ONCE, YOU HARDLY needed a television guide to know which shows could be found where. The stations were fixed on the dial ever since you watched your the first "Romper Room." One network always carried football, another brought you Jim McKay's Olympics as assuredly as spring follows winter. Families huddled around the "tube" and took comfort in finding Chet and David or Uncle Walter at the same time in the same place on the TV dial, night after night.
That era has vanished -- from television and from life itself. The breathtaking sums secured by the National Football League ($18 billion) and the producers of "ER," the hit hospital drama ($850 million), resulted from the potential shift of allegiance of those programs. The NFL proved some years ago that it not only could survive, but flourish, vaulting among networks after CBS fumbled its historic football franchise to Rupert Murdoch's Fox network. The loss must have hurt because CBS was willing to pay $4 billion to wrest back football, this time from NBC. That network, still mourning Jerry Seinfield's decision to end his cult hit comedy, wasn't about to cough up "ER."