The gentrification of deteriorating housing in one multi-ethnic neighborhood of Boston: That's ostensibly the topic of an incisive yet reflective program airing soon on CBS.
But What's Wrong With This Picture? (CBS, ''For Our Times,'' Sunday, 10:30-11 a.m., or at various other times - check local listings) is not only about Boston's South End. It is a thought-provoking study of the whole process by which urban areas are ''saved'' from total destruction by well-financed outsiders who invade neighborhoods that have interesting if run-down housing, restore the homes - and thus drive the former residents to other neighborhoods, new ghettos.
This program, produced by Joseph Clemente, guided by skillful writer-interviewer Tony Garcia (under the aegis of Pamela Ilott, CBS religious and cultural vice-president), makes it clear that the problem is widespread. It asks some pointed questions: Why is it so difficult for blacks and other ethnic homeowners to get restoration loans? Is it wise to allow existing neighborhoods to be broken up? Are housing developments really the answer?
Mr. Garcia poses the questions, then stands in front of a shot of beautifully restored South End houses and asks: ''What's wrong with this picture?'' The question might just as well be: ''Who is left out of this picture?''
''For Our Times'' is labeled ''religious'' programming by CBS. But its socio-economic-philosophical topics place it in the broader category of ''cultural'' programming. In general, Miss Ilott's programs have focused on aesthetic and sociological themes, which can include religion. Recent examples have dealt with the remaining synagogues in the Soviet Union, interracial understanding, alcoholism, and disarmament. Planned future shows concern voodoo in Haiti, child abuse, and the Martin Luther centennial.
But ''For Our Times'' is just about the last remaining regularly scheduled series of its kind on CBS (and one of the few remaining elsewhere). It's a vestige of a type of cultural programming that needs nurturing to prevent extinction.
Saturdays and Sundays used to be chock-full of such shows, offered as ''public service'' programming by the networks. But local network affiliates and independent stations are now selling much of this public-service time to electronic ministers. This ''commercial'' religious programming is quite profitable for the stations, and there are signs it may soon push the cultural public-service shows - which are noncommercial - off the air entirely.
''For Our Times'' may soon go the way of ''Captain Kangaroo'' by being officially relegated to an early-morning hour or taken off the air entirely. What can save it is lots of protest . . . or, preferably, lots of viewers. Of interest
* If you live in a cableless area, you may be wondering what the excitement about MTV (Music TV) is all about. Videotaped versions of new songs, produced with state-of-the-art and way-out techniques - most often more visually than musically exciting - have captured a large part of America's youthful audience in cable-serviced areas. Usually the ''videos'' are made by the record companies as promotion for the records.
Now, NBC will let you see what it's all about - starting tonight. Friday Night Videos (NBC, 12:30-2 a.m., check local listings) will bring you 90 minutes of pure 1980s entertainment. Executive producer Dick Ebersol is the same man who originated ''Saturday Night Live'' on NBC, so don't expect a quiet approach. Loud sounds, vivid images, and lots of excitement are what viewers can expect, I suppose.
* The A. C. Nielsen Company is busy during the summer months doing other things than ratings surveys, since the ratings wars tend to lag. During May and June of 1982 the firm surveyed 557 homes with videocassette recorders. It found that more than half of those surveyed recorded movies, 22 percent recorded nothing, 18 percent recorded soap operas, and the rest recorded regular programming. Perhaps the most unexpected result was the estimate that soap opera tapers recorded an average of 17 soaps in a four-week period.
* The most recent Roper poll concerning TV viewing habits reported that 53 percent of those responding named television as the most believable news medium. Only 32 percent named newspapers. A large majority of those polled believe that TV is doing a good job in providing the nation with news. The poll, by the way, was conducted for the Television Information Office, hardly a disinterested party.