‘Dr. Phil’ tried to revamp in final months as sponsors fled: sources
Dr. Phil’s decision to call it quits last week came months after producers tried and failed to revamp the long-running CBS daytime show in a desperate bid to lure back skittish advertisers, The Post has learned.
After years of Dr. Phil staging dramatic “interventions” with wayward teens and squabbling families — and in some cases being accused of exploiting the troubles of celebrities like Britney Spears and Shelley Duvall — CBS insiders were concerned that viewers and advertisers alike were lumping in Dr. Phil with other “quack doctors” who have left TV in recent years, multiple sources told The Post.
Indeed, despite the fact “Dr. Phil” averaged more than 2 million viewers in the 3 p.m. time slot — the second-highest rated show in daytime behind ABC’s “Live with Ryan and Kelly,” according to Nielsen — the show had become radioactive for many sponsors, according to sources close to the situation.
“The advertising queue was all but dead,” one insider said. “The show was relying on CBS to book ads as opposed to relying on Dr. Phil’s brand.”
“With that time slot, you start on home base,” another source said. “But he couldn’t hit any more home runs.”
A decade ago, top corporate brands that backed “Dr. Phil” included American Express, Allstate and General Mills. But during an episode last week, commercial breaks were ridden with spots for vitamin supplements, personal-injury law firms, public-service announcements on vaccines and quitting smoking — as well as multiple in-house ads for other CBS shows.
“There was clearly a cash issue,” another insider told The Post. “They have not had advertisers of the past stay on. This includes household consumer brands.”
The show turned to more substantive topics like “medical gaslighting” rather than interpersonal drama, according to a note obtained by The Post.
One fall episode tackled “Inclusivity or Indoctrination? What’s Happening in Schools Today?” — where McGraw and a panel of experts discussed transgender politics in schools. Other shows this season focused on hard news stories like gun violence and antisemitic hate crimes.
Nevertheless, bookers for the show have had trouble lining up big-name panelists, sources claim.
“Dr. Phil was trying to siphon the credibility from other doctors they’re trying to book as guests… but they’re struggling to get credible guests,” one insider told The Post.
The Post reached out to CBS for comment. A spokesperson for McGraw declined to comment.
It’s a dramatic turn from just a few years ago when Dr. Phil’s programming was focused on helping troubled teens like the now famous “cash me outside” girl and helping women leave toxic relationships.
Insiders add that some at CBS believe Phil’s TV persona had grown uncomfortably close to that of another daytime TV doctor — Mehmet Oz, who was running for a US Senate seat at the time of the season launch.
Ratings for Oz — who had run into his own controversies over pushing alternative medicines and fad diets — had begun to tank even before his candidacy for the Pennsylvania seat. While Dr. Phil’s ratings had dwarfed those of Oz, producers increasingly feared that viewers would “lump television doctors together,” according to a source.
“There are some people who don’t know the difference between Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil,” the source said, adding that producers say they feel strongly there is “a Dr. Oz dip.”
Dr. Phil’s wholesale rebranding efforts came after the show last summer cut 25 staffers in an effort to “streamline production to ensure longevity.”
A spokesperson for the show said the layoffs are “typical…. there were some roles we discovered that we could reduce yet still deliver our dynamic, forward-thinking program.”
Last year, Buzzfeed News reported employees who worked on the show “experienced verbal abuse in a workplace that fosters fear, intimidation, and racism” and were “manipulated and treated unethically.” The show did not address those concerns.
Attorneys for McGraw and executive producer Carla Pennington categorically denied the allegations made in the piece, insisting that Dr. Phil in no way fosters racism, inappropriate interactions with guests, bullying and harassment, or any other unprofessional behavior.
The show is slated to run through May. CBS Media Ventures, which produces “Dr. Phil,” will offer stations library episodes of the show for the 2023-2024 season and beyond. The classic episodes will include new content such as wrap-arounds and intros by McGraw, as well as guest updates.
McGraw — who got his big break on “Oprah” 25 years ago, charming audiences with his folksy takes on social issues — said his next chapter will focus on a “strategic primetime partnership” that will “increase his impact on television and viewers.” He didn’t mention problems with advertisers in announcing his decision to leave.
“I am compelled to engage with a broader audience because I have grave concerns for the American family, and I am determined to help restore a clarity of purpose as well as our core values,” McGraw said.