'Dr. Laura' debuts tamely and lamely

September 12, 2000

SHE CAME, SHE talked,
she put me to sleep.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- all the furor surrounding
her new daytime talk show, Dr. Laura Schlessinger's
"Dr. Laura" debuted in the tame lane Monday. Just
another formula gabfest about social dysfunction and
family trauma, echoing everything from "Sally Jessy
Raphael" to "Queen Latifah."

Dr. Laura, the self-styled radio diva of knee-jerk pop
psychological analysis and righteous, God-fearing
indignation, has become an object of derision and protest
because of her radio show comments on gays and lesbians.

But clearly, television's "Dr. Laura" hopes to present
a somewhat kinder, gentler and less obviously
intolerant Schlessinger.

The topic for Monday's high-profile premiere in
national syndication was "Teens & Drugs: What to
Do?" Gee, there's a daring subject.

"I'm sick of it, I'm very worried, and I want it stopped,"
proclaimed Dr. Laura unsurprisingly, promising to deliver
some answers and solutions to the teen drug problem.

What followed were thoroughly predictable
encounters with concerned parents and their former
drug-abusing offspring, two San Diego police officers
who battle the scourge of schoolyard drug dealers, a
guy who markets in-home drug tests for parents to test
their kids, and a parent and students from a small Texas
community that has a controversial policy of
mandatory drug tests for its schoolchildren.

It was on this latter issue -- mandatory drug testing by a
public school district -- that the more peevish, morally
judgmental side of Schlessinger peeped out.

Despite obvious constitutional and invasion of privacy issues
raised by enforced drug testing, Schlessinger sided
with Lockney, Texas, school authorities. She said
protecting children from drugs is more important than any
notion of a student's rights.

And she chided the sizable minority of respondents to
a Dr. Laura Internet poll who said schools should not
be allowed to do mandatory drug tests.

"I think you people need to think more about moral
responsibility," lectured Dr. Laura.

Outfitted in a bright orange jacket and black turtleneck,
with a Star of David pendant at her throat, Schlessinger
presented an image of affluent, middle-aged suburban
rectitude in both her appearance and her occasionally
starchy, know-it-all comments.

But unlike Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing blowhard
who had a brief, uneventful run on television in the 1990s,
Dr. Laura's act translates pretty well to television.
She's helped immensely by the safe, slickly packaged
daytime talk show put together for her by
the Paramount Television Group.

"Dr. Laura" is not nearly as tabloid or trashy as
"Jenny Jones" or "The Jerry Springer Show."

But Schlessinger is a lady with a self-righteous
mission in life. And she clearly -- and superficially --
blames the freewheeling sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll
'60s for America's alleged moral decay.

So the themes of sexual morality and parental
responsibility will be played out with regularity on "Dr.
Laura," including today's show, "When is an Affair an
Affair?" And later this week, Schlessinger unleashes
"Dr. Laura's Moral Marathon" (Thursday) and then
confronts "Lewd Libraries" (Friday).

It will be interesting to see just how long Dr. Laura
can keep her lip zipped about homosexuality. Sooner
or later, I would imagine, her bigoted, repellent views
on gays and lesbians are bound to burst forth.

And that's when "Dr. Laura" will go from being just
another daytime talk show bore to being a
dangerously toxic airwaves dump.

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