NEW YORK -- "They're voting? How dare they? They're gonna screw up our lead story!"

The senior producer yelps into the phone from her perch at the rear of the "NBC Nightly News" control room. The U.N. Security Council has just chosen the worst possible moment to decide whether to condemn Israel. In three minutes Tom Brokaw will introduce a videotaped segment from Washington on diplomatic reaction to the West Bank violence, a report about to be rendered incomplete unless the producer -- Cheryl Gould -- can orchestrate near-instantaneous updating.

Phones jangle. "Washington says they have a corrected piece; Washington is going to roll a corrected piece," Gould announces over the control room hubbub with 40 seconds to go. And more quietly, flicking on her direct mike to Brokaw's earpiece, "Tom, just in case ... The vote was 14 to 0 in favor, the U.S. abstaining."

Washington cross-rolls its tape, an on-air editing maneuver intended to insert the new information. But within seconds, Washington is on the phone again: The cross-roll isn't working. "It's the old tape!" Gould calls out. "We're gonna have to come out live." In Brokaw's ear, she murmurs, "Fourteen to zero. U.S. abstaining."

Whereupon the tape concludes and Brokaw announces the Security Council vote as smoothly as if it had been part of the script for hours, then coolly segues into the next story.

Is this real life or reel life, NBC News or "Broadcast News"?

How about this? The senior producer climbs into a cab and tells the driver, "Broadway and 106th. Take the Park if it's open." Is this Cheryl Gould talking or the supposedly fictional Jane Craig, the "Broadcast News" control freak who never gives a destination without specifying a route?

And this: One of the young assistants to whom Gould has been mentor and role model drops a Christmas present off at her desk. The note accompanying the bottle of sherry reads, "You are and will remain my great inspiration (... if not in social life) ..."

All right, the assistant has seen "Broadcast News" and is making a little joke, telling Gould what a celluloid subordinate tells Craig. But the line rings true, admits Gould, who like Craig is unattached. Her assistants "answer my phone all the time; they know everything about my life. I know that's what they're thinking; they all have their social lives together much more than I do."

A hit movie creates a hum, and nowhere is "Broadcast News" causing more noticeable vibration than at network newsrooms here and in Washington. "Everyone's talking about it," says Gould, so well positioned to evaluate its verisimilitude that Newsweek invited her to do so in print last week. " 'Doesn't so-and-so remind you of so-and-so?' "

Is heroine Jane Craig, played by pint-sized Holly Hunter, really a dead ringer for Susan Zirinsky, CBS senior producer in Washington and the movie's technical adviser? (Zirinsky and screen writer-producer-director James Brooks maintain that Craig is a composite; other broadcasters claim to recognize every gesture as Zirinsky's.) Is the vast, echoing closet that Brooks gave one of his correspondents inspired by NBC's Andrea Mitchell's closet? ("It's pretty close, I'm embarrassed to admit," says Mitchell.) Is the news president played by Peter Hackes, himself a veteran NBC correspondent, reminiscent of former CBS president Richard Salant?

In press circles, says Newsweek media critic Jonathan Alter, "practically every unmarried woman in her thirties with a decent job and an occasional anxiety attack thinks the movie's about her."

To spend time at "Nightly News" with Gould -- at 35, among the ranking women producers in television news -- is to see some of the divergence, as well as the considerable parallels, as life imitates art.

There is a species of network news producers like Jane Craig: brainy, funny, hard-working and good-looking women, their intensity often in inverse proportion to their height, their jobs so clamorous and consuming that Having a Relationship, not to mention having a family, may be indefinitely postponed.

Some of the friends with whom Gould has discussed "Broadcast News" complain that the movie suggests -- to tiptoe around key plot developments -- that women telejournalists have a harder time balancing their professional and personal lives than their male colleagues have. Gould's response? "I kinda laughed and said, 'Wellll ... ?' "

In some ways she fits the mold. She's 5 feet 1 ("on a good day") and wears heels high enough to induce lordosis. She's flashier than Craig, showing up for work one recent day in a long skirt and kimono pieced together from 1920s scarves, flowered socks, a necklace of tiny tropical fruits, her trademark car-shaped wristwatch, and hair by International Harvester. "She's dressed down today," bantered substitute anchor Connie Chung, passing by in her charcoal suit.

Gould's also outwardly calmer than Craig, not prone to shouting or abusing staffers. "You don't want it to become the out-of-control room," Gould says. The "Nightly News" operation in general, though prey to inescapable deadline stress, is more low-key than the filmed version.

Still, there's nothing sedate about Gould. Nine hours of dance and aerobic classes weekly still don't quite drain all the tension her 11-hour days generate. She worked on Christmas Day, and on every Thanksgiving since 1975. She is pining for a vacation, but always takes along her shortwave radio, lest an earthquake or assassination escape her attention.

Within three months of moving into her new apartment a year ago, Gould had compulsively repapered, retiled and repainted. But when her mother was visiting recently and called out from the kitchen, " 'Cheryl, is this a self-lighting oven or do you have to strike a match?' " Gould recalls with chagrin, "I ... did ... not ... know."

Gould's work life is in some ways more settled than Craig's, however. The movie heroine is a field producer in an unnamed network's Washington bureau, working with correspondent Aaron Altman (played by Albert Brooks). Though the correspondent's is the face before the camera, the field producer does much of the background reporting in TV news. Part of producing, too, is directing the camera crews that gather the pictures to go with the words, then editing the report. In "Broadcast News," Craig travels almost continually.

