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Emmy Could Cap ‘Dr. Phil’s’ First Year

Feb 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Phil McGraw is a talk show host on a mission.
The man who parlayed almost five years of appearances on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” into his own daytime show-“Dr. Phil,” the top-rated new syndicated series of last season-feels America needs his voice on the issue of “behavioral functioning.”
“I do have a mission, and I say that with all humility, because I know it’s a daunting task,” Mr. McGraw said. “I want to heighten America’s awareness on psychological matters and the quality of family and family life. I have a vision for what that should be.”
It remains to be seen whether Mr. McGraw will accomplish that lofty goal, but at the very least, he’s in position to capture an Emmy nomination March 3 as outstanding talk show host.
Mr. McGraw first met Oprah Winfrey when he served as an adviser to her during jury selection in a defamation case the cattle industry brought against Ms. Winfrey. Soon he was appearing regularly on her show with his message to “get real” about one’s own behavior and create a more positive life.
With production support from Ms. Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and Paramount Television and distribution by syndication leader King World, Mr. McGraw got his own self-named talk show in September 2002, and audiences immediately responded. Ratings average in the high 5s, and his audience includes a healthy percentage of men.
Nielsen figures show a 17 percent increase in male viewers from the show’s first season to its second. “Thanks to TiVo and VCRs and the like, people are coming home in the evenings from work and tuning us in,” Mr. McGraw said.
The show’s success has prompted stations in Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla., to run it in prime access, increasing potential audiences. Other stations, in Philadelphia, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., and Cleveland run it at 5 p.m., also a desirable slot.
For Mr. McGraw, the challenge of hosting his own talk show has not been to get the message across, but rather to learn the tools of being a host instead of a guest.
“With `Oprah’ it was just like sitting in a rocking chair and letting her guide you toward what in the conversation is best serving the audience,” he said. “She’s great and her staff is great. We’ve got a great staff, too, but I’ve had to learn how to make the conversation work. What I’ve tried to do is ask the questions that I think the viewers would ask if they could be pushing the buttons. We try to drill as deep as we can.
“Our idea,” Mr. McGraw said, “ is to make the show something that goes beyond the hour-gives you things you want to talk about that night or the next day.”
Raised in Texas and Oklahoma, Mr. McGraw is still an unabashed “country boy,” as reflected by his down-home, if blunt, language.
“Yeah, I’ve been described as folksy, and that’s OK,” he said. “What’s more important is that, hopefully, we can make an impact. Compared to `Oprah,’ I guess I’m just like a chihuahua chasing the back wheel of a car. But I do feel compelled to do what I do.”