The Doctor Is Out

Frank Lindsay sounded troubled. As the vice president of marketing for Conair hairdryers, Lindsay wasn't expecting this--a telephone call from a prominent Dallas gay activist telling Lindsay that his company was sympathizing with the enemy. As far as the executive was concerned, all he did was advertise his product on a daytime talk show, because people who watch daytime talk shows are the sort who buy Conair hairdryers. The next thing he knew, his company was listed along with all the other public sinners on a high-traffic Web site.

Lindsay and Conair had angered some members of the gay and lesbian community in Dallas and around the country and, as Oak Lawn resident John Selig will tell you, "of any company to sponsor a show whose host has infuriated the gay community, the manufacturer of a hairdryer would be the dumbest, because it's no surprise that a large percentage of hairstylists are gay!"

Frank Lindsay knows this. So after talking to Selig, he went to his bosses and asked permission to pull a national ad for his company that aired last week during the first-ever episode of Dr. Laura Schlessinger's TV talk show.

On September 11, Schlessinger transcended the drone of AM radio airwaves and became a television personality--a Star of David-wearing, Torah-thumping Oprah. The controversial counselor and writer says she's committed to "...preaching, teaching, and nagging at greater length and in living color."

But for Selig and five others who produce the Web site, a daytime talk show from a woman who has referred to homosexuality as "deviant" promises to be stomach-churning. "AM talk shows are predominantly right-wing and religious," Selig says. "But daytime talk TV? Hello!"

So for his own version of a Hollywood kick-off party, Selig, working from his home in Dallas' "Homo Heights," as he calls it, helped organize national protests at TV stations across the country with the hope of getting the show erased from existence. While Dr. Laura isn't going anywhere just yet, the protests are affecting the stations' bottom lines, he claims.

Selig, 47, is a nationally recognized gay activist, the media's dial-a-quote man for the Dallas gay community and several national gay and lesbian organizations. He has appeared on Donahue, where he discussed his dissolved marriage (a result of his coming out) and how he raised his son as a gay single parent. Selig is the only Texan involved with the Web site, and as one of six members of the site's steering committee, he organized the protests that took place in Dallas on April 15 and September 10.

A protest outside KTVT-Channel 11 on September 10 drew about 120 people. It wasn't the first of its kind, locally or nationally. The first of such protests happened outside of Paramount studios in Los Angeles on March 21. Gay rallies can become media circuses in Hollywood, and according to Selig, there were 50 news outlets on hand--a big red flag to advertisers and anyone else associated with Dr. Laura.

Schlessinger is not shy about voicing her opinions of homosexuals and homosexual relationships. According to Selig's Web site, she once had this to say on her radio show: "The debate over gay rights. Rights. Rights? For sexual deviancy, sexual behavior, there are now rights. That's what I am worried about with the pedophilia, the bestiality, and the sadomasochism. Is this all going to be rights too? To deviant sexual behavior. It is deviant sexual behavior. Why does deviant sexual behavior get rights? I don't understand that..."

That, her opponents say, is hatemongering, no matter how you slice it.

"I don't care how well-behaved she is on TV," Selig says. "If David Duke never said a negative word about blacks on TV, well, he was still with the KKK. They wouldn't give him a talk show. Good behavior on television doesn't atone for defamation on radio and in print."

The weekend of September 10, protesters in 31 cities across the country rallied around the cause. They gathered in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas, of course, but also in far-away lands such as Huntington, West Virginia; Reno, Nevada; and Sioux City, South Dakota. But more impressive, Selig's national Web site received almost 1 million hits a day last week.

On September 12, Selig sat at the foot of his full-sized bed in Oak Lawn and placed his legal pad on top of his rainbow-flag afghan. He looked like a 15-year-old kid doing his homework in front of the tube. Rain had finally fallen on Dallas, and when the sun emerged later that afternoon, a huge rainbow hugged Oak Lawn, literally and figuratively. Selig's room is decorated as if he were tailgating for this spectacle. He has a Mickey Mouse ears hat with rainbow-colored ears, as well as a Cat-In-The-Hat rainbow-colored hat. There's a whole slew of rainbow Mardi Gras beads and rainbow jewelry, as well as rainbow cup holders and stickers and pillowcases. In the middle of it all, the TV is tuned to Dr. Laura. This particular show was titled "When is an Affair an Affair?" Dr. Laura was dolled-up Hollywood style, wearing a black suit with a purple shirt and a big diamond-studded Star of David necklace that produced an annoying glare. Her guests, Gregg and Kim, looked like a couple straight from American Gothic. Gregg, a plain-faced Midwesterner talking in the simplest of drawls, stared into the camera shell-shocked. His gap-toothed wife sat next to him in Big Smith Overalls. The bright lights of a Hollywood studio made her squint. Kim was having a cyber affair, and her husband was hell-bent on her stopping the relationship. Dr. Laura editorialized about how adultery is one of the worst sins in the world, and that anything that can be construed as adulterous should be stopped at once.

It's not exactly Firing Line, but then most daytime television isn't. But does Dr. Laura have the muscle to overcome a concerted boycott? So far, several companies have withdrawn ads. Procter & Gamble and Bally Total Fitness led the charge, pulling their spots immediately. Almost daily, other companies are pulling out; updates its list of triumphs on a daily basis. Selig credits himself and others for sitting steadfastly in front of the TV everyday--as they believe it's their job--and jotting down all the advertisers. Then the names are posted on in front of God and everybody--the proverbial spit list. (That's how Conair got nailed.) The only way for an advertiser to get its name off the list is by writing and explaining why they pulled their ad. Long John Silver's, IHOP, Verizon, Starpower, and Kimberly-Clark dropped out after day two.

Locally, the show debuted to an above-average audience, but was not a hit. It had a 2.1 rating and a six share. Although it finished dead last in the Nielsen ratings against all the other shows at the 3 p.m. slot in Dallas, she gave Rosie O'Donnell a run for her money.

But Divorce Court still creamed her. Those deviants.

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Adam Pitluk
Contact: Adam Pitluk