Dr. Laura's Ominous TV Debut
 Sunday February 13

 By Peter Bart, Daily Variety Editor-in-Chief

 HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - The rebirth of quiz shows may be appalling to some,  but here's the
 good news: At least they've put another nail in the coffin of TV's saddest genre, the talk show.

 The serious intellectuals who once reigned supreme as TV gabbers -- Rikki Lake, Jenny Jones,
 Roseanne and the like -- all took serious hits in the ratings over the last year. Even Jerry Springer,
 that maven of mayhem, got whacked by 32%. All told, TV gabbers lost 5.6 million homes for a
 14% drop between November '98 and November '99. And this was before the quiz shows
 established their new-found hegemony.

 "It's an aging genre," was the assessment of one research organization, Frank N. Magid Associates.
 "There used to be a point where the programs were distinguishable from each other,
  but now there isn't a lot to choose from."

 Well, maybe. Obviously worried about the derivativeness of talk TV, Paramount's brave
 syndication arm is giving us a TV gabber who certainly should be distinguishable.
 She's Laura Schlessinger, the fizzy physiologist (she's not a psychologist)
 whose radio show commands a broad audience across the country.

 And since Paramount is convinced its new show can generate big bucks, it's impatient with naysayers
 who believe Dr. Laura represents, not a great leap forward, but rather an ominous throwback.

 Indeed, in style and content, she's more akin to the Morton Downey Jr.-Joe Pyne school of gabbers
 who stirred more rage than enlightenment. "Go gargle with razor blades," Pyne used to advise his callers.
 Dr. Laura may not be far behind.

 Is she really that offensive?

 Dr. Laura's view of the world makes Gary Bauer look like a liberal weirdo.
 She delivers shrill lectures against abortion. Pre-marital sex sends her into paroxysms of rage.
 Same-sex marriage is anathema. "Liberals" are people who want to sexualize their children.
 Indeed, her sermons on homosexuality have enraged a sector of the gay community,
 especially within the walls of Paramount.

 "What gay person working for Paramount would be happy about this?" Joe Keenan,
  an Emmy-winning writer-producer on "Frasier" told Brian Lowry of the Los Angeles Times.
 "We feel the way the Von Trapp children would feel if Dad decided to divorce Maria and
 marry Joan Crawford. She's not a happy addition to the family."
 And other members of  "the family" are joining in.

 Dr. Laura doesn't merely disdain gays.
 To her, gays are "deviants," products of  "a biological disorder" who can and should
 get themselves cured through  "reparative therapy."

 Her perorations strongly suggest that many gays are predators, eager to convert new members
 to the faith. She urges parents to avoid bringing kids into the company of possibly gay relatives.
 She denounces those professional organizations like the American Psychological Association for
 removing homosexuality from lists of  "mental disorders." She frequently quotes the supposed
 research of groups like the Family Research Council that are essentially fundamentalist
 propaganda groups, suggesting that their studies hold greater validity than those of, say,
 the American Medical Association.

 In view of these ideological fusillades, GLAAD, representing gay and lesbian groups, will present
 its case to Paramount on Feb. 14, and many will look on with interest as Paramount squirms.

 The issue is an arresting one: Should a major syndicator help promulgate the ideas of an ideologue
 who will inflame community tensions over issues like same-sex marriage and gay rights?

 To be sure, Dr. Laura doesn't see it that way.
 She insists she's not homophobic, but is merely "a serious Jew" whose beliefs derive from Scripture.

 A call to Dr. Laura is the closest thing to a child being summoned to the principal's office.
 Callers are chastised, berated and barbecued. A serious career woman who had a child out of
 wedlock is plastered with a scarlet letter and condemned to a life of shame.
 To Dr. Laura, you have to live by the book.
 Her book.

 "How many letters have I read on the air from gay men who acknowledge that a huge portion of
 the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys?" she will declare.
 Or: "Same-sex marriage is destructive to Western civilization because it destroys the building block
 which is mom, dad, committed, heterosexual, monogamous, children."

 Well, Paramount's syndicators may feel they've found a building block to revive talk TV, but I suspect
 a lot of people around the country may feel otherwise. Those quiz shows are looking better all the time.

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