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'Dr. Laura' sent to waiting room: Schlessinger's TV talk show put on hiatus for 'retooling'
by Karen Hawkins
2000-09-27

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Just two weeks after its Sept. 11 debut, the embattled "Dr. Laura," the television talk show of radio's "Dr." Laura Schlessinger, was put on hiatus by producer Paramount.

The move was announced Sept. 22, with Paramount saying the pre-planned break is intended to retool the flagging show.

Dr. Laura has some of the lowest ratings of any talk show, according to Nielsen Media Research figures. The show pulled in about three million viewers its first week, and its ratings fell 11 percent in the second week, Marc Berman, an analyst for Mediaweek.com, told the Associated Press.

In contrast, the viewership of Oprah typically stands at about 11 million, while The Sally Jesse Raphael Show" gets about 6 million people, Berman said.

Despite the sagging ratings and declarations of dullness by critics, Paramount denies that the show's sudden removal is cause for concern.

"This is a normal thing. It's typical of any show. Every show has a dark day to plan for new shows, for sweeps periods, and that's what we are doing. We shoot six weeks and then take a break," said Paramount spokesman Daniella Cracknell.

Cracknell said the show will be back on the air Sept. 27.

Gay activists angered by Schlessinger's history of anti-gay rhetoric are claiming victory in the wake of the hiatus.

"Prejudice is bad for business, and Paramount is paying a price for its insensitivity to civil rights," said John Aravosis, co-founder of the anti-Schlessinger Web site StopDrLaura.com .

"Pretty soon the only people watching Dr. Laura will be Paramount executives, the Schlessinger family, and our activists," Aravosis said.

"Clearly, Paramount has realized that Schlessinger's media persona can't be separated from her defamatory rhetoric. There's nothing here to 'retool,' just an entertainment personality whose untrue, hurtful attacks have alienated advertisers and the viewing public, and have brought Paramount's lack of responsibility into the national spotlight," said a statement issued by Joan M. Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation ( GLAAD ) .

Activist Andy Thayer of the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network added a cautionary note to the celebrations, however.

"I think there are two things to be emphasized here. One, it shows that she's on the ropes. But two, now is the time to actually step up the campaign. It's absolutely key to do that," Thayer said.

"It's time to drive this partial victory home," he added.

Thayer noted that neither Schlessinger nor Paramount is likely to give up without a fight. The media company has invested an estimated $76 million in the show.

Thayer urged people to contact the remaining advertisers of "Dr. Laura" and "politely but firmly urge them to cease advertising." A list of those advertisers is available on StopDrLaura.com .

Schlessinger's show has been under attack since its inception, and criticism did not relent once it hit the air.

On Sept. 22, StopDrLaura.com announced that Coca-Cola became the 50th advertiser in two weeks to drop spots during the show. Other fleeing advertisers include Blue Cross/Blue Shield, PETsMART, Steak n Shake, Lowes and Slim-Fast. Previously, Procter and Gamble, one of the nation's biggest advertisers, pulled the plug on "Dr. Laura."

The AP reported that Paramount and its stations have had to sell advertising time during "Dr. Laura" at reduced rates.

While Cathy Renna, GLAAD's director of regional media and community relations, said Schlessinger "has not uttered the word gay" in two weeks on the air, she feared what tactics Schlessinger would resort to in order to save the show.

The statement from Garry notes, "GLAAD is concerned that Paramount will use extreme tactics to attract viewers, including allowing Schlessinger to attack the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community on her television program."

Some critics have attributed the show's reported blandness to attempts to tone down Schlessinger's views too much.

sition, and the council heard three hours of public comment on two nights. ... About two-thirds of the speakers were in favor of adding sexual orientation," Gilbert said. "That opposition did not materialize on gender identity, and I'm not really sure why except maybe they felt if they didn't succeed with sexual orientation, they wouldn't succeed with gender identity."

Ald. Conboy agreed, saying citizens involved in the lengthy sexual orientation debate apparently feel that gender identity protections are a given.

"The majority of the opponents and the proponents, really, provided their input, and the issue was debated and resolved [ in 1998 ] ," he said. "This is just clarifying what was intended from the start." Even given CMAD's success so far, Cook is still only cautiously optimistic about the Sept. 25 vote.

"We haven't exactly succeeded yet," she said. "We've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of support we have from council members. We have a set of council members who truly get it. ... They know discrimination is discrimination."


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