Ernie Ford, a veteran Salt Lake City journalist and a KSL-TV news editor for 10 years, is leaving Ch. 5 to become the assistant news director and managing editor for KDFW-TV in Dallas.

"It looks like a good career move for me," Ford said Monday. "The future there looks bright."Which is probably more than could be said of Ford's future at KSL. As KSL's assistant news director and managing editor, Ford had carved out an important niche for himself at Ch. 5. His years of experience in the market - a news internship at The Deseret News and 15 years with The Salt Lake Tribune - made him an especially invaluable resource to some of KSL's younger, less experienced reporters, many of whom were new to the area.

But that niche looked like it had the possibility of becoming a rut. KSL's news director, Spence Kinard, isn't anywhere near being close to retirement age, and, with his roots sunk deep in Utah soil, doesn't seem a likely candidate to move elsewhere. And even if Kinard were to move on to another job within KSL, there are those who wonder if Ford would ever be seriously considered for the top news position at LDS Church-owned KSL.

"It isn't just that he isn't Mormon," said one local television industry observer, who asked that his name be kept off the record. "Ernie has a tendency to go out of his way to flout his non-Mormon-ness around the community and around the office. I don't think that plays very well with the folks in charge there."

KSL vice president and station manager William R. Murdoch doesn't buy that suggestion. "Ernie's been a great asset to KSL News," Murdoch said Tuesday. "He's a quality guy, and he's going to be sorely missed. But we understand that there was a mobility problem for him here, with Spence likely to be our news director for many years to come.

"That's why we're happy for him," Murdoch continued. "We're not happy to see him go, but we're happy he has this tremendous opportunity to move into a big market like Dallas."

Ford acknowledges that he has wondered if KSL would hire a non-Mormon news director. "But I don't know the answer," he said. "The simple fact is, Spence is a good news director, and he could be here for another 20 years. I'm 48, and I'm not getting any younger. If I'm going to make a move, it seems to me that now is the time."

In fact, Ford was an applicant for the KUTV news directorship, which was open until Ch. 2 officials hired Daniel Webster away from "USA Today on TV" recently. "I wanted that job for a while," Ford said of the KUTV position. "But then everything became sort of confused over there and I began to have serious doubts about the job. I was frankly glad it didn't come through."

Especially since KDFW has come after Ford with such zeal. "I worked with these guys during the political conventions last year," he said. "I liked them and they seem to have liked me. I didn't go to them looking for a job - they came to me. It just sort of happened."

So on March 24 Ford will be moving to one of the nation's prestigious top 10 markets, to a station he says is "on the rise" and a job that will pay him more money. Still, Ford says, "I don't like the idea of leaving Salt Lake City. It's hard to leave friends and family and the security that comes from living and working in one place for more than a quarter of a century."

But he does admit that there are advantages. "The way I see it, KSL just opened up a Dallas bureau," he said, "and KDFW just opened up a Salt Lake City bureau."

-BRYANT GUMBEL actually seemed humble when he returned to the "Today" show this week after being out of town while "Gumbel-Gate" brewed around 30 Rock last week. "It's good to be back after what should have been a quiet vacation," he said as he opened Monday's show.

Quipped "Today" co-host Jane Pauley: "You were never far from our thoughts."

Indeed not. A harshly-worded - and supposedly confidential - memo from Gumbel to "Today" show producer Marty Ryan plunged the show into controversy, as published excerpts from the memo blasting "Today" personalities Willard Scott, Gene Shalit, David Horowitz and Betty Furness appeared in newspapers around the country.

Scott, the butt of Gumbel's harshest criticism, joked about the memo at first. But later he admitted that the host's comments "cut like a knife," and he said that "if there isn't an honest, genuine reconciliation, I don't think I belong there."

Scott wasn't on hand Monday for Gumbel's return, but the show tried to bring the two men together via telephone hook-up. Unfortunately, the telephone connection failed, forcing Gumbel and Pauley to ad-lib their way through the show's final moments.

"A very unusual Monday," Gumbel said, "in many ways best forgot."

Still, the show's $7 million man promised viewers that "we are together and hopefully we're going to be with you for many years to come.

"Now that may come as sad news for those who have tried to capitalize on our differences," he continued, "but rest assured, that `Today' family is intact and still smiling, albeit through some pain. We'll still be here long after the recent headlines are forgotten. Enough said."

-BUT BEFORE we leave "Gumbel-Gate" entirely, I think we need to publish a couple of phrases from the notorious memo that didn't receive a lot of public attention. "I hope you understand that this note will be for your eyes ONLY," Gumbel wrote to Ryan. "In trying to be honest and helpful, I don't want to gain more enemies than I've already got."

And later: "I hope you've read all this in the spirit in which it was given . . . I hope all this remains confidential because it's meant only to help you, not hurt others."