Dr. Laura had better hope gay groups keep monitoring her new TV talk show.
Because after her first five episodes, I can't imagine why anyone else would
bother to watch.
Certainly not fans of her radio program, who tune in for her snappy put-downs
callers and are likely to be disappointed by the kinder, gentler, duller Dr. Laura on display
here. And not those seeking controversy, since she spent the first week avoiding any
hint of the homophobia that induced those gay activists to keep an eye on her.
Airing weekdays in syndication (times vary), the Paramount-produced Dr.
as dry, humorless and skeletal as its host. But neither she nor her show lacks
confidence: You're told to fax her "if you want to know what the right thing is
to do." It's one-stop shopping for moral certainty.
Stranger people than Laura Schlessinger, of course, have become TV stars,
but she's facing an uphill battle. Cold and rigid, she has a tendency to send her
voice soaring into an upper-register squeak, particularly when she's trying to
be cute — and the faster she talks, the higher it goes. When she tries to be
charming, coyly batting her eyelids and putting on a friendly voice, she's so
forced and unnatural that she's sort of frightening. Even her smile looks predatory.
Unfortunately for Paramount, all her unpleasant quirks combined are still
enough to make her interesting.
Her five opening topics — drugs, Internet affairs, working parents, ethical
challenges and Internet porn in "lewd libraries" — were handled so poorly,
even the studio audience seemed to lapse into a stupor.
Of course, she's not exactly offering that audience an impressive array of guests.
On the show about moral challenges, she ran a clip of David Kaczynski
turning in Unabomber brother Ted, leading one to expect she might speak to
him. Instead, her guest was a mother who turned in her teenage son for
robbing a convenience store.
Would Dr. Laura turn her child in to the police?
"I would do that in a blink, and anybody who knows me knows I mean that."
And isn't that something to boast about.
Though the shows mimic balance by including dissenting views, the debates
are structured not to explore the issues, but to illustrate her views. Those who
disagree with the host (including those inattentive few who answer the loaded
Web poll questions the "wrong" way) are dismissed and shunted aside so she
can lavish time on her supporters.
The library show was typical. A minister trying to defend open Internet
access at public libraries was interrupted, challenged and spoken over. The
"warrior mom" who fought back against her local library was led comfortably
through her interview — and was even allowed to link the issue to some
imaginary library plot to encourage abortion without question.
In the end, Dr. Laura is so didactic and unyielding, so proud to be an
unsympathetic nag, you can't help being offended. Who is she to preach to
us? We should take lessons in honesty from a woman with a doctorate in
physiology who lets viewers assume she's a medical doctor, and who seems
to be going to extraordinary lengths to pass herself off as younger than she is?
We need lectures about courage from a woman who ran from the press in the
summer? No thanks.
Should her ratings collapse, I wouldn't put it past Dr. Laura to start
gay-bashing, just to stir up some interest. That means those activists, sadly for
them, had better keep watching.
The rest of us, however, need to do the right thing — which in this case
about anything else.