August 15, 1988 12:00 PM

by Richard Rosen

The first joke is in the title: Saturday Night Dead has been the pseudonym for a certain NBC comedy show ever since its original cast members started trading in their cone heads for movie contracts. Rosen sets this murder mystery behind the scenes of a long-running late-night comedy show called Last Laughs. He doesn’t name any famous names, but he did serve briefly as a writer on Saturday Night Live in 1985. The mystery begins when the arrogant, foul-mouthed executive producer of Last Laughs is sent sailing to his death from a skyscraper window (the book jacket features the NBC building in New York). Could Rosen be working out a dark, ex post facto fantasy of his own? In any case, Harvey Blissberg, a baseball player turned sleuth (and star of two previous Rosen mysteries), investigates. Blissberg’s unraveling of the crime grows increasingly tedious until the investigation takes him back to a ’50s Leave It to Beaver-type sitcom, where a child actor clubs the show’s dog to death between takes. Even if nobody else buys this book, the current SNL staff might and could profit from Rosen’s discussion of Last Laughs’ history and shortcomings. “The show had launched several suddenly famous cast members on movie careers,” Rosen writes, “most of which wobbled and exploded like inferior NASA missiles once they entered Hollywood’s atmosphere…. Some observers blamed the widely publicized drug use for the show’s decline.” Although readers may get the feeling they’re missing some inside jokes, Rosen’s quick, snappy writing will tickle their TV consciousness and may even evoke enough laughs to make them exclaim, “Isn’t this special?” (Viking, $16.95)

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