It wasn’t all that long ago when daytime television was considered a top priority for new program development and marketing by networks and local stations alike. When Oprah Winfrey took the world by storm when her local Chicago talk show went national in 1986, far eclipsing the success of similar rollouts of the past like DONAHUE and even the MIKE DOUGLAS variety show, talk show production exploded. Winfrey’s mix of controversial and emotional topics, along with some celebrities huckstering books and/or movies allowed multiple shows to be taped at once, and its immense success produced regular contributors that found their own success. Phil McGraw was perhaps the most successful of all of them.
I first discovered the show not long after its high-profile launch on CBS-owned stations, the first significant by-product of Oprah’s syndication partners King World being integrated into the larger Viacom family, with Paramount selling the show to compete with Oprah in many markets. With a significantly older and somewhat less minority-driven audience, McGraw’s show found success of its own at an opportune time, when promotion was still a priority and his “country psychologist” shtick seen as credible in a far less snarky and splintered world. I watched several episodes by default while I recovered from surgery in a hospital annoyingly devoid of English-language cable channels, and in its time slot little else appealed to me. I have to admit, I was hooked for a while.
But in more recent years, as the show’s national ratings (like almost all daytime syndicated shows) have eroded and his audience grown even older and whiter, and with his core station group base far more committed to the evolution and multiplatforming of its local news as its primary focus, Phil’s act has grown a little stale. Not to mention that we learned a bit more about his tactics than its producers might have preferred we not know: As Rolling Stone’s Nancy Dillon reported in October, 2021: