night talk show on CNBC. It was billed as a celebrity interview program, but somehow morphed into a nightly rant by Grodin on social injustice. Until CNBC parent NBC canceled him, in June '98. Six weeks later, NBC rehired him, to do his thing on MSNBC on the weekend.

Fox insiders insist it's true that the network is developing a two-hour live special called "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" for the February sweeps.

But Fox won't confirm the special, which allegedly will feature 50 women competing to marry a filthy-rich guy, according to a report in USA Today. A producer who's worked on other Fox schlock reality specials, including "Shocking Behavior: Caught on Tape," told the paper that they already have some wealthy bachelor candidates, and producers will "screen" potential brides. There was no elaboration on that; just let your imagination run wild. The special would culminate in the actual wedding of the winner and her multimillion-dollar man.

Executives at other networks greeted the news with skepticism yesterday. On the other hand, Fox is the network that in 1995 brought America "Alien Autopsy," which purported to be footage the network had obtained of an autopsy of a big-eyed little guy from outer space that took place in the '50s in the general vicinity of--where else--Roswell, N.M. Fox reran the ratings magnet maybe five times until, last year, it ran another "reality" special called "World's Greatest Hoaxes," in which it exposed the autopsy show it had run repeatedly as a total scam--and got a big ratings with that special, too.

And, noted one suit at another network, who requested anonymity, it's true there's a surfeit of millionaires these days on the West Coast. "There are a lot of geeks worth millions who can't get a date to save their [heinie]," he said. "That's probably who they're going to get--the kinda guy who's always got a finger up his nose and will be worth more money than you and I will ever see in our lives."

ABC, which claims to deliver the news to more people than any other source, has decided to give its own TV stations one more source for their news: CNN.

ABC's station group has signed on as an affiliate to Time Warner's all-news cable network. That gives the ABC-owned stations the ability to pick up the cable network's breaking news coverage.

ABC's 10 owned and operated stations, as they're collectively called, have joined their counterparts at CBS and Fox, which earlier signed on as CNN affiliates, trade paper Hollywood Reporter said.

CNN has offered its content to broadcast stations for years; the Newsource service, as the affiliation operation is called, was initially used mostly by independent stations, as well as Fox stations, that did not have big network news operations behind them. Newsource also was attractive to stations that were affiliated with, but not owned by, the Big Three broadcast networks.

Then, about two years ago, CBS's O&O stations came aboard after the eye network's news operation blew it covering the car crash that killed Princess Diana, lagging behind its competitors by hours in covering the story.

An ABC insider says this network's O&O sign-up is the result of last year's 11-week battle with the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians workers. ABC had locked out more than 2,000 workers after NABET staged a one-day strike over health benefits, which left the network scrambling to cover a "Monday Night Football" game. That lockout left ABC News programs, including "Nightline," "This Week" and "World News Tonight," shut out of interviews with top Democrats who honored NABET picket lines. Among the bigger headaches that resulted, ABC News had to go to court to force the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to allow its cameras into her victory celebration.

"Some stations see the need for backup that a second news service provides," an ABC rep said of the CNN deal.

NBC has pulled "Jesse" from its Thursday lineup for the rest of the November sweeps, though it swears it'll be back in December.

In its 8:30 p.m. time slot, NBC will air reruns of its 8 p.m. sitcom "Friends" this week and next. On Thanksgiving night, NBC already announced it would preempt "Jesse" to run "Just Shoot Me." Then it's back to "Jesse" on Dec. 2. Unfortunately, those two "Friends" reruns aired just a few weeks ago. But hey, even ardent fans of a show see only about half of its episodes the first time around--at least that's what NBC says each summer in its "It's New to You" rerun propaganda.

The network is also going to play a couple of editions of its Fox homage "World's Most Amazing Videos" during the last couple of weeks of the sweeps. On Monday there'll be one featuring firefighters at a fireworks factory, a motorcycle racer who slams into a wall, and horses colliding at a rodeo.

Then, for your enjoyment, on the final Saturday of the sweeps, "Amazing Video" offers footage of a guy being flipped off his crashing boat and onto a nearby island, a gasoline tanker truck that explodes into a fireball, and a matador being gored by a raging bull.

Can't wait!

CAPTION: Charles Grodin plans to be a spokesman for "various causes."