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This season's TV-movie divas

This season’s TV-movie divas — Dolly Parton, Helen Hunt, and other women armed and ready for action

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All season you’ve seen them do it — for love and money, for vengeance and fun, for Emmys, ratings, and T-bone-size production deals. Armed with bullets, broomsticks, and bottles of poison, this year’s TV-movie divas have been rough, tough, and scarier than Glenn Close on a bad day. Here, a mug book of TV’s top sisters in arms:

Susan Dey
Movie: Bed of Lies, ABC
Role: Impoverished waitress.
Air Crime: Kills the abusive Texas businessman she marries.
Motive: Self-defense.
Scene That Says It All: Any of the many in which Dey sports big hair, hot pants, a thick drawl, and jumbo bruises and welts.
Number of Witnesses: 24.9 million viewers (rated 11th for the week)
Verdict: A win for Dey, who finally got out of Grace Van Owen’s prim suits and into a sexier, more expressive role.

Helen Hunt
Movie: Murder in New Hampshire — The Pamela Smart Story, CBS
Role: Slatternly schoolteacher.
Air Date: September 1991.
Crime: Lures a 15-year-old boy into murdering her husband.
Air Motive: Meanness.
Scene That Says It All: The sweaty seduction, of course.
Number of Witnesses: 22.2 million (25th for the week)
Verdict: By winning a coveted role, Hunt catapulted from the semi-anonymity of girlfriend-next-door billing to the top ranks of TV-movie vamps.

Judith Light
Movie: Wife, Mother, Murderer, ABC
Role: Psycho belle.
Air Crime: Poisons her husband and tries to kill her daughter, then changes her identity.
Motive: She’s bananas.
Scene That Says It All: Light bats her eyes (about a thousand times) to show her innocence.
Number of Witnesses: 23.1 million (23rd for the week)
Verdict: Too bizarre to qualify as a career breakthrough for Light, but she did remind viewers that she can do more than flirt with Tony Danza.

Susan Ruttan
Movie: Deadly Medicine, NBC
Role: Deranged pediatric nurse.
Air Crime: Poisons scores of infants.
Motive: Wants to make herself look good by saving them.
Scene That Says It All: She blames the deaths on her boss, a sympathetic doctor (Veronica Hamel).
Number of Witnesses: 22.5 million (26th for the week)
Verdict: Ruttan shook off several seasons of drabness as L.A. Law‘s Roxanne, showed she could carry a TV movie, and looked memorably creepy wielding a hypodermic needle.

Dolly Parton
Movie: Wild Texas Wind, NBC
Role: Abused country crooner.
Air Crime: Knocks off her brutal, alcoholic lover — or does she?
Motive: He done her wrong.
Scene That Says It All: Parton cozies up to her man in barely-there lingerie that accents — not what you’re thinking — her tiny waist.
Number of Witnesses: 26.1 million (10th for the week)
Verdict: Not much of a stretch, but it did prove Parton could play more than a country singer — she could play a sad country singer.

Donna Mills
Movie: False Arrest, ABC
Role: Joyce Lukezic, an Arizona woman accused of killing her husband’s business partner.
Air Crime: None — as the title suggests, she didn’t do it.
Motive: None, I swear!
Scene That Says It All: In prison, Mills uses a broomstick to defend herself against the Bad Girls.
Number of Witnesses: 24.7 million (18th for the week)
Verdict: A home run for Mills, who used the success of this miniseries to win a major deal with ABC to produce and star in movies and a TV series.

Meredith Baxter
Movie: A Woman Scorned — The Betty Broderick Story, CBS
Role: Out-of-control divorcee.
Air Crime: Guns down her former husband and his new wife in their bedroom.
Motive: Jealousy.
Scene That Says It All: Betty rams her car into her husband’s front door.
Number of Witnesses: 28.4 million (4th for the week)
Verdict: Year’s best career move. Nobody will think of Baxter as Michael J. Fox’s mom again; just to make sure, she’ll star in a sequel next season.