I'm getting my fill of Dr. Phil

November 02, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Columnist

Let's begin today with a confession.

I don't get to watch a lot of afternoon TV, mainly because of my incredible devotion to this job, the readers of this column, the listeners who can't possibly get through the day without hearing one of my podcasts, etc.

But on the rare occasions that I'm home on a weekday, kicking back with a 101-degree fever, say, or a nasty stomach virus, there's only one place to turn for cheap entertainment: Dr. Phil.

It's easy to see why Dr. Phil McGraw is the hottest self-help guru around.

The main reason is: There are more screwed-up people in this country than ever before.

But instead of talking to a clergyman or trusted family member, or quietly seeking professional help, these screw-ups apparently prefer to go on nationwide TV and blurt out their troubles to a bald, bug-eyed psychologist who yells at them, offers a snap diagnosis, then has to break for a Mr. Clean commercial.

Why screwed-up people go for this, I have no idea.

But the basic concept helped make millions for Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Montel Williams and the Sun King himself, Maury Povich.

And now it's making millions for Dr. Phil.

So five days a week, members of the vast army of the dysfunctional appear on his set -- a huge circular affair that looks like the bridge of the Starship Dr. Phil -- and tell their stories.

Oh, it's the usual stuff: unfaithful spouses, back-stabbing sisters, stalker fiancees, controlling in-laws, extreme food obsessions, housemates who hate each other, wives who've had tens of thousands of dollars worth of plastic surgery, only to see their husbands lose interest in them, etc.

Dr. Phil tells them to "get real" about their problems.

"This is gonna be a changing day in your life!" is his mantra.

So they open up to him -- as well as the clucking, head-shaking studio audience -- in painful, cringe-inducing detail.

Lots of tears, lots of shouting, lots of bitter accusations.

Until the next commercial for Prilosec OTC.

After that, Dr. Phil returns to neatly wrap up the segment with some folksy advice in his lilting Texas twang.

Then the sad, dysfunctional people Dr. Phil has "helped" leave, only to be replaced by another set of sad, dysfunctional people.

Speaking of which, you wonder what sort of Scale of Dysfunctionality is used to book Dr. Phil's guests.

Do these people have to take a written test?

For Extreme Food Obsessions, for example, do the Dr. Phil people ask: Have you ever eaten an entire steer? Chugged a vat of maple syrup? Vaporized a tray of 36 eclairs?

Depending on the answers, do they tell these people: Yep, you're screwed-up all right -- we'll book you on the Nov. 14 show?

Or: Nope, you're not screwed-up enough -- try us again next year.

When I tuned in the other day -- I was home with a sick kid -- the topic was "Cheating Disasters" in marriages.

Our first happy couple was Noelle and Robert.

Robert, it seemed, had cheated on Noelle, who could not stop obsessing about it.

Despite his pleas for forgiveness, Noelle kept referring to him as -- here's a nice touch -- a "disease-infected pig" because he gave her herpes.

She also hit him with a shoe, knocked over his motorcycle, smashed his truck and threatened to jump out of the truck as she was riding in it with him.

Oh, she also went around telling their young kids -- I'm cleaning this up considerably -- that "Daddy's been with a whore."

Well. Dr. Phil did not feel this was a productive way to deal with the situation.

So he yelled at Noelle and told her to cut it out. "You have to decide what you need to close the book of pain," he said, pantomiming a book slamming shut.

Then he yelled at Robert for being such a low-life.

Noelle, Dr. Phil concluded, had to get past her anger. And Robert had to do whatever it took to get his wife to trust him again.

Then Dr. Phil put his hand over his heart and said he would do whatever it took to get them through this if they wanted to stay together, and both said they did.

After the commercial, Noelle and Robert were gone.

In their place was another "Cheating Disaster" couple, Randy and Kally.

Kally cheated on Randy, Dr. Phil explained, with a 5-foot-7, 20-year-old stock boy "who still lives at home with his mother!"

She even brought the kids along!

Ooooh, that didn't sound good.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the very apex of dysfunctionality, I gave Kally a solid 8.

Although I probably impress a little easier than Dr. Phil's people.


To hear podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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