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DAYTIME TALKERS MOONLIGHT ON NICHE CABLE CHANNELS

Hey, Mr. TV Personality! You scored big yakking on the airwaves. You've got a steady gig. Good money. People know you on the street.

Then, after a hard day in the big time, what do you do? Why, you report for a second shift, plying your trade on one of the proliferating "niche" cable networks.Looks like you just can't get enough (and, apparently, neither can your public).

For instance, isn't that "Today" weathercaster Willard Scott hosting "Home and Garden Almanac" on the new HGTV network? And on the same channel, his "Good Morning America" counterpart, Spencer Christian, hosting "Wine Cellar"?

"60 Minutes" stalwart Mike Wallace anchors the history series "Twentieth Century" every week on A&E.

And four other TV favorites make a regular departure from the broadcasting lush life for Fort Lee, N.J.

It is there (and observing its sixth anniversary this week) that the no-frills CNBC resides.

Among CNBC's dozen so-called "Talk All-Stars," its moonlighting quartet includes:

-Al Roker ("Today's" other weathercaster), whose one-on-one interview show airs Sundays at 6 p.m. MDT.

-Tim Russert ("Meet the Press" moderator and NBC News' Washington bureau chief), who discusses media issues with other news professionals each Monday at 6 p.m. MDT.

-Syndicated talk-show veteran Phil Donahue, who joins Russian-born journalist Vladimir Pozner to chat about current affairs on "Pozner-Donahue" Thursdays and Fridays at 6 p.m. MDT.

-And Geraldo Rivera who, having lent his first name to his daytime syndicated talk show, was left only with his last for"Rivera Live," which can be seen weeknights at 7 p.m. EDT (with repeat telecasts, as is also the case with the other shows mentioned).

But why such extracurricular activities, when you're already a BMOC?

Russert explains that on his weekly cable program, "I get to talk to other people in the media and have the same sort of conversations we have at lunch or on an airplane ride. And the impact is significant.

"I prefer to spend the time on CNBC than on the golf course," he says, adding, "I don't golf, anyway."

Roker likes the fact that on his weekly interview show, he will never be upstaged by a color-radar map.

"I get the chance to be seen in a different light than doing three minutes of weather," he says.

And a deadpan Donahue sums up the virtues of his CNBC series: "It's an opportunity to pop off, certainly one of the best things that can happen to a vain, self-centered eogmaniac.

"I must not tell a lie: I enjoy it. It's fun to do."

Besides, Donahue's two CNBC half-hours aren't that great an added workload to his five daily syndicated hours.

"I'm not like the Geraldo-man, doing 10 shows every week," Donahue marvels.

Indeed. Between "Geraldo" and "Rivera Live," says their namesake, "it's a day that starts at 8 in the morning and ends around 10:30 in the evening. But I'm having a ball. I feel totally rejuvenated.

"I was very restless with the daytime show a couple of years ago," Rivera admits. He longed to find an outlet for more serious, events-oriented talk. In February 1994, he landed one on CNBC.

Now, it's the channel's highest-rated program. Even so, "Rivera Live" draws only an average 1.5 million households for the live telecast plus a repeat three hours later.

By comparison, "Geraldo," seen on 159 broadcast stations nationally, averages 3.4 million.

Not only does the smaller CNBC audience not bother Rivera, he's even ready to give up his day job.

"I've got three more years to do," he says of "Geraldo," "and that's it. I'm out.

"I'm kind of in the endgame in my professional career, and I think more about refurbishing my image than I do about getting the most bucks for the bang, so to speak."

Or to put it another way: Sometimes good things come in smaller packages.

"Maybe we think of CNBC as this little cable network," says Roker, "but the fact is, it's still television: It's in color, the cameras are focused, the mikes are on, and people are watching."

No wonder he's there.