Bob Cannon
March 04, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Once upon a time, a crime was just a crime. Now it’s the first step in a multimedia career. Here’s how some of the biggest scandals (starting with the von Bulows, as played by Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close at left) have stacked up in the exploitation game. Case Name:Claus and Sunny von Bulow-The Big Sleep (1982-85) In Case You Missed It:Claus is accused of injecting socialite wife Sunny with insulin to cause her death. (He’s eventually acquitted.) Movies:Reversal of Fortune, for which Jeremy Irons wins Oscar as Claus. Television:CNN broadcasts trial; Barbara Walters interviews Claus on 20/20. Miscellaneous Cash-Ins:Two books, including one by von Bulow lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who sells the movie rights. Evaluation:It’s always gratifying to find that the idle rich aren’t always idle.

Case Name:Baby M: A Womb With a View (1986-87) In Case You Missed It:Surrogate mother Mary Beth Whitehead sues for custody of child she bore for William and Elizabeth Stern. Movies:ABC’Baby M Television:Whitehead appears on Donahue and, with her husband, on A Current Affair Miscellaneous Cash-Ins:Two books, one coauthored by Whitehead. Evaluation:The Sterns’ refusal to sell their story rights keeps the lid from blowing off.

Case Name:Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker: The Way of All Flesh (1987-89) In Case You Missed It:Televangelist Jim is accused of having sex with Jessica Hahn. He later goes to jail for committing fraud. Wife Tammy Faye divorces him. Movies:NBC’s Fall From Grace Television:Bakkers visit Nightline twice. A Current Affair reportedly pays $100,000 for TV rights to Tammy’s 1993 wedding. Hahn guests on HBO’s Dream On, hosts mud-wrestling show Thunder & Mud. Miscellaneous Cash-Ins:Hahn disrobes in Playboy, reportedly for as much as $1 million; appears in Sam Kinison video and a movie. Affair spawns three books. Tammy Faye debuts a clothing line. Evaluation:Hahn pioneered in turning her 15 minutes into a full-fledged career.

Case Name:Amy & Joey: Long Island, Cradle of Romance (1992-93) In Case You Missed It:Amy Fisher, 17, has affair with Joey Buttafuoco, 37, and shoots his wife, Mary Jo. Movies:The infamous ABC-CBS-NBC triple play; CBS pays Buttafuocos $300,000 Television:Buttafuocos tap A Current Affair for a reported $500,000. Amy’s camp nets $80,000 from Inside Edition. A Current Affair pays $8,000 for videotape of Amy having sex. Miscellaneous Cash-Ins:One comic book, one hardcover (whose author gives Fisher $60,000 for interview), and one paperback. Evaluation:The standard by which all other scandals are measured.

Case Name:The Menendez Murders: The Meek Shall Inherit Squat (1989-94) In Case You Missed It:Erik and Lyle Menendez are accused of shooting their parents. Movies:Upcoming on CBS and Fox. Television:Court TV airs trials; 20/20 welcomes jurors; A Current Affair gets Lyle. Miscellaneous Cash-Ins:Three books, plus anticipated tome by Dominick Dunne. Evaluation:Oedipus times two. Who could resist it?

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