Lifetime Movie of the Week is a genre of Made for TV Movies that feature similar plots and thematic elements — mainly aggrieved women and their struggles to find empowerment of one sort or another. The Trope Namer is Lifetime, a cable TV channel in the United States with programming geared toward female audiences, which is well known for giving rise to the subgenre. Despite being the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier, Lifetime isn't the only source of movies in this subgenre; some of the most well-known (Not Without My Daughter) and most-parodied (Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?) movies weren't Lifetime Movies at all, although they now are frequently re-run on that channel.
The four basic plots of the Lifetime Movie of the Week can be summarized as follows:
Woman against woman. A woman is abused, oppressed, or vilified by another woman — either in a position of power over her, like her boss or mother; or a jealous ex / stalker of the Good Woman's boyfriend/husband. This one is likely to end in the Evil Woman going to jail, though the evil ex and stalker are more prone to Karmic Death.
Woman against child. A woman has a problem child — autistic, seriously ill, violent, or drug-addicted. She must fight accusations of abuse or neglect while trying to find someone to help her cope. This one usually turns out in a Downer Ending if the child is beyond help.
Woman against herself. A selfish, alcoholic, or generally insane woman wrecks her life and/or family despite everyone's attempts to help. This one is likely to end up in her being a Karma Houdini, unless it's Ripped from the Headlines and the real life woman in question went to jail. Also, there is usually a sympathetic character who serves one of the above roles.
Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Something Sounding Scandalous: The Victim's Name Story. Not all Lifetime movies use this title format, but enough do that it's used by almost all parodies. Premise: Lurid Phrase is also common.
Retroactive Recognition: Considering the number of movies they make and the fact that they primarily cast of relative unknowns for the sake of budget, it stands to reason that eventually a few of them would hit it big. When this happens, expect Lifetime to drag the movie they made out of the archives and air it frequently if the person has a big movie coming out soon.
Ripped from the Headlines: Typically regarding whatever missing or dead woman is in the news this week (the movie about Natalee Holloway, the movie about Amanda Knox, the movie about the Craigslist killer, etc.) Also often adapts true stories about mothers trying to get justice for their sick/mentally ill/LGBT child.
A variation of this can be found in V for Vendetta in the story arc of Rosemary Almond, a gentle and demure housewife whose husband, Derek, just can't wait to get home every evening so he can get to beat her up and get drunk as a way to vent off his everyday frustrations. Derek is then killed by V himself, making her a Widow Woman. She is then hit on by one of her husband's co-workers whose sole purpose is to sully her husband's memory by fucking his wife. He is also killed by V later on. She is then expelled from society and is forced to become a showgirl to support herself. Eventually she snaps and assassinates England's dictator.
Enough features a protagonist who, after abuse and cheating from her husband, breaks into her husband's house with the full intention of beating him to death with her bare hands. Her threat, "self-defense isn't murder", rings pretty hollow considering she's instigating the fight in his home and not hers, goes out of her way to remove anything he could use to defend himself, and even plants evidence to prove the version of the story she plans to tell the cops. She gets the upper hand, but then she chickens out. After more struggling he falls out a two-story window.
The 1993 remake of Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman fits this formula. Men are abusive, sex-obsessed monsters? Check. Women are weak, spineless victims? Check.
The Oksana Baiul Story. Most glaring among the liberties taken is the near-complete absence of Viktor Petrenko. In real life he persuaded his own coach to coach Oksana, he paid for all her costumes early on, and even translated for her during interviews before she learned English.
Waiting To Exhale is a bitter piece-of-life movie where all men who ever walk on screen are either immature, total assholes or perverts who can't keep it in their pants, leaving all the main Four Girl Ensemble embittered, lonely or sad and realizing that having Sisters Before Misters is the best way of life for women if they don't want men to walk all over them.
A lot of Jodi Picoult's novels fit this trope, usually falling into the woman vs. sick child and woman vs. herself category.
In the V. C. Andrews novel Celeste, it's mentioned that the events of the Cutler series by the same author (a girl discovers that she was kidnapped as a child, and has to go to a new family who are by turns abusive and neglectful) were turned into a Lifetime-esque movie.
The Mexican shows Mujer: Rompe el Silencio ("Woman: Break the Silence") and Lo Que Callamos las Mujeres ("What us Women Keep for Ourselves"), broadcast by Televisa and TV Azteca respectively, are pretty much Latin-American versions of Lifetime shows in a one-hour TV series format. Stories about females in peril or distress that claim to portray how women live in modern society? Check. Men portrayed as selfish, cruel, one-dimensional, perverted and/or abusive unless they throw themselves at the Lead-Du-Jour's feet and kiss her ass? Check. Women caricatured as weepy, whiny little victims who are Too Dumb to Live to an egregious degree? Check.
The predecessor of both two shows mentioned previously was the long running Mujer: Casos de la Vida Real ("Women: Real Life Cases") with former Mexican young actress Silvia Pinal (known to younger people as the old lady in "Mujer..."). The show actually started as a charity show (i.e., every peso we get by the viewers watching this Lifetime Series goes to the charity) to help the people affected by the 1985 earthquake. It eventually got a Full Circle when in 2005 at the 20 year anniversary, Mujer: Casos de la Vida Real transmitted an entire hour about real life cases of women in the 1985 earthquake.
One episode deconstructs this when Stabler suddenly finds himself being treated as if he was "the evil man" in this sort of drama, despite him (for once) genuinely doing everything he can to help the female victim. (As in, really trying to help instead of wanting REVEEEENGE)
Another didn't so much deconstruct it as show how absurd making the massive leaps in logic these movies do can be in real life. A woman claims to be "stalked" and "burned" by her ex-husband, and after a confrontation with the cops he gets killed. Turns out she burned herself and did it because she was resentful of him leaving her. Olivia "fought" for her the whole way, and was rewarded with the woman looking right in her eyes and saying "I sure showed him!" as she lay dying after revealing her scheme. In short, Olivia's own prejudices helped a woman kill her husband by proxy.
The Oxygen series Snapped tries to promote itself in the same vein as the Lifetime movies by being about women who have suffered terrible abuse and decide to kill their abusers.
Occasionally, there are women featured who killed/tried to kill their significant other for no clear reason. That, or completely unsympathetic reasons, like trying to collect insurance money/inheritance, or they had a love interest on the side and needed the first guy out of the way.
Morning TV shows in Chile have some sketches about supposed Real Life stories, but said "stories" are not only very badly acted and planned but also pretty much Lifetime Movies in 20-minute format.
Human Trafficking counts, but unlike most Lifetime films it was well received. The fact that it's inspired by actual events might have helped though.
There used to be an Indonesian version of this program in one of the local TV channels called "Oh, Mama. Oh, Papa" (or something like that) based on a true story segment from a magazine with the same name.
In Emmerdale we have an glaring example centering around Chas and Carl.
Firstly Chas Dingle discovers her Jerkass boyfriend, Carl King, has been cheating with one of her friends. It reaches "lifetime" levels when she begins secretly plotting an elaborate revenge with her cousin Charity in order to punish them. This includes weeks of getting engaged, organising a wedding and then finally planning to divorce him right after for every penny he's got. This deception goes on until the day of the wedding where Chas doesn't go through with it and reveals she knew he was a dirty cheat. The fact that both Carl's and herself's entire friends and families are dragged through this charade for the sake of pure spite is very quickly forgotten if even really touched upon. She just settles for the paltry 30 grand she siphoned off from his money.
