The Land of Oz

Once upon a time Mehmet Oz was an effervescent practicing cardiologist at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York who caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey and began contributing to her wildly popular daytime show.  As Oprah’s clout and empire expanded, along with Phil McGraw (success) and Nate Berkus (miss) Oz got the opportunity for a syndicated show of his own.

Initially a program that focused heavily on healthy living and personal growth, Oz found a home on numerous large traditional Big 3 (NBC, ABC, CBS) affiliates in morning and afternoon time slots and became a safe haven for advertisers looking to eschew more polarizing shows like Jerry Springer’s.

Over the past decade and change the syndicated marketplace changed, Oz ran out of unique ideas for New Year’s resolution shows and ratings declined, resulting in numerous defections from those Big 3 stations.  My former employer Sony Pictures Television was able to relocate his show to many top market Fox-owned stations to keep the show alive, but creative necessity and the new environment the show was airing in as an adjacency to local newscasts resulted in Oz’s evolving his format into a broader one that embraced true crime and questionable levels of support for elixirs such as gingko balboa that Oz somehow was associated with on an endless array of Facebook ads.

As the newscasts on the Fox-owned stations began to morph into aesthetic clones of Fox News Channel’s series, and as ratings for the true crime episodes proved to be initially strong, Oz’s show began to gradually move away from its initial focus and has evolved into a broader talk show more complimentary to the audience that those newscasts appealed to.  Which, by their own refocusing, attempted to appeal to the massive audience that the likes of Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham reach in prime time every night.

At the same time, the relationship between Oz and Sony has gotten, pun intended, downright frosty in recent years.  Mehmet has long believed that Sony should be more proactive in its ability to generate revenue from international sales, as Oprah’s show once did, as well as incubate spin-offs of his own like his once was for Oprah.  Yet the reality is that despite the spikes from true crime Oz’s  current ratings are among the bottom tier of syndicated talk shows.  His show has arguably run its course.  So it’s not surprising that Mehmet would be looking for something new to do.  It’s what the choice is, and the confluence of events driving it, that is somewhat eye-opening.

Mehmet announced yesterday he is running for a vacant senate seat in Pennsylvania as a Republican candidate, filling a perceived void when a Trump-backed candidate was forced to drop out after details of a personal scandal became well known.  The fact that Oz only recently purchased a home in Pennsylvania, and has reportedly not lived there, is apparently immaterial.  He’s declared his candidacy, and we’re talking about it.

Oz, of course, has no political experience, but he does have a strong media presence that has been amplified by his recent appearances on the Fox-owned stations and Fox News Channel as a contributor on items in the news related to health.  Those apperances have escalated during the pandemic, and Oz’s press release yesterday made specific references to his feeling to his embracing of points of view consistent with Trump’s.  As CNBC reported:

“Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first,” Oz, echoing Trump, said in his announcement video.

He also praised aspects of Trump’s presidency, saying Operation Warp Speed was “a good example of innovation.” When asked about his views on immigration, Oz at one point said: “I think President Trump was right — people should wait on the Mexican side of the border if they’re coming across illegally. Let’s deal with all the issues there.”  Oz is also an outspoken critic of the U.S. response to coronavirus, and had endorsed hydroxychloroquine last spring at roughly the same time Trump referenced it.

There has been rampant speculation that Oz and Fox had become more symbiotic in recent years after Rupert Murdoch had suffered heart issues and it was quietly revealed that Oz was the lead physician in Murdoch’s treatment.  Intriguingly, a renewal for Oz on the Fox stations came not long after Murdoch’s release from the hospital, despite consistently downtrending ratings.  His most recent renewal announcement came from the Fox stations and Oz, with Sony not even mentioned in the release.

So the seeds of yesterday’s candidacy announcement have clearly been incubating for years.  A media personality who has embraced right-wing philosophies in his 60s who uses Murdoch-owned media to grow his influence has decided to run for public office to court a large portion of America who feverishy believe that Democrats and their policies are abhorrent.  Heck, Oz even has an attractive blond daughter (Daphne) that he adores and frequently appears on talk shows with.  Does this blueprint sound familiar?

And as for said daughter, the Los Angeles Times reported this morning that a long-percolating passion project of theirs, THE GOOD DISH, will be rolled out this winter as a replacement series for stations who may choose to drop Mehmet’s show as he is now a declared political candidate.

Daphne is the host and Mehmet’s production company behind it.   It is a show reminiscent of Daphne’s previous ABC series, THE CHEW, and will focus on food and health in a manner that also emulates the original DR. OZ format.  It seeks out a traditional female daytime audience and on the surface it is anything but politically charged and will likely appeal to younger viewers than those who view Fox news programming.  It is, literally, comfort food TV that will fit into the Sony portfolio seamlessly.

Whether THE GOOD DISH will be a compliment to the Fox newscasts remains to be seen.  Whether Mehmet can be elected will be an even more fascinating story as 2022 dawns.  The stakes are high–it is the only Senate seat currently held by a Republican that will be contested next year.  As Republicans look to flip Congress it is both statistically and strategically imperative that they succeed.  If the Trump blueprint can work here, the path to Trump himself being politically resurrected becomes far more likely.

For those who might consider that possibility a nightmare let’s consider that the last side job Oz applied for was the host of JEOPARDY!.  We know how that turned out, both for him and the producer who gave him that audition.  Just sayin’.

Until next time…

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