When Meredith Baxter filmed the CBS movie "A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story" a year ago, she felt sympathetic toward Broderick, a convicted murderer.
So did a lot of women.
Elisabeth Ann (Betty) Broderick, a former La Jolla socialite, made national headlines in 1989 when she killed her ex-husband, Dan, a prominent attorney, and his young wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick, while they slept. After hiring a publicist to tell her side of the story--she said she was so emotionally abused by her husband that she was driven to murder him and his wife--Broderick became a national heroine to numerous women whose husbands had left them for younger women.
Broderick's first trial in 1991 ended with a hung jury. Then, in December, the mother of four was found guilty of second-degree murder in a second trial. In February, Broderick was sentenced to 32 years in prison at the Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility. That same month huge audiences tuned in to "A Woman Scorned," which became the second highest-rated TV movie of last season.
"I think I bought into her story very much the same way so many people who had read all the stuff that was out about her--all the interviews she had done," said Baxter, who received an Emmy nomination. "I think women particularly are susceptible to (buying into her story) if they know or are familiar with, in some way, the abused wife syndrome. Betty hooked into that. Everything she was saying sounded possible and I believed it."
But Baxter's outlook changed this summer when she began the sequel, "Her Final Fury: The Betty Broderick Story, The Last Chapter," airing Sunday on CBS. This two-hour drama continues Broderick's story from her arrest to her ultimate conviction. "Designing Women's" Judith Ivey plays District Attorney Kerry Wells, who prosecuted both trials.
Baxter now feels she had been "duped or I had duped myself" about Broderick. After reading transcripts of the second trial, she saw a different Broderick--a woman who was not the victim.
"I got information from the psychiatrists, from what her kids said about her and what the lawyers said about her," Baxter said. "She could not be what she claimed to be."
Baxter said she was not trying to be Broderick in either film. "I am trying to take what I could understand about her and make it understandable," she said. "This is not a woman who second-guessed anything she did. She is a very intelligent woman, very resourceful."
And one who was "delicious" for Baxter to play. "It is a lot of fun because there is a multitude of layers," she said. "We have all had the kind of feelings Betty had, all the resentment and deep affections and attachments. However, Betty puts no holds on (herself). It is great fun to play someone who is uninhibited and who puts no boundaries on her behavior."
Like Baxter, co-executive producer Ken Kaufman and producer-director Dick Lowry's perceptions also were altered.
"I think we went through some kind of metamorphoses," Kaufman said. "We could all understand Betty's plight. I think as we got further into the story, we found many things that weren't exactly how Betty described them--at least there were diversions in point of view about events. As we got to know more of it, we saw that it wasn't as simple as a woman scorned."
The exact opposite happened to Joe Cacaci, who wrote both movies. He said he hated Broderick "so much for so long," until his wife, a social worker, became his research assistant on "Her Final Fury."
"She gave me a whole other side, not to justify what Betty did, (but) she was able to show me the thing that provoked all of this," he said. "I went through a period of not feeling sorry, but at least understanding her."
Broderick was not involved in either CBS movie and did not respond to requests for an interview for this article. The producers and Cacaci did talk with three of Broderick's children, Dan Broderick's brothers and members of Linda Kolkena's family. The producers will not divulge exactly who they talked to in order to protect the privacy of the families.
"We had at one time (thought) of my interviewing (Broderick), but it would have been a whole legal thing," Cacaci said. "I thought, 'You know what? I don't really need to interview her because I had seen her in a million interviews. I know what she would say to me and it wouldn't help.' "
Cacaci said writing "Her Final Fury" took on the dimensions of a college thesis. "There were literally thousands of pages of trial transcripts plus lots of pages of interviews with people. Plus, there is a storyline that already exists and you can't veer from it. That is really not what a writer writes or wants to write. The challenge was to bring something to life and give it some guts. When it is all said and done, docudramas still got to be dramatic. "
Still, Cacaci, who also wrote "Murder in New Hampshire," the 1991 CBS movie about the Pamela Smart murder case, is closing the book on the genre. "This is my last true-life murder movie," he said. "I won't do them any more."
In fact, all concerned insist this is the last chapter in Betty Broderick's story. "I think we can say this is final," Baxter said. "We (have) got to ignore her."
"Her Final Fury: The Betty Broderick Story , The Last Chapter" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBS.