Game shows are like crack cocaine--once you're on it, the ratings highs are great, but they don't last forever.

That's how NBC programming guru Garth Ancier described the genre today to The Reporters Who Cover Television as the winter TV press tour got underway.

NBC, which is not about to just say no to the prospect of higher ratings, is moving forward with its own prime-time game show, "Twenty One," which made its debut tonight.

But its habit will not be as risky as ABC's, Ancier says. Because while NBC is giving up "Dateline" Wednesday and Sunday nights for the game show, ABC is giving up its staple diet of sitcoms and drama series to cram "Millionaire" across its prime-time week. When "Millionaire" euphoria ends, ABC will be left with a decimated lineup of series, forecast NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa, who joined Ancier for NBC's executive session. It's a lot harder to find a replacement sitcom or dramas, he explained, than it is to make more installments of "Dateline," which will still be running three nights a week.

NBC's new game show is hosted by Maury Povich, who is way too old for NBC's target demographic of 18-49'ers. But NBC originally offered the gig to its much younger late-night star Conan O'Brien, who turned it down.

So eager was NBC to defuse questions on the "diversity" issue during the executive Q&A session today that it announced that Lindy DeKoven, its longtime head of movies and miniseries, has left the network to "pursue other things." And before The Reporters Who Cover Television could take their first swipe, the execs announced that on Feb. 10, NBC will host an all-day "intensive" seminar for producers of their shows and talent agents to inform them of its commitment to add more nonwhites behind, and in front of, the cameras--just in case any of them had been living under a rock these past few months and didn't know that the broadcast networks have been under fire for their largely white freshman series.

It's also no coincidence that NBC announced a pact with the NAACP on the issue just days before the winter press tour got underway. That strategy had worked like gangbusters for NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who held a news conference to blast the networks' fall shows just days before those networks were to meet with the media to unveil their fall slates last July.

"Homicide: Life on the Street" executive producer Tom Fontana says he "takes enormous satisfaction" in the fact that the show NBC used to replace "Homicide" tanked and died.

"I don't usually follow other shows' ratings, but I called every week to get 'Cold Feet' ratings," said Fontana, who was on hand to discuss NBC's February sweeps entrant "Homicide: The Movie."

Fontana wouldn't tell TRWCT how he managed to bring back all of the series's characters for the movie-- including some he had killed off through the show's long NBC run. But he said we should not assume that they're brought back only in flashbacks.

The writer-producer said he was initially indifferent to the idea of a final, wrap-up movie but is now very glad to have done it--so glad that if it does a blockbuster number--"let's say we beat 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire' "--he'd be willing to do more "Homicide" movies, if NBC and the actors were willing.

The proceedings started late last week and, unlike the final press tour of the last millennium, which had started with the most smackable guy on TV, Richard Simmons, this one kicked off with God's gift to female moviegoers, Liam Neeson.

I told you this millennium is going to be way better than the last one.

Neeson graced the PBS portion of the tour because he's narrating a documentary about ancient Athens for the network called "The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization."

During that show's session, we learned:

"The Greeks" isn't "Eurocentric" because American democracy is much more in tune with Athenian concepts of freedom, openness and fundamental equality than the European tradition . . . "The Greeks" took two years just to research and focus on Cleisthenes, Socrates and Pericles . . . and I'm almost certain that Neeson may have glanced our way for a second when he was trying to find someone in the audience who had asked him a question.

This year's media extravaganza also featured its very first American president. On Saturday, Gerald Ford--I know, no Liam Neeson--attended to discuss PBS's project "The American President."

Ford said he expects a woman to become president only by being elected vice president, and then the elected president either dies "or what have you."

"The quickest way, in my judgment, is the way I outlined," he added. He had also said that when that happens, "we're through."