'Dirty John' Season 2: Inside the Cautionary Tale That Oprah Winfrey Called America's Messiest Divorce
By Stacy Lambe
Following its successful transformation from podcast to limited television series, Dirty John is back with a second season -- telling another true story of love gone wrong. With the series currently in production, here’s everything to know about what Oprah Winfrey deemed one of “America’s messiest divorces.”
The first installment recounted the unbelievably true events of a charming, handsome man named John Meehan who sweeps Debra Newell, a successful, yet lonely divorced woman, off her feet before it’s revealed that he’s a con man with sinister intentions. Upset by Meehan’s newfound presence in their mother’s life, Newell’s daughters, Terra and Veronica, decide to investigate his lies as he continues to manipulate everyone around him. Based on the Los Angeles Times breakout podcast of the same name, the series starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana was also a hit on Bravo and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Britton’s portrayal of Newell.
“Our world is becoming increasingly bizarre, so a lot of the interesting stories are the true ones,” Britton told ET about the series.
Moving to USA Network, the anthology series is turning its attention to the real-life saga of Dan and Betty Broderick’s divorce that ended in a double homicide, with Christian Slater and Amanda Peet portraying the scorned couple in Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story.
Spanning several decades, the story kicks off in 1965 when Elizabeth Bisceglia first met her future husband, Dan Broderick. The college sweethearts eventually got married in 1969 and gave birth to their first child together, Kim, the following year. (According to Bella Stumbo’s book, Until the Twelfth of Never: The Deadly Divorce of Dan & Betty Broderick, they would go on to have four more children, Lee, Daniel, Rhett and an unnamed boy who died shortly after birth.)
After completing his medical degree at Cornell University, Dan pursued a law degree while Betty became the family’s main provider. Soon after, he became a superstar in the San Diego, California, legal community, specializing in malpractice cases. By that time, Betty was finally able to enjoy the fruits of their labors and the couple was seemingly happy and wealthy.
Things turned, however, when Dan hired 21-year-old Linda Kolkena to be his legal assistant in 1982. Not long after she started working for him, Betty suspected the two were having an affair. The marriage quickly broke down and Dan moved out by 1985 and eventually took custody of their children. Later, he reportedly told Betty she was right about the affair, which had been going on since 1983.
Betty and Dan soon engaged in what would become one of the most notorious divorce cases in the United States at the time. Broderick vs. Broderick wasn’t settled until four years later, in 1989, when the divorce was finalized. By April of that same year, Dan and Linda got married.
Months later, on Nov. 5, an enraged Betty broke into the couple’s house, where she shot and killed them while they slept. In 1991, after her first trial ended in a hung jury, the second trial resulted in Betty being convicted on two counts of second-degree murder with a sentence of two consecutive terms of 15 years to life in prison. Denied parole in 2011 and 2017, Betty remains behind bars and will not be eligible for parole again until 2032.
“This whole case is about lies, greed and callousness and none of it had to happen and none of it should have happened,” Betty told the Los Angeles Times in a 1992 phone interview from the Central California Women’s Facility. That same year, she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in her first televised, in-person interview after her conviction.
Dan and Betty’s son, Rhett, also appeared on the talk show and explained to Winfrey what happened the morning of the murders. “I kind of suspected that my mom was getting into trouble,” he recalled. “Every time she went over to my dad's house, he would immediately call the cops, and she'd be violating her restraining order. So that's what I figured had happened.”
“The first season of Dirty John was a story of twisted love and coercive control -- and both these insidious elements are also present in and integral to the story of Betty Broderick, whom I have wanted to write about since I became a writer,” series creator Alexandra Cunningham said in a statement. In addition to showrunning duties, Cunningham will also make her directorial debut in the new season. “I can’t wait to see Amanda and Christian bring it to life.”
While the new season doesn’t have a premiere date, there are other ways to revisit the tragic story. The L.A. Times magazine article, “Till Murder Do Us Part: Dan and Betty Broderick's divorce played out over five vicious years,” was adapted for a two-part TV movie -- A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story and Her Final Fury: Betty Broderick, the Last Chapter -- starring Meredith Baxter as Betty. (While not streaming anywhere, the movie is available to purchase on DVD.) There’s also a 1991, “ripped from the headlines” Law & Order episode, “The Wages of Love,” which earned guest star Shirley Knight an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of an ex-wife accused of a double murder. (The episode is available for purchase on Amazon Prime.) Meanwhile, Betty and Dan’s story has been the subject of various true-crime podcasts, including an episode of My Favorite Murder.
“It’s a cautionary tale,” Slater told ET while promoting the fourth and final season of Mr. Robot. “It’s a really dark story but something for people to see.” The actor, who is also starring in the upcoming TV adaptation of the Wondery true-crime podcast Dr. Death alongside Jamie Dornan, concluded with a message for audiences: “Just be honest with each other.”