OPINION: Stuart Elliott in America

Americans with long memories, or a penchant for science fiction on television, still speak fondly of Living Doll, one of the spookiest episodes of the CBS series The Twilight Zone. It was the dark tale of a toy with a mind of its own, a doll named Talky Tina.

Fast-forward 40 years later to 2003, when Tina's talky.

Tina is, of course, Tina Brown, just hired by CNBC, the financial news cable network, to host a series of quarterly primetime talk-show specials - titled Topic A with Tina Brown - on subjects from business to politics to popular culture. The first chat-fest, about Hollywood, is slated for 20 March, three days before the Academy Awards ceremony at which Brown's former business partner, Harvey Weinstein, will likely be perched at the proverbial edge of his seat, wondering how many Oscars his hit musical Chicago will win.

Barely a year after the Brown-Weinstein collaboration with Hearst Magazines was dissolved with the collapse of Talk magazine, Brown is back where media junkies and Madison Avenue have grown accustomed to seeing her: at the centre of the spotlight, ready for her close-up.

It's quite a comeback - or return, if Brown, like Norma Desmond, hates the c-word - considering all the professional obituaries written in January 2002 of the woman The New York Post calls "New York's favourite expatriate" when the plug was pulled on Talk after 18 under-performing months.

"Manhattan's glittering magazine queen has finally been deposed," a headline blared in The Observer, typifying the overheated coverage garnered by the demise of Talk. The ink spilled over the shutdown was disproportionate to its significance. But that's par for the course with Brown, as evidenced by the attention paid to the start-up of Talk and her tenures at two other magazines, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

How Brown transformed herself from Talk-ed out to talk-show host is a lesson in brand revival Dorothy Fields-style ("Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again"), which most agency executives, not to mention marketers, ought to heed. First there was the stepping out of the spotlight, off the stage altogether, leaving to others the hashing out and thrashing out of why Talk was silenced. Then, last fall, came a step back in, as a columnist for The Times of London - turning heads because it was over there rather than over here and as a writer rather than an editor.

The pace picked up as Brown agreed to become a contributing writer for Radar, a magazine being launched in April by Maer Roshan, Talk's editorial director (aka. her loyal second-in-command). Last month, the Salon.com website agreed to carry her Times column, followed closely by the CNBC decision to debut Topic A with Tina Brown.

To be sure, it is, as The New York Times declared, "a modest beginning in television", and as Brown herself acknowledged in an interview with the Post, "it's a soft opening", using the retail term for a store that quietly starts selling merchandise before the official ribbon-cutting.

But after Talk's hard closing, a soft opening still can be, well, the talk of the town. So don't be surprised if one day soon you're watching CNBC and a host proclaims, as that doll did decades ago: "My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much."