'National Geographic' opens season with cats



* Anybody who's ever had a cat knows the word "owner" is a mere honorific. You never really own these creatures, but merely serve as a temporary landlord. Further, their aloof nature has a lot more in common with tigers in the wild than with that other domesticated pet, the dog -- at least according to tonight's 15th season premiere episode of the fine PBS series "National Geographic" (at 8, channels 22 and 67).

* We saw them last spring for a few moderately well-received weeks, but they didn't make the fall docket. Now the anxious young lawyers of "Equal Justice" are back in ABC's court for a mid-season trial. The serious-minded show returns at 10 tonight (Channel 13) with a lead plot line involving AIDS, as chief prosecutor Mike (Joe Morton) must decide how to handle the case of an afflicted woman seeking prosecution of the man who may have infected her. If memory serves, the series has some merit. But it is unfortunate ABC has chosen to bring it back in competition against another swirling-cast drama of topical intent, CBS' "WIOU" (Channel 11). Can both survive? The potential audience is probably the same.

* Fans of Jennifer Steel, who until last Friday was the mid-day personality on oldies music WYST-AM 1010, should note she is )) now hosting the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. show on Washington's WDJY-FM 100.3, known as "Jazzy 100." On-air announcers Steel, Dave Young, Dan O'Neil, Ron Hunt and Scott Harris, as well as sports-talk host Phil Wood, all lost their jobs last week when WYST-AM began simulcasting the programming of sister station WYST-FM 92.3 (92 Star). Station owner United Broadcasting of Bethesda made the consolidation because of low ratings for the AM outlet, and also moved Steel to the new jazz-oriented format of WDJY, another United property.

* And speaking of radio, note that local outlet WWIN-AM 1400 also switched formats a couple of weeks ago. Previously carrying the urban contemporary music of sister station WWIN-FM 95.9 Monday through Saturday, the AM outlet switched Dec. 24 to its own daily 24-hour inspirational/gospel format. That's the sound that has been heard on the station only on Sundays.

* It's been quite a soap opera on the set of "Designing Women" this season, but alleged malcontent Delta Burke certainly got the best lines on Monday's show. Did you see? Having landed a soft features job on local television, she announced her role model was NBC's Deborah Norville. Why? Because the former beauty queen had cozied up to "Today" show co-host Jane Pauley then edged her out the door.

* How many talk-show hosts have had the unusual opportunity of Phil Donahue? His guest yesterday was comedian Danny Thomas, who is plugging a new book. "Meet my father-in-law," beamed Phil, who is married to his guest's daughter, Marlo Thomas.

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