Think you understand this TV market, vidkids?
It's a place where Matlock reigns supreme, right? A metroplex full of folks who still honor the memory of the late, great Lawrence Welk, and who sometimes become overwhelmed by the fast pace of Pets on Parade. Think so? Well, think about this: King wiseguy David Letterman gets better ratings in Phoenix than he gets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Boston, Denver, Portland and Washington, D.C.

Our infatuation with the new Dave started with the very first Late Show With David Letterman--Phoenix had the best ratings in the country for Letterman's CBS premiäre a couple of months ago--and has cooled little ever since. According to David Poltrak, a CBS senior vice president in charge of planning and research, the Phoenix area had a higher percentage of Late Show viewers last week than all but one of the 30 largest TV markets in America. Across the country, only Minneapolis, home of the pop star formerly known as Prince, bests us in Letterman love. (Locally, ABC's Nightline still sometimes wins the late-night ratings race, but Late Show generally rules, and NBC's The Tonight Show finishes third.) According to Nielsen, the ratings service that counts TV viewers, we outwatch Letterman's national ratings average by more than two full points, 8.1 to 5.8, figures that purportedly measure the percentage of viewership among everybody who owns a TV set. Locally, each ratings point equals more than 10,000 homes.

Nobody knows for sure why Phoenix has Dave mania. As is the case with many of the mysteries of the universe, including the popularity of certain morning radio personalities, a solution may not be knowable. Still, theories abound. We have more stupid pets, per capita, than almost anyplace else.

Unquestionably true. But such a phenomenon's effect on television ratings is unproven. Large numbers of us followed Dave from midnight on NBC to 10:35 p.m. on CBS.

Not really. According to Trish Greening, research director at local NBC affiliate KPNX-TV, Channel 12, Letterman's midnight show got better ratings in about a dozen cities at this time last year. We dropped to 17th in July, when Dave existed only in reruns.

Local politicians see a bit of themselves in Larry "Bud" Melman.
The poor guy. Some of us who didn't watch much late-night TV are watching more.
Could be. Ron Bergamo, general manager at CBS affiliate KTSP-TV, Channel 10, says his station's viewership in the post-10:30 time slot is up 24 percent overall from the pre-Dave era (PDE), and up a whopping 110 percent in the all-important 18 to 49 demographic.

In a slightly less scientific survey, Channel 12's Greening finds that her station's college-kid intern, who once vowed never to watch the new Letterman show (preferring instead to stick with dorm faves Studs and Married . . . With Children), has now become a slave to Dave. Some of us who were channel surfing have hit the beach.

Greening says a Nielsen ratings category in which off-network viewers are counted (such as the many cable channels generally sampled two seconds at a time late into the night) has shown a decrease in viewership during the Letterman hour. Those bleary-eyed remote-manipulators have gone somewhere. Dave likes the Gin Blossoms, and so do we.

The cool Tempe band, once a mainstay in Mill Avenue dumps, appeared with Letterman (again) just a couple of weeks ago, and Paul Shaffer's CBS Orchestra regularly plays the Blossom hit "Hey Jealousy" behind commercial breaks. "These boys is good," said Dave, introducing them.

Our young people like him.
True, we've got the nation's sixth largest university in our midst. But most TV-ratings analysts say polling services don't do a very good job of counting college viewership. "The on-campus part isn't even being measured," says CBS' Poltrak. Which means that Dave is even more, you know, mega than he seems. We've forsaken Jay Leno.

Nope. Locally, The Tonight Show has lost only about one overall ratings point from the PDE, says Channel 12's Greening, and hasn't lost any viewers age 35 and older.

Former Home Office employees have remained loyal.
The Home Office (fabled supplier of the Top 10 List) has relocated repeatedly over the years, but has landed briefly in both Tempe and Scottsdale.

Demographically, we're a white blob. Dave's white blob.
Jay Leno remains the most popular late-night host among adult, working-class viewers. Letterman tends to attract pale-hued baby boomers, Generation Xers and college kids. "We're not very ethnic, one way or the other," says Bergamo of us. "We're not very blue-collar."

We like the new Dave better than the old one.
Many observers have noted that Letterman is a lot less dour than he used to be. "He was kind of angry at NBC," says Bergamo. "He would poke a lot at people in a mean kind of way. I don't feel that meanness in him. He's happy." (So, too, is Bergamo: Both Channel 10's late-night and morning news shows likely will make viewership jumps due to the "halo effect" caused by Late Show). We're hipper than we think.

"Maybe we are a strong 'trend' market and nobody knows it," says 12's Greening, noting that Phoenix had the nation's best numbers for Saturday Night Live during one ratings period last winter.

"I think the makeup of the market fits the Letterman kind of humor," adds Bergamo. "You know, he's from Indiana, he's got the kind of Peck's bad boy grin. He's just kind of with-it."

Our Canadian snowbirds are tuning in because Paul Shaffer reminds them of their own sons.

This trend hasn't peaked yet. When it does, the Twin Cities are toast.

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Dave Walker