Phil Hartman, who spent more years as a regular on "Saturday Night Live" than any other member of the cast in that show's 20-year history, now finds himself comfortably ensconced as a member of the cast of the new NBC sitcom "NewsRadio."

But that's not how it was supposed to work out.Hartman and NBC announced almost two years ago that, after a final season on "SNL," he'd star in his own prime-time comedy-variety show.

"We did work in that direction for quite a long time," Hartman said. "And what happened was when Martin Short's show failed I got scared. I don't want to say I got scared. Well, for six months I shivered in the corner naked with the lights out."

(Short's much-hyped show - which combined sitcom with sketch comedy - was savaged by critics and died a quick death last fall.)

"I felt that maybe I didn't want to be the next person to go down in flames trying to bring variety to prime time," Hartman said. "And my friends at NBC steered me into this new situation, and, boy, it's such a relief. It's just a stroke of good fortune because I'm very happy to be a part of this ensemble."

Not that the role of the stuffy, pompous and overbearing news anchorman is an easy one. Hart-man readily acknowledges the dangers of trying to follow in the footsteps of both Ted Knight's Ted Baxter on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and Charles Kimbrough's Jim Dial on "Murphy Brown."

"On the air, I'm very much what you'd expect to hear as a news anchor," he said. "But off the air, I'm more human, and it's more based on myself."

A point with which creator/ex-ec-u-tive producer Paul Simms agreed.

"From a writing standpoint I definitely want to make the character not a dimwit or someone who just had a good on-air voice," Simms said. "I didn't want to make it Ted Knight or Charles Kim-brough. So I wanted to make him smart, manipulative, passive-aggressive. So, in that sense, it was completely based on Phil."

MORE "NEWSRADIO": Dave Foley, who stars as the new news director on "NewsRadio," also comes from an ensemble sketch comedy background - he spent five years as one of the stars of "Kids in the Hall." And he said he found the sitcom a refreshing change in at least one way.

"What's nice is there's actually women in the cast," said Foley, who played any number of female characters on the all-male "Kids."

And, while Foley isn't working with any of the other "Kids" at the moment - they ended their show after five years - they are working on a screenplay for a possible theatrical movie.

"We're not actually split up. We're just not doing anything, really," he said. "I've got a lot of time on my hands, and this seemed a good way of filling it."

"NewRadio" already looks like a hit, but Foley isn't worried about creating any friction among the "Kids."

"They've resented me for years, and I resented them all equally. So it's really just an ongoing resentment that I think will carry us through our old age," he said.

In the meantime, it looks like "NewsRadio" will carry Foley along for some time to come. It's a well-crafted comedy with great writing.

In tonight's episode (7:30 p.m., Ch. 2), they even manage to create some tremendous laughs from the name Buttafuocco.

"NewsRadio" also boasts a good cast that already shows signs of achieving that ever-elusive chemistry that makes a show work.

And if Foley seems to fit perfectly as the young boss, there's a simple reason for that.

"Actually, I wrote this part for Dave," said Simms. "But like an idiot, I forgot to check and see whether Dave was available until I finished with the script."

And, at the time, Foley was tied up with another project.

"When it looked like we might not be able to get him, I auditioned between 40 and 50 other people for the part," Simms said. "And none of them were Dave. So, fortunately, we got lucky."

"I got the role of me," Foley quipped.

MEDIOCRITY: NBC's spring winning streak came to an end last week.

After adding a couple of witty, wonderful new sitcoms - "Hope & Gloria" and "NewsRadio" - to its schedule, the Peacock didn't exactly strike out with "Pride & Joy."

But, at best, it blooped a weak one up the middle - and still might be caught out at first base.

There are two theories as to why NBC didn't get "P&J" to critics before it debuted. First, that it didn't want critics to see it and review it before it went on the air.

Second, NBC insists that it couldn't get tapes of the show out because "P&J" was on a rushed schedule that cut it awfully close to its premiere. That might be true.

The show looks like it was rushed on the air.

It's about a couple who recently became first-time parents, Amy and Greg Sherman (Jule Warner and Craig Bierko), and, across the hall, their best friends, Carol and Nathan Green (Caroline Rhea and Jeremy Piven), who also have a newborn son - as well as a 12-year-old (unseen) boy.

The Shermans are pretty much perfect, and the Greens fight a lot. Some of the jokes are funny, but that's just about all there is to "P&J" - a string of jokes with no real heart behind them.

And, following three superior sitcoms like "Wings," "News-Radio" and "Frasier," the shortcomings of "Pride & Joy" are all the more obvious.