Gould did plenty of trekking earlier in her career. After graduating from Princeton (hers was the second coed class) and half-stumbling into radio and television reporting in Rochester, N.Y., she and her then-husband headed for Paris in 1977. As a European stringer for NBC, Gould provided on-camera coverage of elections and strikes and terrorist attacks, the ayatollah in exile, the freed Tehran hostages landing in Algiers.

Hired in New York in 1981, she field-produced spots for the weekend news, helped create the still-mourned "NBC News Overnight," worked with the elections unit, and came to Brokaw's attention while producing a documentary on the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.

Since 1984, however, Gould has been rising through the ranks at "Nightly News," supervising other people's fieldwork, staying put more.

As the senior producer, second in command to Executive Producer Bill Wheatley and in charge of Washington coverage, Gould functions more like a newspaper editor for most of the day, assigning stories, editing scripts, helping to decide what fits where in the evening's lineup. Then at 6:25 or so, as Brokaw rises from his news room cubicle, tucks in his shirt, dons his suit jacket and heads for the studio, Gould takes command of the control room.

In one hysterical scene in "Broadcast News," Jane Craig is furiously editing a segment seconds before it is to air. By contrast, "I'm not the one cutting the piece," Gould explains. "I'm the one in the control room dying because Washington is telling me it's not ready yet ... I was identifying with the faceless, unseen person at the other end who was saying, 'Where the hell is that spot?' "

But, Gould adds, Jim Brooks "did his homework incredibly well. Everybody's talking about how realistic the editing room scene is."

Like other airwave journalists involved in Washington coverage, however, Gould has her quibbles with "Broadcast News." Key to the movie's plot, for instance, is the matter (to tiptoe once more) of how many camera crews were involved in shooting one of Tom Grunick's (William Hurt's) stories. "If she was such a hotshot field producer," Gould tut-tuts about Craig, "how could she not have known?"

Grunick troubles Gould in general. "Nobody sees much resemblance between the William Hurt character and any of the network anchormen," she says.

More critically, while Jane Craig gives speeches about gloss versus content, Gould worries considerably more about the effects on all three network news operations of their profit-minded new corporate owners. ("You're gonna love working in Woolworth's," one coworker told her, having read Gould's qualms about "the race for dollars" in Newsweek.)

"Broadcast News" shows layoffs, but not their aftermath. At NBC, now owned by General Electric, the news staff has shrunk from 1,200 to 1,000 people in the past year, including a more than 10 percent cut in the Washington bureau. "The Nightly News" has lost researchers, a tape producer, one of its three writers. It has no resident correspondents in Central America; "I think that's criminal," Gould complains.

"Television news is at the point where it's matured, it's more intelligent and analytic, it's doing more and better than we ever have ... And precisely when we've worked up to that level," she frets, "we're being threatened with losing that which we've achieved." Her generation, laughing knowingly at "Broadcast News," may be "presiding over its demise."

Who will preside over what is an open question, of course. Gould has already climbed high and quickly (and is earning more than $150,000 a year) in an industry historically slow to promote women. "I guess {hers} is an unusually rapid rise," Brokaw comments, "but she's an unusually talented woman." (And, for the record, he says he's never thought of her voice in his earpiece as great sex -- Hurt's line from the movie -- "or even poor sex ... it's guidance.")

The previous senior producer of "Nightly News" is now its executive producer, the logical next step for Gould eventually. In fact all this week -- whenever Bill Wheatley takes a vacation -- Gould is the executive producer.

But none of the three major networks has ever put a woman in charge of its flagship evening news program. "The trailblazer has to be twice, sometimes three times as good as the male competition, and Cheryl is twice as good," says former NBC correspondent Marvin Kalb, now at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. But that particular parallel with Craig's career awaits further evaluation.

The part that's on the money is that, having married at 20 and divorced, having come last year to the end of a long relationship with a network correspondent, Gould is single and -- she loathes this word -- dating.

"It's really not the job that makes it so hard to have a social life," she argues, twirling pasta in a neighborhood trattoria at 9 p.m., which is not an atypical dinner hour. "You can do it; you can have another life. If I were working 9 to 5, would it be easier to find Mr. Right?"

She doesn't believe it. She'd rather blame the times, New York, the choosiness that comes with being 35. "I certainly know very successful women who are married; I don't think the two are mutually exclusive," she concludes. Chief among her examples: Susan Zirinsky, wed in 1984 to now-CBS Bureau Chief Joe Peyronnin.

Still, it's hard not to notice that in the cubicles clustered around her in the "Nightly News" news room, the men -- the foreign producer, the domestic producer, the news editor, the executive producer and the anchor -- are all married and fathers. Meanwhile, Brokaw's fixing Gould up. "Self-protection," Gould says. "He hears me complaining."

Though not complaining all that much, really. One of the things Jim Brooks got right was the excitement of doing one's job well under nerve-racking pressure, the battlefield camaraderie among those who pull it off. "They're my friends," Gould says proudly of her NBC colleagues. "They're my peers; they're my family."

Where the screen writer went most awry -- ask any woman in television news -- was in inventing Aaron Altman. Totally unrealistic. A brilliant, hilarious, honorable, friendly -- and cute -- man, a man even Cheryl Gould's Jewish mother could love, walking around single? In a Washington bureau?

"I haven't met anybody like him," says Gould. "Unfortunately."