The top candidates for the cable television franchise in Montgomery County had their rankings reversed yesterday in the final report by the county's cable consultant.

The report also ranks five of the eight firms vying for Montgomery County's lucrative franchise within four percentage points of each other, a more compressed field than in the initial rankings.

This time, highest marks (100%) were given to Montgomery Cable Communications Inc./Times Mirror Cable Television. The firm is a joint venture of a local firm, whose board chairman is R. Robert Linowes, a prominent Montgomery attorney, and the giant communications firm that operates The Los Angeles Times.

The firm's new ranking edged out Tribune-United Cable of Montgomery, which received a score of 98.9%. This was followed closely by Viacom Cablevision of Maryland, which moved up one step from fourth place with score of 98.8%.

Instead of making the final choice easier for county officials, consultant Carl Pilnick's rankings now list as many as six firms in possible striking distance of each other for a franchise system that could net from $500 million to $750 million in revenues over the life of the 15-year contract.

"If someone was trying to place bets on this thing, this report certainly wouldn't help very much," said Jay Beck, franchise director for Tele-Mont, a firm that slipped from third to fourth in the latest rankings, with a score of 97.6%.

"This doesn't make it any easier," said John Hansman, the county's cable television project manager who must now select and rank a top group of firms to present to County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist in the next four weeks.

The rankings are consistent with Pilnick's practice of giving jurisdictions a closely ranked group of firms from which to choose. A complete 200-page report, outlining the reasons for the new rankings, is expected to be received today by the county.

Pilnick's Los Angeles-based Telecommunications Management Corp. is considered one of the top three cable consulting firms in the county. Pilnick will be paid a total of $90,000 for his services.

While Hansman and an appointed group of citizens, the Cable Television Advisory Committee, consider their final decisions, a three-member cable review panel appointed by the County Council will oversee the entire selection process to determine if it was conducted fairly.

County executive Gilchrist is expected to make a final selection among the firms in August. The County Council will vote to accept or reject a 15-year franchise agreement with the firm.

Some of the firms expressed pleasure at the new rankings yesterday, while others criticized the entire selection process.

"We feel very gratified, very happy," said Cory DeGeus, director of new system development for MCCI/TM, who credited his firm's rise in the standings to additional information each firm submitted as a rebuttal to Pilnick's first rankings.

Wini Freund, speaking for seventh-ranked Cablevision of Maryland, charged that some of the firms had enlisted help with their proposals by firms that knew how to write to please Pilnick.

Pilnick, who was away on business in Northern California yesterday, was unavailable for comment.