THIS IS a "Twin Peaks" kind of town. At least, Arbitron says it is. The bizarre ABC series earned an 11 rating and 23 share, about 30 percent higher than its national average.
Nielsen, however, gives "Peaks" only an 8 rating and 17 share, which illustrates that the two ratings services agree about as often as President Bush and Saddam Hussein.
When it comes to ratings, embrace the "Twin Peaks" philosophy: Not everything is what it appears to be. You almost wonder if the services follow Dale Cooper's Tibetan method of throwing rocks at bottles to uncover what is going on.
Several things emerge clearly from the November books.
Arbitron is much more favorable to Channel 7; Nielsen is kinder to Channel 4. Arbitron says every key Channel 7 newscast wins its time period. Nielsen says Channel 7 wins only at 6 p.m. with Irv Weinstein.
Buoyed by ratings for network shows that are 40 to 50 percent higher than ABC's national average and terrific ratings for its syndicated shows, Channel 7 clearly is the dominant station in town.
Considering that it is saddled with third-place CBS' prime-time programming and some weak syndicated shows that provide its lead-ins, Channel 4's news programs do remarkably well.
Although there is a national trend to cable, the four network affiliates and two public television stations attract 80 percent of the nightly viewing audience in Arbitron and 82 percent in Nielsen.
The Bills are the area's best TV draw. Nielsen says the Bills' "Monday Night Football" game with Houston and a late-afternoon game with Cleveland recorded 58 ratings, which is 15 percent higher than their astronomical Arbitron figures.
Now let's peek at other key ratings battles:
Split Decision at Noon: In Arbitron, Channel 7's Susan Banks reversed the station's declining numbers here and won over Channel 4's newly teamed Carol Jasen and Kevin O'Connell. Banks had a 10 rating and 33 share, to Jasen's and O'Connell's 9 and 32. Channel 2's Rich Kellman gets a 4 and 13. A year ago, Channel 4 held a huge 40 to 29 share advantage over Channel 7, but that spread declined to three points in May.
Nielsen says both newscasts have lost three ratings points each and the share margin hasn't changed. Jasen and
O'Connell win by 10 points with a 10-40 to Banks 7-30. Kellman has a 2-8.
Channel 7 Wins, Ties at 5 p.m.: Arbitron gives Kathleen Leighton and Keith Radford (12 rating and 29 share) a decisive victory over Channel 2's Rich Kellman (9 and 22). Kellman won by a point a year ago.
Nielsen calls it a tie, with both newscasts earning a 9 rating and 25 share. A year ago, Channel 7 won by a point.
Channel 7 has a huge lead-in advantage. With the "Oprah Winfrey Show" earning four to six times more viewers than Channel 2's anemic lead-in programs, Kellman is doing very well to draw so many viewers.
Irv Triumphs at 6 p.m.: If he needed any more ammunition in his contract talks, Weinstein can point to Channel 7's 6 p.m. ratings. He wins in Arbitron with a 19 rating and 33 share, to a 15 and 25 for Channel 4's Bob Koop and Jasen.
Channel 2's Don Postles and Laurie Lisowski (who replaced Allison Rosati) had an 11 rating and 19 share. A year ago, Channel 7 held a 20-13-10 ratings edge, which means Channel 2 improved here. The Postles-Lisowski team had a lower rating at 6 p.m. in Nielsen and at 11 p.m. in both services than Postles-Rosati scored a year ago, but the drop isn't significant.
Weinstein's Nielsen triumph is narrower, but it reverses Channel 4's surprising May victory. He wins with a 17-31 to Koop and Jasen's 16-30 and Postles and Lisowski's 9-17. A year ago, Channel 7 held a wider 20-17-10 ratings edge.
Like Radford and Leighton, Weinstein benefits from a huge lead-in. "Cheers" gets two to three times the audience Channel 4 gets from "Inside Edition."
Split Decision at 11 p.m.: The entire 11 p.m. battle comes with an asterisk, because "Monday Night Football" reduces Channel 7 to four nights a week.
According to Arbitron, Leighton and Radford reversed their May loss, averaging a 14 rating and 32 share to 12 and 26 for Channel 4's Bob Koop and Jacquie Walker on five days. Channel 2's has a 10 rating and 21 share.
Nielsen gives Channel 4 the victory with a 13 rating and 27 share, to Channel 7's 12 and 27 and Channel 2's 9 and 20.
Once again, Channel 7 has a much stronger lead-in from ABC's programming than Channel 4 receives from CBS.
"AM/Buffalo" Drops at 10 a.m.: Brian Kahle and Linda Pellegrino have raised the show's energy level, but not the ratings. It averages a 4 rating at 10 a.m. in both books, down from the 5 rating it received a year ago. Channel 2's "Sally Jessy Raphael" is the time slot winner.