Decision made in the wake of O.J. Simpson TV/book debacle

Less than a month after a harsh public rebuke from Rupert Murdoch, publishing provocateur Judith Regan has ankled HarperCollins.

News Corp.-owned HarperCollins announced the news late Friday on the East Coast with a terse press release headlined “Judith Regan Terminated.” Termination was effective immediately, the statement said.

Move was clearly a reaction — albeit a delayed one — to the embarrassing scandal involving a Regan tome and T.V. special with O.J. Simpson titled “If I Did It,” in which he described the way he would have committed the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. That event earned across-the-board condemnation and a statement from Murdoch, who called the event “ill-considered” and yanked both the book and special.

There was no immmediate word of the circumstances around the ankling, though the timing seemed designed to allow for a cooling-off period without letting the controversy fade too much into the past.

Over the last few weeks, Harper topper Jane Friedman came under fire for her silence about the Regan incident, and it seemed no accident that the statement declared that it was Friedman who was announcing the termination.

The ReganBooks imprint will continue on with other staff, News Corp. said, but statement opened up a number of questions about who might stay at the company. ReganBooks has a relatively small staff that features a handful of longtime Regan loyalists, such as editorial guru Cal Morgan, and a revolving door of employees who don’t tend to stay very long.

The statement also notably omitted explicit mention that the ReganBooks brand would continue, supporting the biz belief that Regan may own the name herself or at least seek to change it after her departure.

Upcoming slate of ReganBooks include another controversial title, a pseudo-historical novel about Mickey Mantle that has been drawing media criticism because of the alleged liberties it takes with real events — suggesting, for instance, that. Mantle and Marilyn Monroe had an affair.

A Harper spokesperson did not immediately return a call seeking comment on whether Harper would publish these and other tomes. It’s possible, but not common, for a high-ranking editor who departs a company to negotiate to take publishing rights.

Regan recently moved herself and her staff from Gotham to new headquarters in Century City with the hope of ginning up more TV production deals, but few had yet to materialize.

It’s believed in media circles that Regan would try to set up shop outside News — she has long made noise about just such a move — but the O.J. events could make her radioactive to some publishers, who have said privately over the last few weeks that the PR hit wouldn’t be worth the profits for which Regan is known. Some have speculated she would also seek private-equity investment to finance a production and publishing shingle.

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