Prescription for ‘Star’-dom: Dr. Phil McGraw Reflects on His Journey to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame
The ubiquity of Dr. Phil McGraw is no accident.
Whether he’s playing himself on the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” raising eyebrows for his home décor in a real estate spread or appearing on a recent Fox primetime special about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal ruckus, McGraw is seemingly everywhere — including on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as of Feb. 21.
“I was shocked he hadn’t gotten a star on the Walk of Fame sooner given his prominence in television. He pops up everywhere,” says Steve LoCascio, COO of CBS Television Distribution and CFO of ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group. “He’s in the lyrics of a Bon Jovi song. He’s been on countless episodes of TV shows playing himself.”
McGraw burst onto the national stage through appearances on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show in the late 1990s, and by 2002 he had his own daytime show, “Dr. Phil,” the No. 1 daytime talk show in the Nielsen ratings, averaging more than 3 million viewers daily. In addition, McGraw is an executive producer on multiple other series in several dayparts, as well as primetime CBS drama “Bull,” which he co-created.
McGraw says from the beginning, his goal was not just to build a daytime talk show but an entertainment brand. Gaining notoriety was an integral part of that effort. “People see me engaged in very serious work, dealing with peoples’ lives and families and futures,” he says, “and while there’s a lot of humor on ‘Dr. Phil’ as well — we have fun and cut up a lot — I think it’s really important for people to see that I don’t take myself as seriously as everybody else does. I take the work I do seriously, but you need to laugh at yourself.”
That’s why he’ll put on a wig for James Corden on “The Late Late Show” or laugh along when David Letterman announced in 2002 that McGraw’s latest book was titled “More Advice I Pulled Out of My Ass.” Eighteen years later — an eternity in pop culture — McGraw still makes waves.
“He is one of the hardest working people I have ever met in my life,” says Carla Pennington, executive producer of “Dr. Phil” since its launch. “Even when he’s on a vacation, I don’t think he’s on vacation.”
Even before “Dr. Phil,” McGraw showed an entrepreneurial streak, founding Courtroom Sciences, a trial-science firm that inspired “Bull.” He had earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of North Texas and was a licensed psychologist in the state before his recurring spots on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
“I often say I’m the first graduate from Oprah University, and that’s a pretty great place to learn how to do television,” McGraw says.
There was high confidence in the success of “Dr. Phil” because of the success of McGraw’s “Oprah” appearances, which LoCascio says often rated as the most-watched “Oprah” episode each week. Still, McGraw wasn’t prepared for Hollywood.
“I had always been CEO of multiple companies, and I approach it that way, and when I came out here, I found out that talent is usually just that, they just show up and do what it is they’re supposed to do,” McGraw says, “whereas I approach it from the standpoint of it’s a business: Everything from what we’re doing in terms of space, what the occupancy cost is, what are we spending on this, that and the other, because I wanted to put everything on the screen.”
McGraw remembers arriving 10 minutes before the first day of taping “Dr. Phil,” and there was no audience in place. Crew members were strolling over to get coffee. After that first show he called a meeting and put the show’s staff on notice. “I said, ‘Guys, I come from litigation, and if the federal court tells you to start at 8:30 then at 8:29:59 you better be standing at attention, that’s what I’m used to,’” McGraw recalls. “The second day at 9:59:59, the first downbeat of the open music started and everything was in place. Everyone thought, ‘God, are we in the military?’ but by the end of the first week they see it’s 1 o’clock and we’re done.
As a result, we have the same several cameramen, the same director, the same sound guy that were there the very first day. We get in there, we get it done. We’re very efficient. We stay on task.”
Rob Owen: Variety