ABC (Sun., April 16, 9 P.M. ET)
For some reason the stuff that Greek tragedies and tabloid headlines are made of shows up a lot on Long Island. This unflinching two-hour TV movie reenacts the real-life plight of Newfield (N.Y.) High School cheerleader Cheryl Pierson. Three years ago, at age 16, she paid a schoolmate to kill her widowed father, who had been sexually molesting her for five years. Based on the book of the same name by New York Times reporter Dena Kleiman, the film strongly presents the argument that Cheryl, who was sentenced to six months in jail for her father’s death, felt she had no alternative to end her nightmare. Director John Patterson, working from a teleplay by Jennifer Miller, wisely underplays the shocking events of the case, letting them unfold without histrionics or sentimentality, something unusual for TV. The result is an emotionally wrenching study of a victim who, even after she tells of her father’s abuse, isn’t believed by many in her family or by society. As Cheryl, newcomer Heather Fairfield seems to have walked out of a news clip, so trenchant is her troubled performance. The biggest names in the excellent cast are Sally Struthers, who plays Cheryl’s bitterly confused Aunt Marilyn, and Bruce Weitz, who portrays a detective. Even Cheryl’s monstrous dad, played by Charles Haid, is presented as a dimensional human being. That we never see him in bed with his daughter can be attributed to this production’s high standards.