Behind the Scenes
I often get asked, “Dr. Phil, how do you decide what topics to do on the show, and how does it all come together?” “Do you ever get nervous being in front of millions of people every day?” “Is being so straightforward and confrontational something you learned to do, or is that just your personality?”
Let me answer those questions in reverse order. And here’s something that might surprise you: Despite the fact that my job, at least in my opinion, sometimes requires confronting people about their dysfunctions, my personality is, deep down, very non-confrontational. I grew up in a pretty volatile home situation, and I became discord-averse at a very young age. In fact, I hated arguing and confrontation so much that I actually used to come and go from the house through my bedroom window to keep from walking through the war zone!
Also, I only deal with those who reach out to me and my team at the show. They do so because they know I am likely to tell it straight. In fact, that is why most people say they come to me — to get straight answers. You may have thought that my staff and I are out on the street stopping cars on Sunset Boulevard and saying, “Hey, you look a little screwed up. Want some tips on improving your life?” HA! Might be fun, but we don’t. Also, I have to say that in my private life, I totally mind my own business.
In fact, if I’m out with friends and a debate springs up about politics, sports, marriage or anything else, I stay out of it. I’m “off duty.” I’m literally the last guy to weigh in. I’m most likely not even going to step forward and tell my friends that they’ve got spinach in their teeth or that they smell really funny.
When I do talk with someone who has sought me out, I do think I owe them — and I owe our audience — the unvarnished truth as I see it, whether they like it or not, and some don’t.
I’ve even had a few people take off their microphones, throw them down and walk off the set in the middle of the show. Sometimes, people write in and say, “We want help with our marriage,” when what they really meant was, “I want Dr. Phil to tell me I’m right and that my spouse is wrong.” Oops, sorry, didn’t work out that way.
As to the second question, I don’t really get nervous because I seriously weigh almost everything I say before I say it, and we do our homework. It’s worse than being back in school! My team and I — and by the way, I have, absolutely, without a doubt, the best and hardest working team in television — sometimes start working on a show weeks in advance. By the time we are ready to tape the show, I am a handed a notebook, 200-250 pages in size, that has been prepared by me and my team, made up of our research staff, producers and advisory board members. The notebook includes a cross-sectional history, a longitudinal history and a narrative history for each of our guests. It includes an up-to-the-minute review of all the academic literature (psychological, sociological and medical) that deals with that particular day’s topic. There are detailed notes from experts whom we have consulted.
Then, from that huge notebook, I prepare a series of blue cards that I refer to during the show to make sure I don’t forget to talk about something that’s important. I don’t have any script whatsoever — just my bullet points on my blue cards.
Does this seem like a lot of work for a one-hour show? Maybe, but in my opinion, that’s what it takes to get it right. The team here at the show is so passionate about our subject matters and our guests that they define the “gold standard.” So I hope you keep watching, and let us know what you want to see dealt with on the show, because you actually do pick the topics.
Also, this season, I’m turning the tables with a new feature called “It’s Your Turn, Dr. Phil!” So, now it’s your turn to ask me questions. No question is too big or small, so let me hear from you!