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'Dr. Laura' Halts TV Production for One Week

September 22, 2000|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Production has been temporarily halted on "Dr. Laura," the controversial new daytime talk show being distributed by Paramount's syndication division.

A spokeswoman said "Dr. Laura" had stopped production for a week as part of a pre-planned hiatus; however, industry sources were surprised the program would take a break this early in its run, and there was speculation inside Paramount, a division of Viacom, that the company will take advantage of the time off to "retool" the show or revise its format.

Featuring nationally syndicated radio host Laura Schlessinger, the series has been taping episodes for several weeks but premiered Sept. 11, meaning a few weeks' worth of episodes have already been banked. Ratings have been disappointing thus far despite high-profile time periods on the CBS-owned television group, lagging behind the performance of those stations a year ago at this time.

Moreover, Paramount has had difficulty attracting national sponsors to the show because of a campaign orchestrated by gay-rights activists who objected to Schlessinger being given a TV forum because of her comments regarding homosexuality, which she has termed "deviant" and "a biological error."

Under pressure from advocates, several sponsors have pulled out of the show. Paramount and stations have been forced to sell time to companies that pay reduced rates.

On her radio program Thursday, Schlessinger complained about the entertainment industry's double standard, defending its right to market violent and sexually explicit material but vilifying her due to her political views.

Schlessinger was criticized at a panel of network executives Thursday, when the group was asked--in light of criticism from Washington--if there were programs on television they didn't feel they could defend. "I'm not embarrassed about anything on television, with the exception of 'Dr. Laura,' " said Garth Ancier, president of NBC's entertainment unit.

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