EmptyAirdate: 8-10 p.m. Saturday, June 7 (CBS); production: The Wolper Organization and Norman Stephens Prods.
Many are apt to raise an eyebrow even thinking about a remake of the landmark 1976 four-hour drama "Sybil." That stunning telecast won Sally Field a well-deserved Emmy as the woman with (at least) 16 personalities, and it gave Joanne Woodward one of her plummiest role as the doctor who helps put the tortured young woman somewhat back together again. Why even go there (as Mike Nichols and Tom Cruise were once rumored to say to each other after considering a remake of "The Heiress" and then watching the William Wyler-Olivia de Havilland original)?
In the case of CBS' "Sybil," though, there appears to be room for everyone, not because the sheer number of Sybil's personalities can accommodate them, but because this production, from the Wolper Organization and Norman Stephens Prods., finds a life all its own. And that's a pretty remarkable thing.
"Sybil" is engrossing enough for anyone -- as a tale of emotional and physical torture and as the story of possible hope. Having been emotionally and physically abused by her mother when she was a child, Sybil found the most creative of ways to survive: She simply found other people to be, all of them residing in her battered psyche. Later on, learning to trust even one doctor must have been another torture altogether for Sybil.
Field's performance more than 30 years ago stands alone. That said, Tammy Blanchard -- who won an Emmy for her performance as Judy Garland in "My Life as Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" -- takes Sybil and makes the woman completely her own. She has enough depth of being to carry it off completely. She is mesmerizing as she moves in and out of her multiple characters, making each one of them a three-dimensional being for the screen.
As the doctor who helps Sybil, Jessica Lange is more than convincing, if a bit stiff at times. And as the mother who tortured the young Sybil, JoBeth Williams turns in a remarkable performance. She moves in real close to evil and stays there.
John Pielmeier's script is problematic, sometimes going for the too-easily-explained medical description, then shifting to let Sybil explain herself with great subtlety. More steady is director Joseph Sargent's penchant to give Blanchard great animation, just what the character needs. Fitting the story of Sybil's voluminous life into a two-hour time is difficult, yet this production pulls it off with ease.
Cast: Tammy Blanchard, Jessica Lange, JoBeth Williams, Ron White. Executive producers: Mark M. Wolper, Norman S. Stephens. Producer: Michael Mahoney. Director: Joseph Sargent. Writer: John Pielmeier.