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Where's the Fanfare for 'Dr. Laura'?

Television * Paramount keeps quiet amid uproar as the controversial host prepares for her debut.

September 09, 2000|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KCBS-TV, which has long languished in the ratings behind its network-owned counterparts, has scheduled "Dr. Laura" locally at 3 p.m., opposite "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." The program will precede "Judge Judy," which shifted to the CBS station in late August and will begin its new season on Monday as well.

John Severino, president of the CBS-owned TV stations group and general manager of KCBS, indicated "Judge Judy" is the more important franchise because the station's hope is that show will boost its ratings for the local news, which immediately follows it. He also suggested ratings success for a program historically overcomes efforts to pressure advertisers.

"Once people think it's a good buy, they'll buy it," he said. "I don't think any amount of protest is going to scare all the advertisers away."

Like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh, Schlessinger's empire has extended into publishing, with several bestselling books to her credit; however, both those nationally syndicated personalities haven't fared as well in television, and some question whether Schlessinger will translate well into that medium.

Reports from early tapings--some admittedly biased--said Schlessinger was having a hard time adjusting to being on camera. On a more general level, few advice-oriented programs have found a receptive audience in TV, with Dr. Joy Browne among the recent casualties.

According to Cato, any observations from test tapings were unfair. "She's very comfortable with the camera," Cato said, calling Schlessinger "a true natural."

The host herself appears braced for a lengthy fight. In July, Schlessinger informed fans she would begin reading certain sponsors' ad copy on the radio as a means of "expressing my profound appreciation to them for hanging in there with me through tough times. . . . It often takes awhile for the good guys to win. But we're all in this for the long haul. We will prevail."

* "Dr. Laura" premieres Monday at 3 p.m. on KCBS-TV.

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