The American television audience is increasingly hooked to -- and hooked on -- cable television.

Some 49 percent of TV households are wired to cable. And as broadcast networks fret over the rising portion of their audience switching to cable and other alternative programming, the cable industry this fall is whipping up some specials that should offer still more competition for the networks this fall.

From NFL football to kiddie quiz shows to original dramas, there is something for everyone.

Along with its Sunday night NFL regular season football starting on Nov. 8, ESPN will feature "NFL PrimeTime," which will begin today. The program will wrap up the day's NFL action, and Chris Berman, Pete Axthelm and Tom Jackson will be the hosts.

National Geographic's popular "Explorer" series returns to WTBS on Sept. 27 with a trek to the Water Gardens of Kashmir.

A special two-hour exploration by Jean-Michel Cousteau examines California's Channel Islands as they are harassed and blessed by man. The WTBS show airs today and is narrated by Raymond Burr.

In October, Cable News Network will start its innovative "CNN World Report," billed as the first global newscast ever produced. It will provide reports produced by 45 nations.

Lifetime aims at women with its new programming. On Wednesday, "The Working Women's Survival Hour" begins with TV soap queen Susan Lucci as host. The show features interviews with prominent working women such as Geraldine Ferraro, Debbie Fields (of cookie fame), Cheryl Tiegs and Gloria Steinem.

The variety show will get its cable tryout with Lifetime's "Way Off Broadway" on Sept. 21, starring comedian Joy Behar.

Arts & Entertainment introduces its two-hour feature about the two scientists who unlocked the secret of DNA in "Double Helix" on Monday. The film stars Jeff Goldblum and Tim Pigott-Smith and is a co-production with the BBC.

A&E is also offering "Footsteps," in which archaeologist David Drew trails the treasure seekers of the past. The eight one-hour episodes begin on Oct. 3.

In another North American premiere, A&E has slated "Baryshnikov: The Dancer and the Dance" for Oct. 22. The program, which traces the life of the famous Russian dancer, has Shirley MacLaine as host.

And cable has something for the children. "Double Dare," a daily game show just for kids, begins on Oct. 6 on Nickelodeon. The Disney Channel has scheduled "Rick Nelson: A Brother Remembers," a 60-minute memoir by the late Rick Nelson's brother, David Nelson. The show will air in November.

The Disney Channel will also show "The Missing Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," 100 never-before-syndicated episodes of the popular TV series that ran from 1952 to 1966 and have been stored in the Nelsons' vaults.

HBO, the largest pay-cable channel, boasts a cartload of original programming including live comedy specials, musicians and singers performing at international sites and dramatic specials.

"Mandela," the biography of South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela will be shown on Sept. 20. Filmed in Africa and produced by Herbert Brodkin, the show stars Danny Glover and Alfre Woodard.

Howie Mandel will lend his live touch to comedy on Sept. 26 in "Howie From Maui -- Live!"

Harry Hamlin will take time out from "L.A. Law" to star in "Laguna Heat" with Jason Robards in November, and the third in Georg Stanford Brown's Vietnam trilogy, "Home," airs on Tuesday.

Billy Joel's concert from Leningrad airs on Oct. 25, and Claire Bloom and Daniel Massey star in a two-part series about the effect of AIDS on a heterosexual man in "Intimate Contact," beginning Oct. 5.

Showtime brought back the iconoclastic Gallagher this weekend, and new episodes of its popular "It's Garry Shandling's Show" will begin on Oct. 30. The third in a series of original movies based on the Harlequin romance novels airs today, starring Kathleen Quinlan.

And "Children's Storybook Classics," animated tales narrated by stars such as Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, begins Monday.