The long tradition of fondly remembered made-for-TV films that replayed on Lifetime is not limited to poorly-acted teensploitation thrillers. In the 1990s the big networks aired quality crime dramas, too. There are 52 weeks in a year, and occasionally those weekend movies were great, without irony.
Such is the case of the two-year, two-film saga about Betty Broderick, 1991’s A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, and 1992’s Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, The Last Chapter. The first film was so well received that Meredith Baxter, who excellently plays Betty Broderick, received an Emmy nomination. (She was bested by Gena Rowlands for Face of a Stranger.)
The coverage of Broderick’s murder of her ex-husband, Dan, and his wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick, in 1989 was sensational. She was interviewed by Oprah twice! She has America in her grip as a woman who was battered emotionally and may have planned to kill herself in front of Dan and Linda. (She shot both, numerous times, while they were sleeping. You can hear a telling of their murders from My Favorite Murder.)
Thankfully, even if Baxter felt betrayed by Betty, the films do not side with her. (Sure, Dan was a louse, but he did not deserve to die.) A Woman Scorned manages to pack a lot in its two hours, and swiftly jumps into how unbalanced and depraved Betty is. One moment she’s on the soccer field, an invested soccer mom, and the next she’s ruining Christmas because she was given the “wrong” jewelry. And Baxter is so good.
The first film also has a deft hand in looking at Dan’s infidelities. An oddly satisfying scene is when one of his firm’s secretaries, played by Debra Jo Rupp, demands a raise, quits, and calls him out for having an affair with a young, prettier woman. (She’s Linda, they eventually married.)
Much of the second film feels like a replay of the first. In defense of Her Final Fury, the film aired the following year, and audiences may have missed the circuslike trials. Most of the film is Broderick pacing in jail, fighting with her lawyers, and rolling her eyes in court. So while there is less drama and profanity, a viewer’s attention is not distracted by much else. The film also looks at investigators and lawyers, which only come in for the previous film’s final act, so you get a small taste of the efforts made to make sure that Broderick was successfully convicted. These plots are rather thin and seem quaint compared to today’s style of focusing on the men and women who catch killers (Mindhunter, Unsolved, etc.). Though the inclusion of Dan’s brother and Linda’s family is particularly slight, it’s a quiet reminder that Dan and Linda were victims of a heinous crime.
Both films were originally broadcast by CBS. Many viewers, however, have likely seen the films air back-to-back on Lifetime. As an experience, it’s not recommended. Broderick is a toxic, villainous character, and much like bingeing The Assassination of Gianni Versace, it can be taxing to spend that much time with a depraved killer. Given the choice between the two, A Woman Scorned is a preferred recommendation. Viewing both, however, is essential for any made-for-TV film devotee.