MSNBC may turn to Sam Donaldson to help it climb out of its ratings hole.

Donaldson is talking to the NBC cable news network about a possible regular prime-time gig, sources confirmed yesterday. No deal is done.

"They are flirting; they've just started dating," said one TV news industry source with knowledge of the situation.

Donaldson declined to comment on reports that he's in talks with MSNBC. "I have a contract with ABC News and at the moment have no plans to change that," he said late yesterday.

The 68-year-old correspondent and anchor was recently replaced as host of the Sunday Beltway show "This Week" by George Stephanopoulos, but he still does a regular ABC News program.

"Sam has been at ABC for 35 years; he has a long-term contract," said his attorney, Robert Barnett.

"Over the months many people have approached him with interesting opportunities. There are currently no plans to make any changes. He's heading over to the war zone for ABC radio and TV, and that's his immediate plan."

According to one insider, Donaldson yesterday asked for and was given permission by ABC News to listen to MSNBC's pitch.

"Sam is a very well-loved member of the ABC News family and will be with us in radio for years to come," a division source said. "No one wanted to stand in the way of an opportunity . . . that he wanted to pursue."

But one informed source said a clause in Donaldson's contract would allow him to change TV situations in the fall anyway under certain terms.

MSNBC weighed in with the following statement: "We have nothing to announce with respect to our schedule." With respect to Donaldson, the network said no deal is in place.

MSNBC has been losing badly in the ratings to news competitors Fox News Channel and CNN. TV industry insiders expect the network to announce that it has signed former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura for a prime-time program.

"I have a contract with ABC News and at the moment have no plans to change that," said longtime ABC newsman Sam Donaldson.