A Requiem for the Daytime TV Doctor

IT’S WITH A heavy heart that I announce the death of the daytime TV doctor. After more than two decades on air, Phil McGraw has “made the decision” to end his talk show, Dr. Phil, this spring. The news came about a year after The Dr. Oz Show, which ran for 13 seasons, went off air and six months after The Doctors—a spinoff of Dr. Phil—ended after 14 years. Networks tried to resuscitate the daytime TV doctor, but it was too late. They keeled over and died, despite the decent time slot.

The daytime TV doctor lived a long, illustrious life. Back in the ‘90s, a rising star named Oprah saw something in a little-known forensic psychologist named Phil McGraw. Following collaboration on a lawsuit, she looked him directly in the eyes and said, “You know what? I don’t think the general public knows the difference between medical doctors and people with doctorate degrees.” From there, Dr. Phil’s career was born, first as a frequent guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, then with his own TV talk show in 2002.

But Oprah wasn’t the Virgin Mary; there was no Immaculate Conception to speak of. We must also credit Frank Torre, the brother of former Yankees manager Joe Torre, for contributing to the birth of the daytime TV doctor. It was following Torre’s high-profile heart transplant in 1996 that a young surgeon by the name of Mehmet Oz thought, you know what? Saving lives is cool, but having my face on a billboard is much, much cooler. After that, he too became an expert on Oprah’s show, which led to his own program in 2009.


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Meanwhile, a young medical student by the name of Drew Pinsky got invited to join his friend’s radio show Loveline for a segment called “Ask a Surgeon” (no medical degree required!). After Lovelineand actually graduating—he jumped into television, eventually landing his own show Strictly Sex with Dr. Drew, followed by Strictly Dr. Drew, then Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which then grew into Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew, and later Dr. Drew On Calla natural progression, not unlike a toddler learning to crawl, then walk, then run, then become an angsty adult who refuses to speak to their parents.

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What will Dr. Oz’s message be from beyond?

The Dr. Oz Show

The daytime TV doctor flourished during their adolescence. Throughout the early aughts, they normalized turning guests’ addictions into content and supporting weight loss scams, but most importantly letting the public know that we deserve an emotional connection with our doctors. Indeed, for many Americans, the visibility of the daytime TV doctor stood in sharp contrast to the invisibility of their own doctor, who they couldn’t afford to see more than once per year.

As they got older and became an occasional tax-paying adult, the daytime TV doctor used their emotional appeal to their advantage and thought to themselves, wait…I don’t need to pretend to know what I’m talking about anymore. You know, like that one time Dr. Phil said people who are mentally ill “suck on rocks” and “bark at the moon.” Or when Dr. Oz said apple juice contains too much arsenic. Or when Dr. Drew touted an antidepressant as a libido booster under false pretenses. Sometimes you really don’t know what you got until it’s gone. I only wish we had Dr. Oz’s take on Ozempic, since I’m not entirely convinced it’s not named after him.

This continued during the early days of the pandemic. While some of us made Peloton our entire personality, the daytime TV doctor decided to pursue disinformation as a full-time hobby. Finally a disease nobody knows about! Dr. Drew called Covid a “press-induced panic” and said the J&J vaccine gave him a racoon eye; Dr. Phil went on Laura Ingraham’s show to lament the futility of social distancing; Dr. Oz promoted hydroxychloroquine companies, which he owned shares of, as a Covid cure. (Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.) From here, the daytime TV doctor’s health began to dwindle.

today pictured dr phil on thursday, april 26, 2018 photo by nathan congletonnbcu photo banknbcuniversal via getty images via getty images

Dr. Phil during an appearance on The Today Show.

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But what actually caused the death of the daytime TV doctor? To do a full autopsy, we’d need a trusted medical professional, so none of the daytime TV doctors are an option. Even without a solid answer, though, we can hypothesize. Maybe the daytime TV doctor died when Netflix overtook cable, or one of them hated their job so much they decided to spend $27 million on a career change. Or maybe—just maybe—they contributed to their own demise by providing wary advertisers with no other choice but to put their faith in their youthful offspring: the influencer.

The daytime TV doctor walked so the influencer could run. You know, the ones who want us to eat raw organ meat and promise a six-pack in a week and recommend olive oil as a replacement to facial cleanser. The best part? They can’t be canceled by a TV network. They can only be canceled by Twitter, but that’s not going to exist much longer is it, Elon? Personally, I’m thrilled this medical misinformation has moved to social media: I was recently granted a free skin cancer screening in exchange for putting the dermatologist in my Instagram story. (Okay, that actually is bad, but it was good for me—I have shitty health care.)

None of this is to say an afterlife doesn’t exist. Dr. Drew is willing to do anything to stay relevant, Dr. Oz came scarily close to reinventing himself as a senator, and CBS Media Ventures stated that Dr. Phil will “focus on prime-time programming, scheduled for an early 2024 launch” that “will expand his reach and increase his impact on television and viewers.” (Do they know people don’t watch TV on TV?). But in the meantime, when I go on TikTok and learn that papaya will rid my gut of parasites or that instant noodles cause cancer, I will remember the daytime TV doctor. They may be gone, but never forgotten. After all, hearts are where dead people live, right? I think I heard that on Dr. Phil once.

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