It is fortuitous timing -- or terribly poor timing -- that as we sort through the rubble of the stock market, NBC checks in Sunday with "Billionaire Boys Club," a fact-based two-night miniseries pegged to a get-rich scheme that went awry and ended not with a crash, but a bang.

At the focal point of the piece -- and making a rare television appearance and his first in a miniseries -- is Judd Nelson, a member of the new crop of Hollywood's up-and-coming leading men to detour, at least once, to the small screen from the large.

Career crash, or just career turn? Put this move into perspective, please.

"Career -- it seems to me that that's a retrospective term," said Nelson. "It should be applied to someone like Spencer Tracy. Compared to someone like that, I feel like a tadpole who still has my tail."

What we have here, he said, is not a detour into television away from a movie career where he is well-placed among a flock of budding stars in their mid-20s, but a chance to do a show involving top talent.

Talent indeed, starting behind the camera, where we find Marvin Chomsky directing, with four Emmys to his credit and work in "Roots," "Peter the Great" and "Holocaust." He worked from a screenplay by Gy Waldron based on Sue Horton's book, The Deadly Pied Piper of Beverly Hills.

In front of the camera there's a small legion of players who have been seen in some of the hottest theatrical movies of recent years: Brian McNamara ("The Flamingo Kid" and "Short Circuit") Fredric Lehne ("Ordinary People" and the TV movie "Love Is Never Silent"); Raphael Sbarge ("Risky Business" and "My Science Project" and ABC's "Cracked Up"); Robert Krantz ("Christine," "Woman in Red" and "Back to the Future") and Barry Tubb ("Top Gun" and ABC's "Consenting Adults").

So with all this going for it -- plus a story Nelson was aware of -- it didn't take anyone to twist his arm. "I like to act," said Nelson. "I would do it on a soapbox, or from the back of a car."

But how do you react when you're told you're perfect for the part of a man who was just sentenced to life term with no hope of parole?

"They want me to play the yuppie Charles Manson," said Nelson. "Do you thank them or put a hit out on them?"

Which, of course, is what got his character in trouble in the first place.

The story opens four years ago, with the Nelson character, Joe Hunt, organizing the Billionaire Boys Club, a group made up of well-off young men from prominent Los Angeles-area families. The idea was to have a social club of peers that also made tons of money. Very quickly.

Any which way they could, legally or not. Stock deals, fast-track commodities schemes.

But things got out of hand when one group member, Ronald Levin, set up a phoney commodities account that threatened the club with financial ruin.

Hunt took revenge, in the form of murder.

He was sentenced last July to life without parole for killing Levin in 1984. Levin's body was never found.

To complicate things further, Hunt and two other club members are awaiting trial in the 1984 killing of the father of one of the defendants in the first trial.

Somehow, Nelson seems to fit the part. "I've played a juvenile delinquent in 'The Breakfast Club' and a yuppie in 'St. Elmo's Fire,'" said Nelson. "Hunt was a scholarship kid -- in a way, he was from the other side of the tracks compared with the other members of the club."

In real life, Nelson comes from the right side of the tracks. His mother is a former state representative in the family's home state of Maine. His father is a lawyer.

"My mother made laws, and my dad interprets them, and I break them," said Nelson, sounding like he was a bit bratty before he became a member of the pack.

He is by turns philosophical and flippant.

Of the law, very much a part of his childhood environment, he says, "I feel the truth can often be hidden in the law."

Those early years in Portland with his parents and two younger sisters were a lively time, with the house often sounding like the clubhouse of a debate team.

"We had a very verbal family," he said. "Everything was discussed. But not along lines of what was right or wrong. If you had a point of view, the question was, where did that viewpoint come from?"

After finishing "Billionaire Boys Club" Nelson is scheduled to go to the Soviet Union to meet Russian actors and directors and to produce a video under the auspices of SANE and FREEZE. The idea is to show the tape in high school classrooms, with Nelson touring to introduce it.

Beyond that, he is not specific about what lies ahead. He's 27, a bit old to go on playing the role of the brat. He is unmarried -- "No brushes with death yet."

But who knows what acting might lead to.

"This career might be a stepping stone to the governorship of California, and then to the presidency," he said. "There's a precedent, and it's been done by lesser men."