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
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?"
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.
"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.