By David Kronke
"Dr. Laura" is a show for people who shake their fists and grumble about
"those damn kids" whenever some teen skateboards in their driveway; for
those who relish disapproving loudly of a neighbor's boyfriend's car to
whoever will listen; for folks who grouse about the shoddy upkeep of the lawn
across the street.
Near the end of Wednesday's installment of successful radio host and
physical therapist doctorate Laura Schlessinger's TV talk show, Our Lady of
the Brittle Disposition intoned, "A lot of attitudes have to come back to where
we used to be: about God, family and country."
And there it is -- the show in a nutshell. No matter what an individual
topic may be, Dr. Laura's prescription is to retreat to '50s sensibilities.
Certainly, some aspects of life would be improved were some of the more
wholesome values associated with the '50s to return. The chances of such a
social regression, however, are, to put it mildly, slim; so much of Dr. Laura's
idealistic advice isn't practicable for the majority of us in the real, complicated
world of 2000.
Wednesday's show, for example, suggested that every family should be a
one-income family for the benefit of the children, which is a fine idea until
those doted-upon kids get kicked out in the street after Mom and Pop miss a
few house payments. Schlessinger repeatedly makes kind of a no-brainer of a
point -- parents who have children need to be dedicated to them. But if the
people who are willing to devote the amounts of time Dr. Laura says they
should were the only folks who had children, there wouldn't be much of a
population (less traffic, though, so maybe she has a point).
Schlessinger -- in a turtleneck every episode, even though the show tapes
the blistering-hot Valley -- prides herself on being right about everything. She
interrupts her guests as they try to answer her questions and scolds them,
"Let me finish my thought," when she only intermittently allows them the
same courtesy. She uses religious foundations to justify her positions, which
means nothing really is open to debate (a pretty deadly stance for a "talk"
show). Someone actually had the temerity to claim that "there are no
absolutes" to Dr. Laura on one show, and even though his point thereafter
was pretty reasonable, she utterly dismissed him.
"Dr. Laura" -- the show and the host -- tends to get a little scattered.
show purported to ask the question, "When is an affair actually an affair?"
with an eye on the morality of Internet chat rooms. Well, in fact, the folks on
the show who used the Internet actually engaged in physical affairs, so the
Internet component wasn't really all that relevant -- these people would have
found illicit lovers in some fashion.
But then Dr. Laura wandered through the issues of harmless flirting (oops,
sorry; no such thing), taking unfaithful spouses back, physically incapacitated
spouses, children discovering parents' indiscretions -- Schlessinger aims for
completeness but achieves only incoherence. Dr. Laura, you're gonna have a
lot of TV time to fill -- stick to one topic per show; that way, you'll have more
to harangue us with in the future.
Schlessinger's guests, who serve as symbolic object lessons, clearly are
bright bulbs. We met a portly gal who left her husband for a guy she met on
the Internet -- a guy who turned out to be on welfare, that is. And then she
strayed again, with another abject loser. And there her poor, twice-cuckolded
mate sat, looking stupefied on national television, probably wondering how a
woman stepping out with food-stamp recipients got smart enough to figure out
how to turn on a computer in the first place. Meanwhile, the audience is
wondering what it could possibly learn from the moronic behavior of
individuals who gladly advertise their idiocy on TV.
These rubes are folks who would otherwise be part of Jerry Springer's bread
and circuses, but Dr. Laura, to her credit, is trying to run a classy show here,
so confrontations are kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, in this case, "classy"
translates into "dull."
On Schlessinger's radio show, that chubby hubby-dumper would have left
air with strips torn out of her hide by the good doctor. Here, with all this
human flotsam and jetsam staring her in the face, Dr. Laura backs off. She'll
be judgmental on occasion -- heck, she's Dr. Laura, that's wet-wired into her
DNA -- but she doesn't lash out at these hopeless dopes with the gleeful zeal
her radio gig affords her, and that makes for some awfully wobbly moral
rectitude (she will courageously bash folks on pretaped sequences, however).
Dr. Laura's now-infamous homophobia (which, let's face it, will be her
death should it surface on this show) has already garnered her a little trouble
with advertisers. Hence, constipation medicines, feminine hygiene products,
dubious-sounding financial services and order-by-phone Yanni CDs are
hawked between her muted tirades. Thursday's episode, a hodgepodge of
moral anecdotes and homilies, is the perfect forum for such advertising.
Friday's episode was about how scandalous it is that library Internet access
allows people to access some dubious sites -- including one featuring some
risque Dr. Laura pix! (For someone who assails the Internet whenever she
can, Dr. Laura tries, strenuously albeit awkwardly, to feature faux-interactive
elements on her show.) Access to naughty Web sites endangers, yes, our
kids, who seem to be more adept than the rest of us at finding them in the first
This might be a grave issue, but there's many bubbling atop it on our nation's
outrage-meter, so the fact that that's the kind of topic "Dr. Laura" is doing in
her first week doesn't exactly bode well for the show's future.
What: The cranky radio host's TV show.
Where: Syndicated (KCBS, Channel 2).
When: 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Our rating: 1 1/2 stars