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NBC TRIES, TRIES AGAIN WITH `DATELINE'

CBS has three of them. ABC has two. NBC doesn't have any, despite trying 17 times.

But the Peacock network will try again beginning tonight to come up with a successful weekly news magazine - a goal that has eluded the network for more than 23 years."Dateline NBC" (9 p.m., Ch. 2) may not have a particularly inspiring name, but it does have Jane Pau-ley. (Of course, her "Real Life" was one of NBC's 17 failures.) And it has a 52-week commitment.

If it lasts that long, it will outlive all but one of its 17 predecessors.

Joining Pauley as co-anchor of "Dateline" is Stone Phillips, who has spent the past several years as a correspondent on "20/20." And he's not the only staffer to switch networks - producers and writers from "20/20" and "60 Minutes" have come aboard.

Apparently, what with its news magazine track rec-ord NBC felt the need to look for outside talent.

It's a sign that "Dateline" is not going to attempt to reinvent the genre. It will be a fairly traditional network news magazine, featuring investigative reports, human-interest stories and personality profiles.

With five similar shows already on the air (CBS' "60 Minutes," "48 Hours" and "Street Stories" and ABC's "20/20" and "PrimeTime Live"), the average viewers may wonder why NBC is so anxious to enter the field.

The answer is simple - money. An hourlong magazine costs about $500,000 to produce, which is half of what an entertainment show costs. And a successful magazine can be a gold mine. "60 Minutes" alone adds tens of millions of dollars a season to CBS's coffers.

Which also explains why CBS, ABC and even Fox have still more magazines on the drawing boards.