Daytime hit mixes entertainment and serious health news
“The Doctors” began as, and remains today, a show that exists to answer its audience’s pressing health questions, no matter how small.
“I just listen in a different way,” says Jay McGraw, creator and executive producer of CBS Television Distribution’s “The Doctors,” who got his start in TV working with his father, Dr. Phil McGraw. “We were receiving so many letters at the ‘Dr. Phil’ show that were asking medical questions, and we just answered the questions that we were being asked.”
“When we first took it out, there was no other show out there like it,” says Joseph DiSalvo, CBS Television Distribution’s president of broadcast sales, noting that “The Doctors” has been renewed through the 2015-16 TV season.
“The panel shows work, and this show offers a takeaway while entertaining the audience.”
At first, McGraw and his panel of real-life doctors — including Drs. Travis Stork, Andrew Ordon and Jim Sears, all of whom remain on the show today while still practicing medicine — took on big, flashy topics.
“We were booking these loud stories with a medical angle — they were all very compelling — and then we did a segment about which color of snot means your child is contagious and thus shouldn’t be sent to school. That is what really resonated with the audience,” McGraw says. “The questions our viewers are asking at home is what they want us to answer onstage. I think we are doing a better job than we ever have of telling a story around the question that is being asked.”
Jay McGraw’s father, Dr. Phil McGraw, is an exec producer on the show and he placed a lot of trust in his son’s talent.
“There was no specific piece of advice I offered, as opposed to being part of the actual process. Jay grew up around my five years on the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show,’ and has been around for all 12 years of the ‘Dr. Phil’ show — six of which took place before he launched ‘The Doctors.’ He went to school on all of those years of television production and started into ‘The Doctors’ with a commitment to replicate the gold standard that he had seen on the Oprah show and the ‘Dr. Phil’ show,” notes Dr. Phil.
“The Doctors” is doing something right, with its milestone 1,000th episode airing April 29, right at the end of the show’s sixth season.
“We basically created a genre that’s allowed us to bring people useful information in an entertaining way,” says Carla Pennington, executive producer of both “Dr. Phil” and “The Doctors.” “I like the very visual aspect of this show — it’s fast-paced, high-energy and visually compelling with graphics, props and movement.”
To mark its 1,000th episode, “The Doctors” revisited popular topics and memorable guests, including an intense trip the show took to Haiti in the wake of the island nation’s devastating earthquake in 2010. A Haitian boy is one of the guests, thanking Ordon, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, for reconstructing his head and scalp.
“Those charity trips have been really impactful for me,” says Ordon, who has since gone on to form the Surgical Friends Foundation, and travel to such countries as India and Jordan to perform reconstructive surgeries.
Carmen Tarleton, who lost most of her face and neck after her ex-husband attacked her with lye, appears on the show after receiving a face transplant in 2013. Stork formed a close bond with Tarleton, flying out to see her last year after she underwent the surgery.
“It’s a shocking thing when you see someone who’s had a face transplant,” he says, noting that this is one of the show’s stories that’s impacted him most, “but no matter what happens to your health, your spirit always shines through.”
As dramatic as Tarleton’s horrific but inspiring story is, “The Doctors” makes a point of mixing the serious with the light-hearted, having as much fun as possible with health and medical topics.
“The most fun for me was the three times that Joan Rivers has been on,” Ordon says. “She’s so pro-plastic surgery.”
“It’s fun to watch people having fun,” says McGraw, who also has created an app, Doctors on Demand, to make receiving medical help easier for patients.
“We have an ongoing dialogue about content and production as well,” says Dr. Phil. “In that my show tapes on stage 29 and ‘The Doctors’ tapes on stage 30, that proximity allows us to have a great collaborative dialogue on the show. He is also very creative and helpful with regard to the ‘Dr. Phil’ show. So, it certainly flows both ways.”
McGraw and Pennington have never been shy about swapping out the show’s hosts. This season, it added Dr. Rachael Ross, previously a frequent guest. Ross is both a family practitioner and a sexologist who isn’t afraid to speak frankly about the facts of life. Other additions include OB/GYN Dr. Jennifer Ashton, urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman and fitness expert Dr. Ian Smith.
“I think bringing some new blood on stage really re-energized the show. It’s like season one again and the hosts are having the time of their lives on stage. By having more personalities, you represent more of the viewers,” adds McGraw, who, along with his wife, Erica Dahm, and her triplet sisters, have appeared as guests on the show. McGraw and his wife’s first ultrasound was performed on “The Doctors’ ” stage and it was there they learned they were having a girl.
“I always tell him to not try to please everybody all the time because it’s just not possible,” says Dr. Phil. “You have to make decisions about meaningful content that informs the viewer and present it in the best way you know how.”
While “The Doctors” remains, at its heart, a medical show, it also takes on human-interest stories, ripped-from-the-headlines topics and pop culture.
“That’s where our shows really hits the sweet spot,” says Stork. “If you ever watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ or ‘ER’ back in the day, what medicine offers is the
best of human emotion and the best of human experience.”