Killer wives went way beyond `Snapped'

July 20, 2004|By Susan Reimer

OXYGEN, THE cable network where women viewers are supposed to be able to "breathe," launches a new series next month titled Snapped, featuring true-crime stories of women who lost it and killed their mates.

The first episode, scheduled to air at 9 p.m. on Aug. 6, tells the story of Celeste Beard Johnson, who grew up poor, married a rich old guy who granted her every wish, and then arranged for his murder.

The second episode tells the story of Virginia Larzelere, who grew up poor, married a rich dentist who granted her every wish, and then arranged for his murder.

Their stories, brought to you by the same folks who produce A&E's City Confidential, are narrated by raspy-voiced Laura San Giacomo of Just Shoot Me. The show uses the same kinds of grainy family photos, crime-scene film, lame re-enactments and interviews with relatives, prosecutors, police and the local newspaper reporter as City Confidential.

These producers could make a woman's trip to the grocery store look sinister, but we are told right off that these are not ordinary women.

"These are not the old stereotypes of battered women who are trying to defend themselves," says Jupiter Entertainment supervising producer Zak Weisfeld, who also oversees City Confidential.

"This is the dark side of female empowerment. This is not syrupy, and these women are not sympathetic.

"We are turning those conventions about women, mothers and wives on their heads."

Says Debby Beece, Oxygen's president of programming: "We thought it was interesting to learn what makes these seemingly `normal' wives `snap' and commit murder."

I watched the first two episodes, and these women weren't normal and there wasn't much snapping going on.

In both cases, these were cold, calculating women who carefully arranged the murder of their husbands because a blank check wasn't enough.

When women "snap," they are more likely to throw a plate across the kitchen at their irritating husbands - or, as in the case of one of my friends, a blender - than they are to take out multiple life-insurance policies and arrange a hit.

Celeste and Virginia hadn't simply had a bad day. Both women wanted boy toys and the bankroll, and they had a plan.

And I am a little confused by the creative direction Oxygen is taking with this new series. Powered by Oprah, Oxygen advertises itself as a "24-hour cable television network that puts a fresh spin on television for women."

"Fresh spin" is one way to describe this series, but "cathartic" might be a better one. Perhaps the promo should be, "Relax and watch women just like you end up on death row because their husbands criticized what they spent on shoes."

What's next? You're Sitting on My Last Nerve, true stories of women who murdered their children on hot summer afternoons rather than simply setting them down in front of cartoons for an hour.

Husbands viewing Snapped might be unnerved by the show's suggestion that the victims thought everything was just fine at home until a masked intruder came through the door with a shotgun.

So, for those men worried that the sin of being boring might be enough to get them killed, there is a new product on the market to help keep track of the wife's mood swings.

It is called the PMS Tracker ("Know When She's Gonna Blow!"), and for $12.95 you will be able to tell what time of the month it is: "manic phase," "rage" or simply "bloated." It also lets you know if it is safe to approach your wife for sex.

However, it won't tell you whether she has just taken out a $2.5 million life-insurance policy on you, or whether she has promised the pool boy that all this could be his if he'll do just one little, bitsy job for her.

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