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Series / Dr. Phil

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"What gives you the right to imprison your wife in the basement?"
Dr. Phil, addressing a typical guest

Dr. Phil is a reality/talk television show hosted by Phil McGraw. After McGraw's success with his segments on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil debuted on September 16, 2002. On both shows, McGraw offers advice in the form of "life strategies" from his life experience as a clinical psychologist.

The show is in syndication throughout the United States and a number of other countries. The show's syndication contracts specifically state that if Dr. Phil is on another station, it cannot air at the same time as Oprah. Occasional prime time specials have aired on CBS. The program has been nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award every year since 2004.

He also produces another show with his son Jay, The Doctors, a medical talk show competing with The Doctor Oz Show. As with Oprah, both shows are contracted so that they can't air at the same time if on different networks.

In January 2023, it was confirmed that the 21st season would be its last.

Dr. Phil provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Quite often. Even in cases where the kid is the one out of control, Dr. Phil often uncovers some form of abuse going on that either caused the problems or is exacerbateing them.
  • The Baby Trap: One episode had this as its main focus, and among the highlights was a guy who had sex with his wife while she was sleeping in order to get her pregnant, and a woman who stopped taking her birth control without telling her husband in order to get pregnant. Dr. Phil tore right into them.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Jillian Mai Thi Epperly, the creator of the ‘Jilly Juice’ quackery (essentially cabbage boiled down into a disgusting greenish concentrate, mixed with water and a whole bag of salt - needless to say, this is something you shouldn’t put anywhere near your body) showed up for an episode in which Dr. Phil attempted to confront her on her claims that it could cure anything. Shockingly, she used the airtime as an attempt to shill her ‘miracle cure’, culminating at the moment where a hoodwinked member of the audience rushed the stage in an attempt to plead with her to give him a sample of the toxic liquid.
  • Bad Liar: As with any show involving polygraph lie-detector tests, these inevitably show up. A 2021 episode involved a masseur who had been accused of sexual misconduct with female clients no fewer than 18 times but protested his innocence. Not only was he evasive in answering Dr. Phil's questions, but a panel of body-language experts was also on hand to point out every outward sign that suggested the guest was being deceptive. They were right, as the masseur failed his polygraph exam miserably.
  • Basement-Dweller: Dr. Phil refers to these people as Moochers, and has done four specials on them.
  • Berserk Button:
  • Big Eater:
    • Dr. Phil has dealt with several obese guests in recent years. In an inversion, one show also had him talking to grown adults who ate only one food day after day (i.e., French fries).
    • In at least two other inversions, Dr. Phil has featured anorexic or bulimic guests. This includes an entire special on eating-disordered boys, and a show featuring a woman so anorexic and bulimic that she could barely function onstage.
  • Big Sister Mentor: 15-year-old Madison was mentoring her 13-year-old sister, Liz, in all the wrong behaviors, including smoking pot, stealing, and assaulting their parents. Madison even posted a video on social media of the first time her sister got high on good-quality weed. The girls had ended their Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry so that they could team up to make their parents' life a nightmare.
  • Bigot vs. Bigot: "The Dr. Phil House." A skinny woman who hates fat people living with a morbidly obese man who hates skinny people! A white supremacist man living with a black woman who hates white people! A homophobic redneck woman living with a Butch Lesbian who hates straight people! Most of them would abandon their prejudices by the end, except for the fat guy.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Phil himself has been accused of being one. With alleged rumors that he mistreats his workers, and the fact he uses his show to exploit people instead of helping them (See Unintentionally Unsympathetic on the YMMV section).
  • Boomerang Bigot: One episode featured a black girl named Treasure Richards... who hated African-Americans and insisted she was actually white. It didn't take long for Uncle Ruckus comparisons to start popping up.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter:
    • At least several times a month. As per the norm, they were quite often extreme versions of the trope. The show has had other out-of-control teens exhibiting some but not all of the extreme aspects of the trope.
    • The most infamous example is Danielle, a 13-year-old guest who appeared in the September 2016 episode "I'm Done with My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old". Danielle differs from many of the out-of-control teenagers who have appeared on Dr. Phil in her mannerisms, acting similarly to the out-of-control teens who have appeared on Maury (dressing provocatively, talking in a "street" accent, excessive smack-talk to the extent of cursing at her mom and grandmother on-stage). Among other things, she has assaulted her mother Barbara Ann in the breast despite her having had breast cancer twice, has stolen cars (even absconding with $3 and car keys of a show make-up artist who was present during filming at their family's home, who expressed that she felt violated by being robbed by Danielle), has recreationally taken Xanax and smoked marijuana, stolen her mother's credit cards with balances totaling $6,000 (even buying a stripper pole at one point), threatened her mother with knives, was accused of framing Barbara Ann on a drug possession charge and even taunted her mother one time after coming home after stealing her mom's car by twerking in front of her facenote . It doesn't help matters that her mother, Barbara Ann, often reacts to Danielle's similar threats by engaging in verbal altercations and physically threatening her. Dr. Phil points out that she's not as "street smart" as she lets on, as Danielle single-handedly admitted on-camera to premeditated grand theft auto, leaving the scene of an accident after crashing the make-up artist's car, theft and even implicating a friend in the possession of stolen goods, and surmises that Danielle puts up a tough veneer because she's been hurt many times in life. To get Danielle to go to the rehab ranch they plan to send her to, Dr. Phil gives her a choice: either go to the ranch or the make-up artist will file charges against her for the crimes she committed during the week of the video shoot. She ultimately does go but briefly puts up a fight backstage before she decides to head to the ranch. She became an Internet meme and subsequently attempted a rap career under the name Bhad Bhabie, succeeding only in ending up on various "worst of" music lists.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': In cases of Parental Neglect and Abusive Parents, Dr. Phil will frequently remind guests that he is a mandated reporter and can and will report the parents to child protective authorities if they refuse his offer of help.
