The Washington market no longer will be barred from seeing Bill Maher on TV. Starting Feb. 21, we'll be free to watch the Late-Night Mouth That Roars With Ego That Soars.

Okay, it won't technically be free; you'll have to buy HBO to see him.

Maher, who was let go by ABC in late June, is moving his late-night talk show to HBO, on cable where it belongs.

HBO was skimpy with details; it announced that it had ordered 20 episodes of the new, unnamed one-hour show, which would be devoted to news and comedy, as was "Politically Incorrect."

HBO CEO Chris Albrecht called Maher "one of the most distinctive and provocative humorists on the scene today, adding that "this edgy new show will give him a regular, uncensored forum for the first time ever on TV."

Albrecht never misses a chance to get in a dig at broadcast TV -- God bless him.

HBO's Downtown Productions division produced Maher's "Politically Incorrect," which featured a panel of guests and Maher ranting about the news of the day; the show got its start in 1993 on Comedy Central, where it ran until its unfortunate move to ABC in 1997, where it aired uneasily until this past June 28.

But here in our market, we didn't get to see the show much after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The program was taken off the air for a few days after the attack, as were Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" and David Letterman's "Late Show" on NBC and CBS, respectively. When "PI" did return, Maher commented that the terrorists were not, as some had suggested, cowards, since they were willing to die for a cause they believed in; he went on to say that it was the Americans "who have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away."

Albritton Communications-owned WJLA, Channel 7, continued to carry the show for three more days, then yanked it over those comments.

A few days later, Albritton brought the show back to WJLA's lineup, but yanked it again the same day that White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked about Maher's remarks during his daily press briefing. Fleischer responded that it was a "terrible thing to say" and that it was "a reminder" to "all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do."

D.C.-area cable company Comcast assured The TV Column yesterday that it has no plans to block Maher's new show when it debuts on HBO -- by way of demonstrating to the various factions in Washington how very patriotic Comcast is as a company.

"It will be left to the viewer if they decide to watch it or not," said a sensible Comcast spokesman. Which is as it should be.

. . . and they lived happily ever after. TV bachelor Aaron Buerge actually went and proposed -- to the brunette no less, Helene Eksterowicz -- last night on the incredibly long season finale of ABC's reality hit "The Bachelor."

Possibly Buerge, a banker by trade, couldn't stand the thought of having to return the extremely pricey engagement ring that he'd picked out in the final moments of the two-hour telecast. That's the only explanation The TV Column can come up with for why Buerge actually got down on bended knee -- just like in all those Disney animated family tales -- and asked Helene to marry him.

"Yes, I will," she responded, adding for good measure, "without a doubt."

Apparently Buerge had missed the first edition of "The Bachelor" and didn't realize that he could simply flash the ring at his chick of choice and then pocket the rock and tell her that he had picked her to be the woman he most liked to date, as had Alex Michel, last year's Bachelor. And maybe today on "Good Morning America," Buerge will be able to explain to our satisfaction why he picked Helene -- does he really want to hear that voice for the rest of his life? -- over that cute Brooke Smith. She spent her last date with Buerge worrying about his feelings, unlike Helene, who spent her last date with Buerge talking me me me.

Even after accepting his proposal, Helene couldn't resist getting back to her favorite subject, telling Buerge as they embraced that she had always considered herself a loser.

Men can be so stupid.

ABC News is eliminating all seven production positions in D.C. for its "20/20" newsmagazine.

An ABC News rep confirmed the development, adding that "all of the '20/20' producers have been offered their same jobs in New York with relocation packages."

"20/20" executive producer David Sloan, senior executive producer Victor Neufeld, and senior producer Michael Clemente all descended from New York to Washington on Tuesday to deliver the news in person.

The seven staffers are one senior producer, three producers, two assistant producers and one production assistant.

There has not been a "20/20" correspondent based here for years and, according to one source, the staffing represented a different time, when "20/20" was producing a lot of stories out of Washington.

Going forward, those stories will be handled by "20/20" producers in New York, who will take the shuttle down to the capital and work out of the Washington bureau. One source suggested that the development suggests "20/20" is gearing itself more toward celebrity profiles of the kind Barbara Walters did two weeks ago with Ozzy Osbourne spouse Sharon for the November sweeps.

On the other hand, "20/20" covered the D.C.-area sniper shootings at great length, including a one-hour special as recently as three weeks ago. Other recent Washington-based reporting on the newsmag includes contributions to the 9/11 anniversary coverage and election coverage.

John Potthast, the guy who was charged with dumping Louis Rukeyser as host of "Wall Street Week" in his capacity as head of Maryland Public TV's original programming, is exiting the station.

But he's not abandoning public TV. Nope, he's heading to WETA to oversee its program development.

Potthast insists his departure is not connected to the Rukeyser debacle. Last spring MPT unceremoniously dumped Rukeyser as host of the show he'd headlined for 32 years. Instead of remaining as a contributor, as offered, he instead took his act to CNBC and, with him, "WSW's" corporate underwriters.

In August, the Baltimore Sun reported that MPT officials claimed they were forced to dump Rukeyser or the show would have lost national distribution by PBS.

For now, PBS is picking up the tab for production of the new "Wall Street Week With Fortune," which has yet to find underwriters. Even so, in August, MPT announced it would have to cut 32 staff positions and scale back some programming in order to make up for a $2.1 million budget deficit.

"The current fiscal climate at MPT really had nothing to do with my decision," Potthast told The Post's John Maynard.

In fact, Potthast told Maynard that one reason he's leaving MPT is that, as a state employee, he will be eligible to collect a pension from Maryland after 25 years at MPT on Feb. 1. "The puzzle pieces came together at the right time," he said.

MPT has not announced a replacement for Potthast and will "consider the situation in January in light of a state hiring freeze," an MPT spokeswoman told Maynard.

At WETA, Potthast will be one of six project executives and will oversee development of new national programming. He will report to Dalton Delan, the station's executive vice president and chief programming officer.

"He was extremely attractive for the breadth of his work in public television," Delan said in an interview.

That breadth of work in public television included managing MPT national productions "MotorWeek" and "Jewish Cooking in America," as well as the specials "Piano Grand! A Smithsonian Celebration," "On Stage at Wolf Trap" and "National Geographic Bee."

And, of course, "Wall Street Week."

Today, I choose; tomorrow, I do's? "The Bachelor's" Aaron Buerge and Helene Eksterowicz.