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A Newsman's Revenge

Books: Briefs


SIGN OFF By Jon Katz Bantam Books -- 374pp -- $ 18.95

Anyone burned by a corporate restructuring will relish this entertaining novel of redemption and revenge. Jon Katz, formerly a producer at CBS Morning News, writes about a TV-news producer whose network is acquired in a hostile takeover. With stinging humor and sure depiction, Katz zaps journalists and "suits" alike.

Sign Off opens with an early-morning news alert at USB News, the once-glorious news division of the No. 3 network. The pace is harrowing as producer Peter Herbert scoops the competition. But that small victory will be his last. USB becomes the target of a takeover bid by a real estate developer who craves the legitimacy USB could provide. The fat and complacent network swiftly succumbs.

That's when the fun begins. When USB's remaining executives are ordered to wield the ax, Herbert manages to fire longtime employees with barely a qualm. Then he's pushed aside. Soon he's hatching plots for revenge, which he carries out with the aid of friends at USB. Imagine a Donald Trump-ish character on Nightline, his voice distorted to sound like Donald Duck's. That's just the first of Herbert's sweet reprisals.

Sign Off is full of moments of malicious fun, especially in its depiction of the post-takeover scramble up the ladder at USB News. A former cable-shopping-channel queen, Linda Burns, is bent on proving herself as a journalist. When a Television magazine writer proposes to profile her, she realizes the right story could make her a star. So over a sumptuous dinner, she turns on the charm.

Between the veal piccata and the sorbet, the gorgeous Burns leans toward the writer, Don Kristed, a Yonkers resident with a fleeing hairline and expanding waist. "Dammit, Kristed," she purrs, "if we're going to be friends--and I feel in some ways closer to you than anybody I've met since college, no matter what you write about me, and I mean that--I want to ask you . . . Have you ever thought about doing television?"JULIA FLYNN SILER

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