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Talk Show 'Sex-Pert' : Deborah Cooper divides her time between couch-side therapy and TV appearances, specializing in sound bites.

August 19, 1994|ERIC SLATER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Eric Slater is a regular contributor to The Times

After two half-hour segments of cable-television sex therapy, it's on to the "Leeza" show to counsel the hastily married, and then a sprint through the back door to the "Hard Copy" studios for a discussion of O.J. Simpson's love life.

Fortunately, Deborah Cooper has had her TV makeup on since this morning, so the face needs only a touch-up at each taping. And "Leeza" sent a limo, giving her time to study the schedule and find out it was Danny Partridge she'd be counseling in front of a few million people.

"Some people just talk about sex," Cooper says with a made-for-television smile. "Others make a profession of talking about it."

Cooper--that's Dr. Cooper to clients and fans since she has a doctorate in psychology--is the consummate confidante of sexual deviants, guest of "Donahue" and "Geraldo," a green-eyed blonde who one "Leeza" audience member swore was a movie star.

It's a harried and quirky combination that may have Freud turning over on his couch, but Cooper believes she's found the perfect practice. If only there were time for sleep.

"I have to schedule it in," she says. "Otherwise I forget."

The Encino resident is a talk show "sex-pert" and relationship therapist, called in when television producers need therapeutic expertise, glamorous looks and the ability to offer advice to nymphomaniacs and depressed mothers-in-law on the same show.

And in the age of sexual openness and Prozac, she is called often.

This recent day began with the taping of two sex-filled interviews for "The Dr. Deborah Cooper Show," which airs on Los Angeles public access channels. Then came the "Leeza" taping, where Danny Bonaduce--once the precocious Danny of "Partridge Family" fame--now a morning DJ in Chicago--admitted to marrying his wife on their first date--a blind date--in order to get the morally strict Christian into bed.

Cooper gave the couple--still married four years later--a minor scolding and her best wishes. Then she removed her microphone and rushed over to "Hard Copy" to chat about O.J.

"The excitement, the energy," she says. "I have a blast."

The 42-year-old Cooper stumbled into the mad world of mass media counseling and television sex talk in 1991, doing local radio shows in hopes of luring clients and building her private practice.

Three years later, she figures that she spends half her average working day counseling clients at her Encino and Brentwood offices. The other half is spent less traditionally: hopping red-eye flights, making phone calls from the back of limousines, getting powdered and pampered like a movie star.

If that all sounds like just too much, Cooper will tell you it's a great way to make up for her first two decades of life in Maryland cow country: "Boring."

The distinctly postmodern career also offered her a chance to do something she is good at. Television and therapy strike some as being an incongruous match, but those who request her--again and again--say her strength is making the improbable combination appear natural.

"She's got the look, she's got the sound bite, she's got the credentials," says "Leeza" producer Adora English. "We call her 'Dr. Sound Bite.' "

Amy Rosenblum, a senior producer at "Sally Jessy Raphael" in New York, says handling sometimes fragile guests in front of millions of viewers is an art, and that Cooper "gets it. It would be a lot easier for me to get someone from New York, but . . . people open up to her. She's a good guest."

Rosenblum pauses, chuckles, and then addresses the subject all producers get to eventually when evaluating Cooper.

"It also doesn't hurt that she's absolutely beautiful to look at," Rosenblum says. "I mean, we're talking about a visual medium here."

Cooper acknowledges, when pressed, that her looks do play a role. She also says that being attractive is an asset in the therapeutic sense when the discussion finally gets where it always seems to be going--to sex.

"People look at me and know I've had a relationship or two," she says, and that helps them relate.

Even her two marriages--one lasting six months--and two divorces, serve to lend credence to her advice, she claims. "They give me much more experience. They've made me a better shrink, because I've been through hell."

Certainly there are the critics--many from her own field, she admits--who tell her that "Sally Jessy Raphael" is not the place for counseling, and that addressing serious concerns between soap operas serves mainly to trivialize them. First, she says, "People don't like people who have made it." She also readily admits: "It's not real therapy. You do real therapy in your office. You cannot do real therapy on television."

What she's doing primarily, Cooper says, is educating people, giving them a taste of psychotherapy, making them say "ah-ha" as a light bulb of recognition flickers for the first time. She also says she's helping remove the stigma of psychological counseling and mental illness by bringing it into the open--right between soaps.

And if the naysayers still don't like it?

"So what?" It's the guests, her single-session television clients, who really count, and "they love it," she says.

Indeed, after suffering a gentle Dr. Cooper tongue-lashing on the "Leeza" stage--for marrying a woman half his age, of a different ethnic background and just six weeks after they met--a man named Steve walked up to Cooper after the show.

"Thanks," he said. "Any advice?"

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "The Dr. Deborah Cooper Show" airs on Los Angeles public access channels. Check local listings.

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