To paraphrase the Sicilians, revenge is like a TV dinner: You keep it in the freezer until you’re ready to heat it up. By calling gay men and lesbians ”biological errors,” author and radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger incensed gay activists. But the irony is that Schlessinger’s TV talk show — which premiered Sept. 11 before being shunted to red-eye time slots across the country — wasn’t done in by picketers. Partially, at least, you can blame her demise on television writers — some gay, some straight, all eager to make her an object of ridicule. ”I don’t think she expected to be the butt of these jokes,” says psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman, who hosts her own radio show. ”At another time, she would probably have welcomed that because it’s more publicity. But these were kicking her when she was down.” (Schlessinger herself wouldn’t comment.) Below, the trajectory of Dr. Laura’s fall from Will & Grace:
Two months after Paramount Domestic TV announces that Dr. Laura will debut in the fall, Schlessinger rails against Frasier‘s 1999 ”Dr. Nora” parody on her radio show. Later, the episode mysteriously disappears from syndication, but Paramount, which also produces Frasier, insists it will return.
The boob-tube bitch-slap kicks into high gear: On Will & Grace, Will (Eric McCormack) quips to Grace (Debra Messing), ”You’re a fairly good judge of people — you hated Dr. Laura long before the rest of the world did.” By June, Procter & Gamble says it won’t advertise on Dr. Laura’s TV show.
Just a week after Schlessinger places an ad in Variety, acknowledging the atonement holiday of Yom Kippur by saying that ”in talking about gays and lesbians, some of my words were poorly chosen,” The West Wing skewers Dr. Laura by introducing a Bible-quoting radio host who soon regrets messing with President Bartlet (Martin Sheen). The same night, Law & Order dishes up its own parody in the form of an expert witness — a radio host who comes off like a quack in court.
On a Simpsons rerun, Bart and Homer realize they’re plummeting to their death when their rocket ship contains Tom Arnold, Pauly Shore, and Dr. Laura. Within days, CBS declares that Dr. Laura is getting bumped to late-shift time slots in several big cities, including New York, L.A., and Chicago. At this point, Schlessinger is reduced to begging for advertisers on her radio show: ”If you own any kind of a business…fax me…. But beware, the bad guys are gonna beat on you; you have to have a spine to stand with me.”