March 28, 1988 12:00 PM

NBC (Sun., March 27, 9 p.m. ET)

This two-part, four-hour miniseries, based on Gore Vidal’s 1984 historical novel, Lincoln, is a miracle of commercial television. Director Lamont (Unnatural Causes) Johnson has enlivened a somber book without stooping to soap opera. The story begins with Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and ends (look, we all know the outcome) with the haunting, sepiatoned image of a train carrying his body home. We are held captive to a familiar story told in unfamiliar, human terms. Sam Waterston shows us a Lincoln of reflective, tragic depth, struggling to hold together the nation and his family. As his troubled wife, Mary Todd, Mary Tyler Moore gives a raw, vulnerable, hard-to-shake performance, well deserving of an Emmy. The scenes between the Lincolns, as Mary slips further into her world of shadows, are heartbreakingly tender. Subtlety is the hallmark of this evocative production, which has been beautifully lit by candles, firelight and gas lamps.

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