It seems top-rated NBC can still do something to annoy its otherwise deliriously happy affiliated stations. Like tell viewers to switch over to a cable channel instead of late local newscasts.

NBC did just that during its coverage of the NBA Finals, suggesting that fans catch a post-game show on CNBC, the cable channel owned by the network.Many of the network's affiliates didn't appreciate the gesture, and the friction could intensify if NBC follows its plan to use NBC News programs to promote its 24-hour news cable channel, MSNBC, which starts next month.

The promise of such cross-promotion is one reason many cable operators have been so willing to add MSNBC to their channel lists. It is also, a senior NBC executive said, an essential part of the business plan for building MSNBC.

Another executive, NBC Television Network president Neal Braun, admitted Tuesday that there was "widespread concern" about the basketball promotion.

He attributed that mostly to the fact that the network had given affiliates no warning about the CNBC promotion and the "level of exhortation" to switch over to the cable channel. The idea was to "get the sports fans away from ESPN," Braun said.

Similarly, the object of using NBC News to promote MSNBC will be to lure viewers from CNN. Braun said these promotions would have to be carefully phrased.

- Bill Carter

HUMILIATION IS OUT: In one week Rosie O'Donnell has become the talk of daytime television, mainly for repudiating what used to be the talk of daytime television.

There are no dysfunctional guests being humiliated for their bizarre behavior on O'Donnell's new syndicated program. "I could never do a show like Ricki Lake or Jerry Springer," O'Donnell said in a telephone interview. "I'd say: `You're an idiot. Why are you sleeping with your sister's husband?' "

Instead, O'Donnell's mix of comedy and celebrity conversation, a tradition that she admits goes back to Merv Griffin, looks like the freshest idea in daytime since Oprah first picked up a hand-held mike.

Defying a lot of expectations ("The word is the show has no shot," said one network executive on its first day) "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" last week beat all the other daytime talk shows except "Oprah" and "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee," two established titans.

Now playing at 10 a.m. in the East (it is performed live in Manhattan inside Phil Donahue's old studio space at NBC), the show is to eventually move to the afternoon, where there are bigger audiences and more money to be made, perhaps as early as next year.

(In Salt Lake City it's currently seen at 11 a.m. weekdays on KSTU, Ch. 13.)

O'Donnell's show has a late-night look, complete with monologue. Not surprising, as O'Donnell was almost a late-night host - twice.

While she was appearing in "Grease" on Broadway, she said, she was approached by NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield, who said he wanted her to come to NBC.

"He asked me what I wanted to do and I said I'd love to do the `Tonight' show the weeks that Jay Leno had off."

Littlefield tentatively agreed, but no deal was ever made because Leno, who had not been consulted, pointed out that he takes off only because his staff needs a vacation. He has frequently said he would work every week of the year if it were up to him.

Still, O'Donnell said she was disappointed, and she has not been back on the "Tonight" show since.

Subsequently, David Letterman's staff had a similar idea for her to sub for Letterman. "That came at a time when Dave was coming down a bit in the ratings and I think he thought people would read something into it," O'Donnell said.

She has continued to appear on Letterman's show, and she hit it off so well with Letterman's segment producer, Daniel Kellison, that he has become executive producer of her talk show.

"I am surprised how well it's gone so far," O'Donnell said. "I didn't understand the syndication business at all. I just wanted to do a whole different kind of daytime show."

- Bill Carter

DROPPED: Don Hewitt, executive producer of the CBS news magazine program "60 Minutes," released a brief statement Tuesday saying the eight-week-old commentary segment featuring the writers Stanley Crouch, Molly Ivins and P.J. O'Rourke will be dropped.

They are "three talented people," Hewitt's statement said, "but our mail suggested the segment was not catching on and I never argue with viewers."

NEW FACES: While the veteran 24-hour cable news network, CNN, hums along quietly, its two new competitors, MSNBC and Fox, made some hiring noise this week.

Fox News finally grabbed a measure of credibility by hiring a well-known producer and a pioneer of live-interview programming on cable television. Tamara Haddad virtually created "Larry King Live" in 1985; it is CNN's most-watched program. Her new title is executive producer of the Fox News Washington bureau.

Haddad is the first well-known name that Fox News, which plans to start its cable channel in September, has snared since Roger Ailes took over as chief executive in January.

Meanwhile, MSNBC has hired Ed Gordon, a correspondent for cable's Black Entertainment Television since 1988, who sprang into national prominence in January, when he was the first newsman to interview O.J. Simpson after the former football star's murder trial.

At MSNBC, the 35-year-old Gordon will be a daytime news anchor and host of the Saturday edition of "Internight," a nightly interview show; he will also contribute reports to NBC News's "Dateline" magazine and "Today."

Inevitably compared to Bryant Gumbel, because both men are black and skillful interviewers, Gordon said, "I admire Bryant and several other people, but I don't think I've tried to emulate anyone."

He does relish interviews, though, especially live interviews. "If you really connect with a person, even if it's adversarial," he said, "you can impart more knowledge, more unfettered knowledge, than in any other medium we use."

- Lawrie Mifflin