The folk at Channel 2 probably thought they had picked a winner when they decided to begin airing a syndicated hour-long talk show by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who is looking to parlay her radio fame into television riches.
Instead of a winner, though, KPRC has found itself stuck in a roiling controversy months before the first show is even broadcast this fall.
A burgeoning protest is brewing both nationwide and locally over Schlessinger's alleged penchant for peppering her radio talk show with antigay comments.
Well, there's not much "alleged" about it. The show-biz bible Variety took a look at the show and found that "Dr. Laura's view of the world makes Gary Bauer look like a liberal wierdo." The blunt-spoken Schlessinger -- the "Dr." comes from her being a physiologist, not a psychiatrist -- is famous for haranguing callers as she rails against premarital sex, abortion and homosexuality.
"How many letters have I read on the air from gay men who acknowledge that a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys?" Variety quotes her as saying on the air.
Schlessinger has said in interviews that she is not "antigay," but "anti-gay-activist-agenda."
There's not much known about her upcoming television talk show in terms of format, but the show, produced by Paramount Television, has been sold to 90 percent of the markets in the country.
One of them is apparently KPRC, and the station has begun receiving protests from gays, lesbians and those who support them. That puts Channel 2 in the awkward position of airing the show and alienating one portion of its audience, or dropping it and being seen as caving in to what a different section of its audience would call wacko liberals.
KPRC general manager Steve Wasserman didn't return a phone call on the subject, but the Houston Voice reported February 25 that "station officials" said the station indeed plans to air the show.
Web sites such as www.stopdrlaura.com have popped up to protest the show, and email petitions circulating locally are calling for residents to protest to Channel 2.
If the complaints keep coming, the people at KPRC would no doubt hope that Paramount might take them off the hook by dropping the show or negotiating with gay groups to assuage their concerns, maybe by adopting a format that would allow "opposing" views. But one version of such an agreement spawned its own controversy earlier this year, when conservative groups objected that the show's producers were "giving in" to gays and muzzling Schlessinger's free-speech rights.
If the controversy generates ratings, of course, Channel 2 will be happy. But for now, it's safe to say executives are squirming.
A Tale of Two Tales
There's nothing wrong with not covering something like The New York Times covers it, of course. Diversity in newspaper coverage is one of the most important threads in the wonderful fabric of this great country of ours, as a bad speechwriter might say.
But readers of the Times and the Houston Chronicle sure got different impressions of a couple of recent events in George W. Bush's somewhat inexorable march to the GOP nomination.
On February 26 the Chron reported that Bush had given an on-line interview from the headquarters of America Online in Virginia.
In the final grafs, the story wrapped up the lighter subjects covered in the session, such as Bush's thoughts on the TV show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?
"During the session," the wrap-up began, "Bush joked that he was hoping an Internet quiz would be about foreign leaders, referring to a pop quiz a reporter stumped him with earlier in the campaign."
That was it as far as that subject was concerned.
The Times report published that same day differed slightly.
"Although Mr. Bush has tried to demonstrate his grasp of international affairs, he managed to underscore his own weakness in that field today. After he had failed a reporter's pop quiz last fall about foreign leaders, including the name of the Indian prime minister, Mr. Bush winced today when a moderator mentioned the words 'pop quiz.' Jokingly, Mr. Bush dared the moderator to ask him the name of the Indian president.
" 'Do you know who the president of India is?' the moderator asked obligingly.
" 'Vajpayee,' Mr. Bush said, grinning and looking pleased with himself. But Atal Behari Vajpayee is the prime minister of India; the president is K.R. Narayanan."
The Chronicle also took a protective stance of the Lone Star State's very own candidate when it came to Bush's pretty much disastrous appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
The Chron gave us a one-sentence summary: "[B]efore the [GOP debate], Bush and McCain each got to compete by wisecracking for ratings, if not votes, with appearances on the late-night talk shows Wednesday," a story noted.
Papers from The Dallas Morning News to The Columbus Dispatch said Bush bombed on the show, but few put it as baldly as the Times: Bush, a critique said, "was smiling, good-natured [and] prepared to laugh at himself. Imagine, then, what a comic flop he had to be to elicit groans and boos from the audience, as he did with jokes about Mr. Letterman's recent heart surgery."
Perils of Happy Talk
Channel 2 couldn't resist airing a piece February 28 about shoppers in an Austrian department store who got a prize if they streaked through the place nude.
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Giggles galore erupted at those crazy Austrians, as the reporter noted that contestants received about $354 if they won.
When the piece ended, anchor Linda Lorelle was furrowing her brow. "Three hundred fifty-four dollars? That's a pretty strange figure to give out as a prize," she said to her desk mates, or words to that effect.
True, $354 is an odd figure. Of course, it would probably have been stranger if the store in Vienna had given out its prize in American dollars, instead of the 5,000 Austrian schillings it did award.
E-mail the News Hostage at rich.connelly@ houstonpress.com.