SIGN OFF by Jon Katz
Kirkus Star


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From a former producer for CBS Morning News, a first novel, superbly told, about United States Broadcasting's takeover by pirates--a rich tale that spells out what happens when a network yields to takeovers. USB News is a great cultural institution, and anchor Jack Thomas's face on the box is as well-known as Washington's on the dollar bill. No reader can avoid seeing Dan Rather whenever the lovingly drawn Thomas appears or speaks one of his phony folksaws (""I learned when I was a little boy that promises are like the fall harvest--you don't spend the money unless you see the corn""), which always pop up slightly askew of the situation but give a face-saving grandeur. The story opens with a marvelous reenactment of USB News team's white-hot coverage of the sinking of the U.S.S.R. Providence when a boiler explodes in waters off Lisbon, with a ""quote--heavy--unquote, loss of life. . ."" Producer Peter Herbert supervises the surreal scramble that gets USB's exclusive on-the-spot footage on air. Between this episode and Herbert's second peak story, which reveals a senator's involvement in the bombing of abortion clinics, Katz weaves wonders presenting full-bodied characters and their blood-ties of camaraderie as newsgatherers, while the Chairman (read the late William Paley) looms unapproachably above them. Alas, when the network caves in to a stock grab by takeover pirate David Nab, the USB News brotherhood is gone with the wind (Jack Thomas, with a vast salary boost, stays). Herbert, who makes $175,000 a year, plus huge perks, is not fired in the great bloodletting that follows, but he must personally behead 22 staff members. And he's demoted from the morning news to a gooey nostalgia show. Maybe his age, his family and mortgage preclude quitting, but Herbert strikes back ingeniously, mischievously, then like a bloody owl. And when he must face up to his soul-saving actions. . . .? Great verve, towering newsfolk full of smart talk, many smashing females, and no cheap plot tricks. Four-star entertainment.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Bantam