Secondly much later down the line Chas herself begins an affair with Cameron Murray. Her pregnant niece's fiancee. Yep, she's a massive Hypocrite. But she's still portrayed as a Sympathetic Adulterer. Carl, of all people in the world, finds out and manages to capture an incriminating picture. Over the next few episodes Carl acts unsurprisingly like a smugjerk whilst threatening to expose Chas unless she coughs up the 30 grand she stole. However this might seem justified given Chas was willing to ruin him for the same crime, so naturally his character is Flanderized from a Jerkass blackmailing his ex for payback, to a Stalker with a Crush and finally an attempted rapist. Thus Chas and Cameron end up bludgeoning him to death with a brick. And she ends up portrayed as a traumatised woobie on trail for his murder.
Between Friends bears many aspects of this genre, although as much as men are depicted badly, the allegedly "empowered" women are depicted as hyper-insecure, Does This Make Me Look Fat? types who both agonize over buying the low-fat double-whipped frappucino and also pound back the cheesecake like there's no tomorrow.
For Better or for Worse has Michael's novel, Stone Season. The plot concerns a woman stuck in a loveless marriage with an abusive husband which she makes no effort whatsoever to escape until the 'empowering' climax: he goes out into a storm to hit the bar and doesn't return. She goes searching for him, finds him seriously injured and weakened, and he berates her to help him. She says "No", and leaves him to die. She's a Pinball Protagonist who only exists to suffer tragically until 'fate' disposes of her husband for her, and is praised as 'strong' and 'amazing' for this. (The excerpts given on Michael's Character Blog also depict 1960s Canada as being more or less like the 1860s in the rest of the Western world.)
In Ultimate Spider-Man, Flash Thompson was kidnapped by mercenaries who mistook him for Spider-Man. After managing to escape, Flash and his family use the resulting media frenzy to their advantage. The peak of this is a Lifetime movie based on the experience. From the short snippet we see, it's pretty bad.
In the future Lifetime movies can be about men, too. Men who struggle with raising headless children, saving nippleless strippers and dodging insane police snipers to save the world from crime by telling everyone that it is wrong.
They did another one about a woman whose husband kept standing abusively close to her. After the trailer, the "real life" victim explained that she and her husband discovered he had a hearing disability, and was subsequently lauded for standing up to his abuse of being so close to her all the time.
A sketch about a Lifetime channel game show, "What's Wrong With Tanya?" where the contestants were all suburban mothers from Lifetime movies. They had to guess what specifically was troubling different teenagers named "Tanya" that were brought out.
"Tanya! You've been going to those parties where girls give oral sex for bracelets!"
Ann: I watch a lot of Lifetime movies. There was this one, How Far is Too Far Enough: The Terry Palaver Lonagan Story. This woman had agoraphobia and her therapist was obsessed with her. And he hid in her house, and then he attacked her and tried to eat her toes. Also, her daughter was having sex way too young. So yeah, free self defense class? I'm there.
"The Wedding Bride" from How I Met Your Mother is an over-the-top version of these combined with a healthy dose of Her Code Name Was Mary Sue that casted Ted and Stella's relationship as the good girl in love with an evil man and her leaving him at the altar from out of the blue as the happy ending. That is not how it happened in the show proper.
Parodied by Almost Livehere, though it was making fun of NBC's awful "Made for TV movies" that followed a similar format. In this one, the "victim" is an alien abductee who behaves insanely after her return.
Chainsawsuit has She Cried Veto: The Susan Miller Story (starts here), in which Susan Miller is assaulted by the President of the United States. Money quote:
The President: My new bill will make rape the new legal currency of America.
In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja after the ghost wizard takes over Dark Smoke Puncher he suggests that his mother might get a Lifetime movie out of their fight, entitled A Woman's Choice. A Mother's Nightmare. The alt-text goes on to say:
I think that's how I want to see the first Dr. McNinja movie made. With the budget and style of a movie on Lifetime. What's that? Why yes, I will throw away life's opportunities for the sake of a joke.
Immediately subverted on the next page, when Mitzi unhesitatingly orders Gordito to shoot her son fatally.
