By Peter Travers
February 13, 1984 12:00 PM

NBC (9-11:30 p.m. ET)

Here’s a corker of a miniseries: six and a half hours of sex, religion, politics, a dollop of perversion and a juicy murder. Based on the 1982 best-selling novel by the late Thomas Thompson, a former LIFE reporter, Celebrity traces the lives of three buddies in Fort Worth, Texas. The drama begins in 1950 when the high schoolers get involved in the rape of a young girl whom they leave for dead. Swearing an oath of secrecy, they go separate ways: the football hero (Joseph Bottoms) becomes a TV star who must hide his homosexuality, the class Romeo (Michael Beck) a phony faith healer, and the valedictorian (Ben Masters), loosely based on Thompson’s own career, a top journalist. Thompson could really whomp up a story, and William Hanley’s script is faithful to the novel’s broad canvas, complete with a shocker ending. Bottoms, Beck and Masters deliver the kind of performances that catapult minor-league careers into the majors, and Tess Harper, Hal Holbrook and Dinah Manoff head a sterling supporting cast. But it is Thompson’s tale of the dark side of fame, set against 25 years of American history, that makes Celebrity a mesmerizing must-see. (Parts 2 and 3 air on Monday and Tuesday.)