Monday, October 07, 2002

Dr. Phil's defining moment: Oprah's intervention

Talk-show queen urged therapist to do his own show

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If TV's Dr. Phil had to name a defining moment in his life, it might be the day Oprah Winfrey grabbed him early last year after he appeared on her talk show.

        “You need to do your own show. It's time,” Ms. Winfrey told Dr. Phillip McGraw, the author, human behavior expert and frequent Oprah guest.

        “The letters that we're getting, the interest that people have - you need do to your own show,” Dr. Phil recalls her telling him.

        So they looked at the Oprah mail, and the TV landscape, and decided there was a place in daytime TV for a talk show about “human functioning” - marriage, family, teen behavior, self-image and self esteem. His show, produced by Ms. Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Paramount TV, airs 3 p.m. weekdays on WLWT-TV (Channel 5).

        Ms. Winfrey made Dr. Phil a TV star on her show after he helped advise her during her 1998 trial when Texas cattlemen sued her for remarks about mad cow disease.

        He had stopped practicing as a therapist after founding Courtroom Sciences Inc. in 1987, a litigation consulting firm that helps in witness preparation, jury selection and trial strategies.

        Dr. Phil admits he had followed his father into psychology because he was “terribly lazy,” he says.

        “I just was kind of bored with school, and I started reading all of his textbooks,” he says.

        “Frankly, I thought it would be the easiest way to slide through college. And then once I got into it, they hooked me, and I loved the analysis part of it.”

        His blunt style has caught on with viewers here since the Sept. 16 debut. Dr. Phil usually wins the 3 p.m. time period on Tristate Nielsen meters, drawing as many viewers as the Rosie O'Donnell Show did at that hour a year ago on the station. (His contract prohibits stations from airing Dr. Phil opposite Oprah.)

        Dr. Phil says he sees himself as “an emotional compass for people,” pointing them in the right direction.

        “I've never been under the impression that we're doing eight-minute cures on television,” says Dr. Phil, who has written three best-sellers: Self Matters: Creating Your Life from the Inside Out; Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters and Relationship Rescue: A Seven-Step Strategy for Reconnecting with Your Partner.

        “I always tell people that I never ask you to substitute my judgment for your own,” he says.

        “I take very seriously the things that I do on television. It's a powerful medium, and I recognize that a lot of people listen, and some will act on some of the things that they might hear me talk about.

        “What I ask (people) to do is weigh my point of view very, very carefully - discuss it with their trusted family, friends, doctors, pastors, clergy, whatever - and then make an informed decision about what they want to do.”


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