Meredith Baxter's new role -- The ''Family Ties'' mom plays a murderer in ''A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story''

These days real-life murders are being turned into TV movies faster than you can say habeas corpus. The most recent example: A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, a fact-based drama about a 44-year- old California woman who was convicted just two months ago of killing her ex-husband and his second wife in 1989.

Meredith Baxter (Family Ties) stars as the murderer, a San Diego socialite who paid her husband’s way through medical and law school, raised four children with him, and then was dumped for a younger woman. At her trial, Broderick never denied killing her ex and his new wife, but claimed that ”emotional abuse” led her to pull the trigger, an argument that makes at least some sense to Baxter. ”Look, I don’t condone what Betty did,” says the 44-year-old Baxter. ”She had tunnel vision with her anger. She did terrible things to her children. Her behavior is foreign to me. But I think she is very easily understood.”

Men and women, says Baxter, will likely have very different reactions to A Woman Scorned. To some viewers, the $16,000-per-month alimony settlement Betty Broderick was awarded before the killings would seem to offer considerable comfort. To Baxter and others, though, the cash is beside the point: ”I find it numbing that people — especially men — think that money is supposed to make it all okay,” she says. She points to one scene in the movie that she says is particularly telling: One Christmas, Broderick’s husband (played by Stephen Collins) gives her an expensive present — a ring almost like the one she wants. ”It was the type of scene,” Baxter says, ”in which all the men (on the set) were saying, ‘So, what’s the problem? He bought her a nice ring.’ And all the women went, ”’Yes, yes, yes — but not the one she wanted.’ The women got it. The men didn’t.”

Baxter has had to contend with marital strains of her own (she had the Birney removed from her last name after her divorce from husband David in 1989). Today she’s a supermom, juggling work and five kids, including 7-year-old twins Mollie and Peter (”My son Peter is getting his Bobcat Scout badge tonight,” she says). While the Broderick role chronicles the unraveling of a family, Baxter’s own life sometimes seems straight out of Family Ties.