Stereotypical visions of a lost America long ago: men playing poker, betting on cockfights, rustling cattle; women knitting socks, scrubbing washboards, fixing supper. Hey, but this isn't 1962 anymore -- this is 1987. And even though women have come a long way, they apparently haven't come so far as to denigrate themselves by watching as much meaningless sports television as men do.

But their time is coming.

These days, network programmers are trying to make sure that future generations of women follow the flighty footsteps of their male counterparts into living rooms across America to watch game after game. This in itself is progress of sorts because women, until recently, were persona non grata to network sports planners; now, they are persons to be pursued.

"There's as much a desire nowadays to attract women as men, and that's revolutionary for sports," said Rick Gentile, CBS Sports' director of research. "Our sales people are saying, 'Can you come up with an event that draws more women?' The failure so far is to bring more women to the set."

The networks' desire to draw more women is not a product of any social awakening. It is, unmistakably, a product of a desire for more money. TV sports ratings have dropped across the board in recent years, and the most logical response is to tap that half of the population that largely has been ignored.

"I'd like to think that the divisions {of what male and female sports viewers watch} are getting fuzzier," said NBC Sports' executive producer, Michael Weisman. "It used to be, 10 or 15 years ago, women didn't watch non-women's sports too much. Clearly now, it's becoming a more homogenous audience.

"We have to figure out how to meet women's viewing needs better. Our Super Bowl pregame show {in 1986} did very, very well with women. Our sales people came to us afterward and said, 'We just got the numbers back, and whatever you did, it would be great to do again.' Well, we captured {the female audience} accidentally . . . Perhaps it's time we use more women in production roles who can be better clued in to that segment."

What's interesting to look at is what women watch in relation to men. The Arbitron Ratings Co. details the male/female breakdown in a guide called, "A Review of the 1986 National Sports Scene." We have studied the Arbitron numbers, and a couple of trends jump right out: Women watch a lot of golf and bowling and horse racing and anthology programming; they don't watch college football or boxing. Men watch everything.

Almost as many women as men tuned in to three of horse racing's biggest days in '86 -- the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders' Cup. As many women as men regularly view ABC's "Pro Bowlers Tour." Women also watch golf almost as regularly as men. And CBS' research shows that women love anthology programming, especially figure skating and gymnastics.

"I think that every programming genius wants to find a trend with women, but it's hard to find one here," Gentile said. "We know that women watch more non-hardcore sports. But women don't watch women's basketball . . . And a woman tried to sell us recently on a women's pro bowlers tour. Frankly, I'm with {CBS basketball analyst} Billy Packer -- I don't know where all these bowling viewers come from."

Another trend is clear from Arbitron. During pro sports' regular seasons, when meaningless games tumble upon meaningless games, women stay away. But once the biggest postseason events come, the women (and casual male fans) jump on the viewing bandwagon. For instance, about twice as many men as women tune in to NBC's and ABC's regular-season baseball telecasts, but when the league playoffs and World Series arrive, the male/female ratio is about 3 to 2. The same holds true with regular-season NFL games and the Super Bowl.

From all of this, we offer the following modest conclusions for the networks to build from: Women can be just as stupid as men, but at least they refuse to watch Cavaliers-SuperSonics NBA games and Keith Jackson. Women show a fatal character flaw in their zeal for golf; other than Grand Slam tournaments, golf as a TV sport is about as scintillating as the rinse cycle at a laundromat. Women cannot yet by swayed to waste away adulthood by watching regular-season games of little consequence. Women increasingly are drawn into mindless, violent video passions, but at least they realize that boxing is nothing more than a brutish, barbaric exercise.

In the near future, however, women might find themselves uncontrollably part of a video evolutionary process that places them side by side with men -- laying pitifully on the couch, a slave to Brent Musburger. Pass the pretzels and call it progress.