December 07, 1998 12:00 PM

USA (Wed., Dec. 9, 9 p.m. ET)

Mouthier than the Divine Miss M? Michele Lee sure gives it a shot in Scandalous Me. A feature film starring Bette Midler as the late, outrageous novelist Jacqueline Susann is due to be released next fall, but Lee beats Midler to the punch with her histrionics in this TV biopic. Lest there be any doubt that Susann lived life to the fullest before dying of cancer in 1974, Lee yells, weeps and laughs really hard for two hours. “You’re out of control! You’re scaring me!” says Peter Riegert as Susann’s husband, producer-publicist Irving Mansfield. The man speaks for us.

The Jacqueline Susann of Scandalous Me is determined to become a big deal in popular culture despite her lack of what is generally defined as talent. After failing as an actress, she decides to write books capitalizing on her rich experience as a nonstop partygoer, showbiz hanger-on and pill-popper. Although a young editor (Kevin Hicks) describes her fiction as “unpublishable trash,” the tirelessly self-promoting Susann turns herself into the bestselling author of Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine, with a little help from cheerfully low-brow publisher Bernard Geis (James Farentino, Lee’s ex-husband) and assorted friends with a strange need to serve her ego.

In no way are we making light of the tragedies and traumas in Susann’s life—her cancer, her son’s mental illness, her difficult relationship with her artist father (Kenneth Welsh)—but they do provide Lee with a good excuse to overact. Meanwhile, Riegert is stuck with the role of the put-upon but inexplicably devoted spouse (essentially the part he played opposite Midler in the 1993 TV remake of Gypsy). On the rare occasions when Mansfield speaks up to Susann, she gives him an earful and then some. “What do you want?” he asks, daring to raise his voice slightly. “Respect!” she screams. “And love! I want people to love me! I want my name written in a thousand lights across the sky!” Now that’ll make a guy sorry he opened his mouth.

Bottom Line: Scandalously overdone

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