To promote NBC's upcoming movie about Martha Stewart, the network's cheeky publicists this week mailed a nutcracker and two walnuts to TV critics -- along with a videotape.

The utensil and pair of nuts are meant as an unmistakable metaphor for Martha - a symbol introduced late in the TV movie, just after she wrests control of her magazine from the male potentates of Time Warner.

Following that triumph, Martha, played by Cybill Shepherd, is seen wielding a nutcracker on her Martha Stewart Living TV show.

"You know, nutcracking is not as difficult as it seems," says Shepherd in Stewart's calm but firm monotone. "Most people just don't know how to use the nutcracker. All you have to do is put it in, squeeze down and [crunching sound] crack! It's actually very simple."

The nutcracker is also a metaphor for the unflattering way Stewart is portrayed in the movie -- as a difficult perfectionist whose compulsion to succeed drove off her husband and may have led her into the insider-trading scandal in which she is currently embroiled.

The movie, titled Martha Inc.: The Story of Martha Stewart, is scheduled to air May 19. It is based on the book by New York Post business columnist Christopher Byron.

The movie traces Stewart's life from her modest beginnings in Nutley, N.J., as the daughter of a father whose own perfectionism rubbed off on his eldest daughter.

From the beginning, the movie says, Martha strove to be wealthy. She married rich, but her husband's family lost all their money.

As a young woman, Martha claws her way into the mostly male bastion of investment banking, but is thrown for a loss when the company whose stock she was pushing goes belly-up.

Moving (or, more specifically, fleeing) from Manhattan to Westport, Conn., she becomes a homemaker, fixes up her house and begins selling pies from a table at a local mall.

The pie business leads to a catering business, which blossoms into the Martha Stewart lifestyle empire which made her a billionaire and launched a thousand late-night monologue jokes.

Throughout the movie, and especially in its second half, Shepherd plays Stewart as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, always in motion, continually barking at underlings, and neglecting her daughter and husband (who has an affair with Martha's assistant).

The unsinkable Martha doesn't have a breakdown, though, and at the movie's end, is seen surrounded by acolytes at a local fair -- fans who adore her for teaching them how to make their lives better, even if her own life is in a shambles.