Sears drops radio doc

Will no longer sponsor radio show, but little impact seen on 97%-cleared TV show that's on track for September debut
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Gay-rights groups were high-fiving last week at Sears' decision to yank its sponsorship of Dr. Laura Schlessinger's national radio program. But it's questionable whether Sears' decision will have much effect on the groups' real point of contention: Schlessinger's planned fall TV series, Dr. Laura.

For one, Sears had no plans to advertise on the Paramount-distributed talk strip in the first place. Also, Procter & Gamble's arguably more high-profile decision not to advertise in Paramount's planned TV series has so far failed to influence other large advertisers to follow suit.

While Paramount, as policy, doesn't reveal its show advertisers, it continues to trumpet excellent upfront sales. Dr. Laura is scheduled to air in 97% of the country starting Sept. 11.

Yet Schlessinger has felt the advertising strikes against her, posting on her Web site a plea for her radio listeners to support the advertisers that do buy spots on her radio program.

"I have come to understand how difficult it is for sponsors to be accosted by a few people with an agenda," writes Schlessinger. "They don't want to hurt so much as one relationship with a customer and thus are vulnerable to this kind of pressure..Therefore, for the first time in this program's six-year history, I am making a point of directing your attention to who these [supporting] sponsors are. I am encouraging-no, insisting-that you support these loyal sponsors."

Online ticket and reservation seller Priceline.com is one such frequent radio advertiser.

Among other companies recently rejecting Schlessinger's radio program are United Airlines' in-flight magazine Hemisphere (which stopped accepting ads hyping her show), Xerox, AT & T, Toys 'R'Us, Skytel and Kraft.

But it's hard to tell whether ad fallout on her radio show will translate to her TV show.

"The studio is nervous. They have to be," says one syndication insider. "They knew she'd be controversial but didn't know she'd be this controversial."

Certain advocacy groups, such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, have been staging protests at TV stations set to carry Dr. Laura for months. Most recently, GLAAD organized a rally outside KARE(TV) Minneapolis that attracted 300-plus people.

Sears' about-face with Schlessinger's radio program could "call into question whether others want to be involved in a controversial show," notes Katz TV's Bill Carroll. "It doesn't necessarily mean that they will pull their advertising, but it will only be prudent for them to look at their options."

In a statement, Sears explained its move: "Sears supports both diversity and culture throughout our customer base and with our associate networks. We will no longer advertise on Dr. Laura as a result of recent comments."

At this point, Dr. Laura is still in the clear. However, it would be different, Carroll observes, "if there were an overall lack of advertiser support-if advertisers were jumping into life boats en masse rather than just an individual advertiser."

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