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Doctor, doctor

Ever since Paramount gave its Dr. Laura talk vehicle a firm go for fall 2000, people have been buzzing-for better or for worse-about the radio host's signature "let's-not-beat-around-the-bush" brand of advice. Gay-rights groups were incensed by either the perception or reality-depending on whom you ask-of her comments about gays. Procter & Gamble even pulled its sponsorship of the show over the flap.

But a month into production in Los Angeles, the doctor is officially in. Schlessinger talked shop with Broadcasting & Cable's Susanne Ault following the Aug. 29 taping of her show, which launches in syndication Sept. 11.

There was speculation you had butted heads with Paramount over the show's format. Any truth to that?

Who did you hear that from? Had to have been from a competitor, because that would be the only reason for someone to lie. Bobbee Gabelmann [executive vice president of current programming for Paramount Domestic Television] made a joke to my husband just the other day. She said, "This is going so well. Usually by this time, we are at war with the talent and not talking." Meanwhile she [Gabelmann] comes in every morning and jogs while I'm getting my makeup on.

Do you feel like your stand on gays was misrepresented?

Oh, yeah. But I've clarified that a number of times on my radio show and in the July 3 issue of Time magazine. So I've made my point clear. [In that interview, she said: "I never called homosexual human beings deviants. I have pointed out that homosexual behavior deviates from the norm of heterosexuality and is forbidden by Scriptures. That is basically the context..I stand behind basic civil rights-where someone is able to live, and work at his job-and always have."]

Have you toned down any of your views for TV?

I haven't changed my opinion. I'm not political. I'm an honest person. I don't conform myself to the situation, so I can have something, get something or be something. I'm consistent. That's one of the reasons my audience respects me.

How will the show play out this season? Will it stick to a single-topic format?

Tomorrow we're doing an issue, and we'll have other segments that I call rants and raves. This is when I present something like 60 Minutes' Andy Rooney, when he curmudgeonly complains about all the stuff on his desk. Then I have a monologue at the end where I give all my reflections. And sometimes I'll do a "People You Want to Know" section ...

And there's going to be a lot of other segments, believe it or not. I do whatever I want to do. The format of the show is whatever Dr. Laura wants to do. I'm 531/2, and I'm finally where I ought to be, doing what I ought to be doing.

You're definitely not one to shy away from an opinion-criticizing two of your guests during the taping for "Shacking Up." Do you want to be crowned the Judge Judy of talk?

No. I'm not waiting to be crowned anything but myself. As a matter of fact, I'm annoyed at and resist the pigeonholed little titles that the media likes to put on people to try to condense them down to something. And I don't think that I'm easily condensable. That would make the hairs on my neck go up.

Any last selling point for why we should watch your show?

Yes. This is going to be a novel show. We are not going to exploit. We are not going to take people into situations and humiliate them for entertainment. [I'm] using this medium to preach, teach and nag about doing the right thing.