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NEWS RATINGS STIR EXCITEMENT AT KSTU

SHARE NEWS RATINGS STIR EXCITEMENT AT KSTU

So, exactly how excited are they at KSTU-Ch. 13 about the May ratings books?

Excited enough to send out press releases proclaiming, "WE'RE IN THE NEWS BUSI-NESS!"What prompted all this were the relatively modest ratings "Fox News at Nine" received in both the Nielsen (a 5 rating and a 9 share) and the Arbitron (4/9) books. Of course, those are big improvements over the 2 ratings/4 shares the newscast received in February.

The press release reads, " `Fox News at Nine' has earned a page in broadcast history in the Salt Lake City market. The Earth moved at KSTU-TV with the delivery of the May ratings book. Less than six months ago KSTU premiered Salt Lake City's number one choice for news at 9 p.m. An obvious winner!"

Now, it is true that KSTU was a clear winner at 9 p.m. The KSL-produced Eyewitness News at 9 on 14 garnered 1 ratings and 2 shares in both books.

However, it must be taken into account that KXIV-14 is hampered by an inferior delivery system - a lower-powered UHF station competing against VHF Ch. 13.

And, to put it in somewhat better perspective, a 4 or 5 rating is still considerably lower than the 9 ratings reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" were pulling in that same time period on Ch. 13 this past November.

This is not to say that the Fox news staff shouldn't be proud of its accomplishments. For a 5-month-old newscast to show that kind of improvement is impressive.

But one ratings period does not a success make. "The Earth moved" is perhaps a bit strong to describe the May books.IT'S OFFICIAL: Creator/executive producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason has confirmed that Judith Ivey is joining the cast of "Designing Women" this coming season.

Reportedly, Ivey will play a Texas widow who inherits a multi-million dollar fortune from her late husband, moves to Atlanta and hooks up with the Sugarbaker design firm.

Ivey will replace Julia Duffy, whose character (Allison Sugarbaker) is being written out.

Duffy, or course, replaced Delta Burke, who was fired after a longstanding dispute with the show's producers.

Let's just hope that this is the last cast change for a while. "Women" has become the "Charlie's Angels" of sitcoms lately, with a new talent search every season.KNOTTY PROBLEMS: The producers of "Knots Landing" haven't decided yet how to deal with the passing of series co-star Larry Riley, who died of AIDS last week.

But David Jacobs, who created the show and returned to the helm as an active executive producer last year at midseason, reportedly doesn't want another fictional death on the program, so Riley's character, Frank, may just be sent off somewhere.

In another "Knots" note, Joan Van Ark, who's leaving the series as a regular cast member, reportedly will be "in and out" next season. Her character, Valene Ewing, will remain married to Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford.)NEW SHOW: The new sitcom "Rachel Gunn, R.N." begins a summer run on Fox on Sunday, June 28.

Christine Ebersole stars as Rachel, "an underpaid and underappreciated head nurse who always speaks her mind, often hilariously, at home and at work. She's a no-nonsense hero for the '90s," according to Fox.

This project was originally for CBS, which passed. Fox then picked it up.

(Fox also picked up another CBS reject this past spring. "Stand By Your Man" turned out to be a dreadful sitcom that disappeared quickly.)

The creator/executive producer of "Rachel Gunn, R.N." is Katherine Green, who is also the co-executive producer of "Married . . . With Children." And that should tell you something right there.ANOTHER NEW SHOW: Rick Springfield, the Grammy-winning singer and former "General Hospital" heartthrob, returns to TV as the title character in ABC's "The Human Target" on Saturday, July 25.

He plays Christopher Chance, a Vietnam War vet who flys around in a super-powered plane with his highly trained support crew and impersonates various people in an attempt to solve their crises.

It's from the creators of "The Flash," and - having seen the pilot several months ago - I can tell you that it's also rather cartoonish. But not without some rather entertaining qualities.FROM `TONIGHT' TO `LATE NIGHT': Well, one of Johnny Carson's ex-employees has found himself a pretty good job.

Peter Lassally, who was co-executive producer of "The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson," has been named e.p. of "Late Night with David Letterman."

Lassally succeeds Jack Rollins, who retired from "Late Night" in April.

In his familiar style, Letterman welcomed Lassally with this statement: "I couldn't be happier that Peter is joining us. He will be a welcome asset to our production. We all believe that Peter Lassally is the man who can put an end to office pilferage."

And Carson got into the act, saying, "Hiring Mr. Lassally is the best decision David has made since he introduced the Top Ten List."

Lassally spent more than two decades behind the scenes at "The Tonight Show." He was an associate producer from 1970-75 and producer from 1975 until 1990, when he was named co-executive producer.

He was one of many who found himself without a job when Jay Leno took over as host of "Tonight."DUNAWAY ON TV: Would you believe Faye Dunaway as a television detective?

The actress will star in the NBC movie "Assigned Risk" next season. She'll play Ariel Vermeer, a "lonely art restorer whose life changes dramatically when she inherits her estranged father's private-investigation agency.

"She plans to close the agency down but gets drawn into its latest case and out of her safe and secluded world of academia."

If the ratings are good, a series of movies with Dunaway playing the character will follow.