The final 10 minutes or so of "Heart of a Child" deliver a measure of emotional catharsis that is hard to resist. But it's such a grueling chore getting to that point that the story's sure-fire conclusion is much flatter than it should be.
The narrative idea behind this fact-based ordeal centers on two pregnant women (Ann Jillian and Michele Greene) who, through a controversial infant transplant operation, create one healthy baby out of two babies who would otherwise have died.
But the bleak direction by Sandor Stern and the tortured teleplay by Susan Nanus give the cast little to do except wring their hands. The travail is merely monotonous.
Not that there's much cause for cheer: The mothers' unborn babies will not last the night, one an anencephalic infant with an undeveloped brain and the other suffering from a terminally defective heart.
As the mournful, angry women and their helpless husbands (Terry O'Quinn and Bruce Greenwood) anguish over their plight, one of the couples decides that its baby's heart should be used to save the life of the other baby. By this time the viewer is so drained it's hard to get excited.
Rip Torn, who normally lights up any screen, meets his Waterloo here and phones in his throwaway role as the controversial Dr. Leonard Bailey, who successfully performed medical history's youngest transplant surgery at the Loma Linda University Medical Center.
But unlike the surgery, this whole production is uninspired.
* "Heart of a Child" airs at 9 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).