Simultaneously played straight and subverted in a Something Positive arc, in which Kharisma's arrest for murder is portrayed as an inspiring Lifetime Movie...but even the actress portraying her knows it's a load of bull.
Roger: Oh, my God, look what's on Lifetime! Daphne Zuniga in Spooning with Anger.
Roger: So?! That's our favorite spousal abuse movie of all time. We gave it even higher marks than Valerie Bertinelli's classic, Please, Kevin. Not in the Face.
TV: "I'm sorry dinner was late! I love you so much!"
Roger: Why do they stay, Steve? Why do they stay?
That particular episode ("A.T. the Abusive Terrestrial") is itself a parody of the Lifetime Movie of the Week...and ET. Roger feels neglected by Steve, so he makes friends with a new boy (an Expy of Elliot). The boy eventually turns abusive, which Roger tries to hide from Steve. When he does find out, Steve helps Roger figure out a way to escape safely by pretending he has to return to his homeworld. However, the boy catches on, so Roger settles for kicking him in the crotch, pushing over his bike then walking off.
In another episode, Roger watches A Cyst For Amelia, starring Delta Burke.
A skit on the claymation show Starveillance parodies how Lifetime movies are usually the end of the line for actresses, particularly TV actresses, with sinking careers. The skit features Mischa Barton taking a nap in a cafe shortly after her character was killed off on The O.C.. In her dream, she meets Michelle Rodriguez, Star Jones, and Shannen Doherty whose entry is accompanied by an ominous flash of lightning. They tell her that, since she left the show that made her famous, her career, much like theirs, is doomed to spiral downward, with her only career openings all being on the Lifetime channel. They point to Shelley Long, whose career was never the same after Cheers ended and is still preparing for an audition for Shakespeare In Love even though that movie came out years ago. The dream ends with the other actresses mobbing Mischa like zombies, chanting "You're one of us now, Mischa!" She is finally awakened from her nightmare by her agent, who is calling her with a movie role. She is initially overjoyed to hear his voice, but after she learns that the role she's been offered is that of a young mother with cancer, she asks what channel the movie is airing on. Cue Big "NO!"...
But follow that with a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment when she ended up in the Lifetime movie Homecoming as a psycho who couldn't let go of her high school sweetheart and lost it when he brought his new girlfriend home for the weekend.
Family Guy had Brian and his girlfriend Jillian watching a commercial for a Lifetime movie entitled Men Are Terrible and Will Hurt You Because This Is Lifetime. What little we saw of it consisted of a woman who was raped by her doctor, who then tells her in a very disinterested fashion that she has cancer.
An earlier episode showed the family watching a show with two women eating ice cream and making very lame jokes about men. Then it went to commercial announcing that they were watching Lifetime: Television for Idiots.
Another episode featured Raped By a Clown, starring Meredith Baxter-Birney (who voiced herself).
The episode "The Story of Brenda Q." subverts this. It's NOTa parody.
An episode of The Simpsons had Marge watching "WifeTime: Television for Housewives", the movie being about a widow whose husband was heavily in debt and didn't have any life insurance ([despite the fact that debt obligations aren't inherited and the worst that could be done is repo collateral). The widow becomes insane, homeless, broke, and ugly; she then ends up going to Harvard Medical School...as a cadaver.
In another episode, Dr. Hibbert gives Marge a DVD of a Lifetime movie called The Woman Who Couldn't Leave Her House to help her cope with the agoraphobia she developed after being robbed at gunpoint.
Then there was the time the babysitter thought Homer was trying to grab her butt (he was actually trying to pull off a piece of candy that was stuck to the seat of her pants—thus explaining the incriminating drool). She denounced him for sexual harassment. Next thing you know, Fox is running the original movie, Homer S: Portrait of an Ass-Grabber.
In "Bart The Murderer", Bart is accused of apparently killing Skinner and soon, there's a TV movie titled, Blood On The Blackboard: The Bart Simpson Story.