NBC (Monday, Oct. 8, 9 p.m. ET)

Truth is tougher than fiction. Last week it was Heartsounds, a true story that could rip your own heart out. This week The Burning Bed will anger and frighten you. Farrah Fawcett is Francine Hughes, a woman who burned her house down—and her husband with it—after suffering a dozen years of violent, terrifying abuse at the hands of her husband (see cover story, page 100). Fawcett gives an impressive performance, one that should guarantee her an Emmy nomination and one that does, finally, prove she is a first-class actress. She is so much more moving playing a common person than she ever was as a shimmering Angel. With her hair matted, her face bloodied and all her glamour gone, Fawcett reveals some soul. It is a difficult part, for she must show why any woman would stay with such a husband from hell, played as sympathetically as humanly possible by Paul (Melvin and Howard) LeMat. She provides a case study of a bad marriage and the guilt, obligation, pity and misplaced affection that keep people together. Fawcett does not overdramatize, nor does she try to make Francine into a saint. The executive producers, Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch of Risky Business, and the director, Robert (21 Hours at Munich) Greenwald, enforce that same restraint over the entire show. Kids babbling and whining over the adults' dialogue gives it a feel of video vérité, of realism. The violence is sickeningly real too; it has to be, to make this a credible tale. The tensest scenes, though, are those without movement or words, when the drunken devil LeMat poises his fist before Fawcett's blackened, flinching eyes. The Burning Bedis effective TV because it tells its true and tragic story not with violins but with talent.