Dr. Laura premiere dodges controversy

Tuesday, September 12th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Carrying more baggage than a Ritz-Carlton bellhop, Dr. Laura Schlessinger sallied forth with her controversial TV talk show Monday.

Its only discernible bright spot was her Halloween-ready orange jacket. The 53-year-old physiologist otherwise presided over a rather pedantic, sometimes hectoring discussion of teens, drugs and tough love. Not exactly riveting or groundbreaking, but basically a safe port in the storm she's created with her steadfast conviction that homosexuality is a "deviant sexual orientation" in need of curing.

Dr. Laura reportedly will steer clear of any discussions of gay issues for at least its first three weeks on the air. But Dr. Schlessinger's conservative beliefs, grounded in her Orthodox Jewish faith, have sparked a StopDrLaura.com Web site, numerous demonstrations against the show and defections by a number of national advertisers.

Indeed the most notable aspect of Monday's premiere was its heavy load of 800 number "direct response" ads, generally a last resort when sponsors are hard to come by. The tone was set with an opening two-minute spot for vintage Shirley Temple movies. Mainstream national advertisers were scarce, but did include Slim-Fast, Roman Meal bread and Long John Silver's.

The second half of the show had a segment on Lockney, Texas, located near Lubbock. Dr. Schlessinger praised the community's school district for instituting mandatory, random drug testing of students. "Saving kids" is more important than any rights students think they might have, she reasoned. Two Lockney teens appeared on the show to disagree, while a teacher said the action was necessary to combat a growing number of drug dealers.

Dr. Schlessinger then journeyed into the small studio audience, where she found a father who said his teenage daughter never would use drugs because she knows how much it would hurt him. Still, what if he caught her puffing on a joint?

"First I'd probably have to go upside her head," he replied, causing Dr. Schlessinger to laugh with seeming delight.

Kids, she said, are a "gift from God" who "often don't even know they need saving."

Earlier in the show, she gifted a previously errant teenage boy with a "Dr. Laura Warrior" camouflage-colored T-shirt. This was after his saliva test for drug use came back negative.

"All right!" she exclaimed.

Dr. Schlessinger had less luck with a 17-year-old girl who said she began using drugs and having sex when she was 13. It's still no one's business but her own, the girl said. The host couldn't convince her otherwise, nor could a 19-year-old man who said he had renounced drugs.

The show's daily closing affirmation – "So now, go do the right thing" – comes after Dr. Schlessinger delivers a closing lecture on just what that is. Tuesday's show will look at cybersex. Or as a tease put it: "Dr. Laura wants to know. When is an affair an affair?"