The first thing to know about Dr. Laura's new TV show is that
Seen it before. A waste of time.
And you hope -- for Paramount TV, which produces the show, and
for all the stations
that bought it -- that it's a waste of money, too. No one should profit from prejudice.
Laura Schlessinger, who misleadingly calls herself Dr. Laura,
is the nation's most popular
self-help radio host, a self-defined moral arbiter and radio's queen of intolerance. On Monday,
she started a syndicated TV talk show (at 3 p.m. weekdays on Channel 10) that had a battle
for supremacy between its blandness and its shallowness.
Schlessinger is best known for her allow-no-uncertainty style
of "counseling" -- and
never mind that she has a doctorate in physiology, not psychology, psychiatry or
anything related to what she pretends to be, or that her "advice" usually has all the
depth of a fortune cookie. What's drawing the most criticism for her TV appearance is
her anti-gay bigotry.
That particular brand of nastiness was not evident on Schlessinger's
first show Monday,
but neither was much understanding of human emotion.
Instead, her approach seems to be that any problem, big or small,
and any emotional
entanglement, no matter how complicated, can be handled with a few seconds of scolding.
Monday, she took on the risky subject of teens and drugs, and
her show had all the
usual complexity and substance you've come to expect from daytime talk.
"I'm sick of it. I'm worried, and I want it to stop," she said.
Well, that should handle the problem.
Schlessinger to a San Diego cop: "Where are kids getting drugs?"
Cop: "From drug dealers."
Schlessinger: "Where do they come from?"
Cop: "The woodwork."
Who couldn't learn valuable lessons from this?
Schlessinger, who stresses taking responsibility, went on to praise a mother who sent her
daughter away to boarding school for a drug cure, then laughed with a father who said if
his daughter used drugs, he'd "go upside her head."
All of it had that stale talk-TV feel of inarticulate people,
worn-out subjects and a trained
audience that clapped on cue until it got its fish.
Coming later this week are topics such as "When Is an Affair an
"Are You Your Kid's Parent?" and, really, "Lewd Libraries."
OK, so we know she can be bad television. Welcome to daytime talk.
But there is a
larger principle at issue here.
Schlessinger's radio popularity comes in spite of her own hypocrisy,
which (oh, the irony)
is precisely the kind of thing she rails against.
She pretends to have counseling expertise when she has none. She
values, but has not talked to her own mother in years. She tells mothers to stay
home, yet she's a mother who works long hours. Most importantly, she preaches
God-fearing decency, but to many people calling her for help, she has all the
compassion of a hangman.
Schlessinger appears to relish battering the softer souls who
call her, although to be
fair, she was far nicer on her TV show than she has been on radio. Still, if people
want to call in to get abused by an unqualified shrew, enjoy.
But prejudice and TV exposure are different, and that's what's
blatant hate for gays and lesbians an issue.
In case you've missed her radio act (on KSTE, 650 AM), count yourself
Schlessinger calls homosexuality "deviant behavior" and a "biological error" and uses
words such as "pedophilia," "bestiality" and "sadomasochism" to describe gays and
lesbians, then says her attacks aren't personal.
And now she has a TV show. That is different from radio in so
many ways, starting
with the subliminal power of TV -- it validates whoever appears on the screen in a
way radio or print do not.
Sam Rosenwasser, the general manager of Channel 10, said he bought
TV show a year ago before he knew about her prejudice.
"At the time, I had no idea about the controversy," he said Monday.
"It wouldn't make
sense for us to alienate our audience."
Channel 10 is bound by its contract with Paramount not just to
pay for Schlessinger's
show for two years, but also to air it.
"I've had conversations with Paramount," Rosenwasser said. "If
we see any of that
(bigotry) on the air, we won't air that episode."
Paramount, which has largely remained quiet about all this, has
defenses like "freedom of speech."
First off, no one, not even the groups who want her show canceled,
Schlessinger doesn't have a right to speak her bigotry. But no one has a First
Amendment right to a television show; that's both a privilege and a responsibility.
And it's not like she would be silenced if she weren't on TV.
She has a magazine, a
Web site, books in print and a daily radio show. Her spewing is plenty free.
But just as Nazis should not have a TV show, neither should Schlessinger's
be permitted on the limited and public airwaves. It does not matter if she's keeping
her prejudice hidden on TV -- you wouldn't give a cooking show to a member of the
Ku Klux Klan.
And because of the limited airwaves, and because of TV's power,
every show and
every station has a social responsibility, an obligation to the community to at least try
not to do harm and maybe to make the world a little better, kinder, more tolerant and
wise. Bigotry of any kind does not belong on TV. There are not two sides to hate, and
Schlessinger's prejudice should not be treated as a justifiable point of view.
The problem is, Channel 10 made a bad mistake and Paramount simply
Welcome to Hollywood. Schlessinger, frighteningly, has a following. In this era of
lowered standards, Paramount, Channel 10 and everyone else involved figured
Schlessinger would get good ratings, pump up the local news, make them money.
Opponents have protested to Paramount and some stations. Though
Channel 10 has
seen no organized opposition, Rosenwassser said he's tried to answer every call and
On a national level, some advertisers such as Procter & Gamble
and Xerox have pulled
their support from the show.
Local viewers can write to Channel 10, or better, the people who
Schlessinger's show. Or we can all just wait for Dorothy's house to drop on her.
RICK KUSHMAN is The Bee's TV columnist. Write
to him at P.O. Box 15779,
Sacramento, CA 95852, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (916)