Dr. Laura signoff is talk of the town
Staff setting record straight in response to 'GMA,' SternA day after Dr. Laura Schlessinger said in dramatic fashion on CNN's "Larry King Live" that she is quitting her radio show, "The Dr. Laura Program," at year's end, she was mulling new offers. Meanwhile, many in showbiz weren't shy in expressing their pleasure about the news, and her staff was busy trying to set the record straight.
"She used the N-word, and now she has to leave her job," Howard Stern said on his Sirius XM Radio show.
But Schlessinger's show is produced and distributed by her own company, Take on the Day, so it's not surprising that media reports using the F-word never clarify who it is that actually could have fired her.
Take Wednesday's segment on ABC's "Good Morning America," for example.
"She had no choice. She was fired, right?" host George Stephanopoulos said. Guests Rob Reiner and Lou Dobbs did not have an answer. (Watch the video here. The relevant part begins at the 3:10 mark to 4:40.)
That "GMA" insinuated Schlessinger was fired was particularly galling, said an insider at her company, adding that she had made herself available to the show and all of ABC but was turned down because of the King interview.
Take on the Day, the heart of Schlessinger's media empire that includes books and her many online ventures, co-owns the radio show with Premiere Radio Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications. Handling affiliate deals for Schlessinger's radio show is Talk Radio Network, the company behind shows starring Phil Hendrie, Laura Ingraham, Mancow and others. But TRN and the radio stations that carry Schlessinger's show have no ownership in it, "so the only one who can fire Dr. Laura is Dr. Laura," the Schlessinger insider noted.
Assessing the economic impact of the show's demise is difficult.
Take on the Day has only 11 employees based in Sherman Oaks. The show has 250 affiliates, and no station has even threatened to yank Schlessinger off the air since she used the N-word multiple times during a phone call last week.
Talkers magazine says her audience tops 9 million unique listeners a week, which ties her with Glenn Beck and Michael Savage for the third-largest audience in talk radio behind Rush Limbaugh (15.3 million) and Sean Hannity (14.3 million).
The Take on the Day insider said that by 10 a.m. Wednesday, Schlessinger had 900 e-mails from listeners expressing their support for her, whereas on a typical day, she'd have 50.
In addition to inquiries from new-media companies seeking to employ her -- she told King that she would beef up her online efforts when her radio show ends in December -- the insider said Sirius XM, where her syndicated show is simulcast, also called Schlessinger to express its support. She is free to move her show to the satellite radio company, a la Stern, at the end of the year, but there are no negotiations along those lines, the source said.
Meanwhile in Hollywood, a liberal town that prides itself on tolerance and free speech, it was tough to find anyone on or off the record who will miss Schlessinger's show.
"I found her repellent," Ed Asner told THR. "If she said the N-word, then she's sociopathic. I don't think she'll be missed. There are other Dr. Lauras out there who know how not to go too far."
Added Ed Begley Jr.: "We don't have a lot in common. I wish that my gay friends could get married, and she doesn't."
"Weeds" star Kevin Nealon took his reaction to Twitter. "Just think of all the millions and millions of people Dr Laura will help by being off the air," he wrote.
Others who were less charitable declined to go on the record.
On the same King show that Schlessinger made her announcement, Kathy Griffin said it was "fantastic" that Schlessinger would soon be out of radio.
"I believe she's a botanist. I'm not sure what kind of doctor she is," Griffin joked. (For the record, Schlessinger has a Ph.D. in physiology from Columbia University.)
On "GMA," Reiner compared Schlessinger to Michael Richards, Don Imus, Al Campanis and Jimmy the Greek. "She joins a long list of people who were geniuses in managing their careers," he said.
The most venomous commentary came from Stern, who also faces the prospect of wrapping his radio career at year's end.
Stern seized on Schlessinger's assertion during her King interview that she was quitting radio to regain her free speech rights, which he called "the most self-serving statement I ever heard."
"I want to be free, Larry, to use the N-word," he said mockingly.
"Just because you have First Amendment rights doesn't mean all your speech is appropriate," said Stern, no doubt speaking from experience.
But Stern seems to think Schlessinger's whole announcement was a publicity stunt.
"She won't leave," he said. "You'll see. It's all bullshit." (Here's the audio, provided by TMZ which, oddly, bleeped out the profanity that isn't bleeped at Sirius XM.)