When WRC-TV news director David Nuell returned from an out-of-town trip a few weeks ago, a neighbor asked after the state of his marriage. The question was prompted by a comic strip called John Darling that features a television news director who -- entirely by chance -- bears a strong resemblance to Nuell.

In a case of art imitating life, the comic strip character named Reed Roberts has the same hair, beard, glasses, pipe and job as 39-year-old Nuell. Both the character and Nuell are workaholics. Both have three children -- two boys and a girl. But in the strip, Reed Roberts and his wife are separating, something Neull hastens to say is not the case in his life.

"About a year ago, when we were introducing Bob Ryan as our weatherman, we ran a print ad featuring a lightening bolt," recalls WRC's Neull. Two weeks later, the John Darling strip included a discussion of a weatherman and lightening bolts. Says Neull: "I checked around far enough to find the strip's write and artist weren't in the Washington area, then dropped it."

But as other similarities began occuring in the strip, Nuel finally called the strip's creators to say, "Hey, you've cloned me." Neither the writer (who lives in Medina, Ohio) nor the artist (of Evansville, Ind.) knew of Nuell or the conincidental resemblance between him and their character.

"Since then we've become friends," says Nuell, "and I've been urging them very strongly to get Roberts' marriage patched up. They said they're going to have him date a little while before he reconciles with his wife. I'll live it vicariously."