  • Captain Obvious: At times. It should be obvious to anyone that it's not okay to beat your children daily.
  • Catchphrase:
    • "How's that working for you?" comes up quite a lot.
    • "No matter how flat you make a pancake, it always has two sides."
    • Lately, it's common to hear Dr. Phil say, "This is not an [X] problem, it's a family problem," especially in reference to teens and young adults who are considered out of control.
    • When Dr. Phil deals with a teen or young adult who exhibits outrageous behavior, expect to hear, "I don't ask why he does/she does/you do this. I ask why not."
    • "What were you thinking" is a fairly frequent staple.
    • "That's not okay" is semi-frequent, sometimes said with an air of You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!.
    • "I'm not trying to do this to you. I'm trying to do this for you." - Often said when a guest is reluctant to accept Dr. Phil's offer of help.
  • Confession Cam
  • Cool Teacher: A teacher named Whitney took in one of her former students, 17-year-old Adrianna, after the girl confided that she had been a victim of repeated physical and emotional abuse from her mother. Dr. Phil applauded Whitney for being a positive influence when Adrianna most needed one.
  • Crocodile Tears: Often seen with Bratty Teenage Daughters when Dr. Phil calls them on their bad behavior or suggests their parents should stop coddling them. One girl was brought to tears and let loose a Big "NO!" simply due to Dr. Phil's suggestion that she get a job.
  • Dating Service Disaster: He has featured several women who are victims of dating website scams. Many of them are variations of the typical 419 Scam, with the women sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to men who they have never met or seen, or even talked on the phone with. These women typically are complete idiots, with Dr. Phil having to show them that the guys are scams through basic things they should've been able to figure out.
  • Domestic Abuse: Occurs as much if not more than Abusive Parents. One November 2015 episode featured a husband who repeatedly spanked his wife with a wooden spoon out of the belief his religion condoned it. While the abused party is often the woman, Dr. Phil has interviewed abused males and couples where the abuse goes both ways.
  • Double Standard: Dr. Phil seems to think it's okay for women to fight for their lives if necessary, but for men to "run away" from women. Even if they're trying to kill them. If a man fights back, even to defend himself, he's an abusive monster.
  • Empty Bedroom Grieving: An episode had a grieving mother mourn for her thirteen-year-old daughter, who was killed in a car crash several years earlier to the point of leaving her bedroom in the exact condition as the day she died. Unfortunately, her grief was so profound, that she not only would obsessively hang out in her room while barring other family members from entering but she also tried to blame her husband and the girl's stepfather for her death simply for taking the family on a drive that day.
  • Failed a Spot Check; One person featured on the show described Bipolar Disorder (Formerly known as Manic Depressive disorder) in such a way that it seems almost like he just quoted an article about it. Phil, whose doctorate is in clinical psychology, somehow attributes this to "Just being lazy". While this can be justified as his license expired in 2006, surely someone with a doctorate can at least get an idea of what's really wrong.
  • Fake Pregnancy: The subject of quite a few episodes, notably the infamous two-parter involving a guest named Amie, whose former friend, Courtney, accused her of faking several pregnancies, all of which supposedly ended in miscarriages or stillbirths. She even reportedly sent a photo of her stillborn twins to the alleged father and held a memorial service for one of her alleged miscarriages, and was alleged to have also faked her own suicide after her boyfriend became suspicious and demanded proof of her pregnancy. Amie was evasive in answering Dr. Phil's questions and spent more time lashing out at Courtney, whom she accused of cyberbullying, since Courtney had started a Facebook group dedicated to warning people about Amie. Sadly, Amie's behavior as a con artist extended beyond fake pregnancies, as she had also started a non-profit dedicated to helping veterans and was taking money under false pretenses, claiming she had a brother who was a veteran and had taken his own life, which was exposed as another lie. Amie stormed offstage just before Dr. Phil invited Amie's business partner David onstage to reveal Amie's deception.
    • A follow-up episode revealed that Amie had ratcheted her cyberbullying behavior up to eleven, now targeting Courtney's teenage daughter as well as Courtney, and that she had even texted David, Courtney, and even the Dr. Phil producers posing as a relative claiming she had taken her own life. The producers contacted police to do a wellness check on Amie, resulting in her arrest when she was found alive and well. To top it off, Amie had apparently accepted Dr. Phil's invitation to return to the show, then changed her plane ticket (which the show was paying for) at the last minute.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: Dr. Phil compared a man who has lots of piercings and body modifications to his other guest that episode, a drunken idiot who does extreme sports for no reason and constantly breaking his limbs for funzies.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Dr. Phil does have a reputation for saving many lives of people who have suffered from abuse, neglect, rape, molestation, or addiction. That being said though, Dr. Phil does not mince words with more difficult guests and doesn't care if you hate him or not. Also, Dr. Phil will kick guests off his stage if they are rude and/or disruptive and he will definitely alert local authorities if a guest is doing things that are illegal and/or dangerous.
  • Grammar Nazi: Whatever you do, don't say "but" or "Yeah, but-" in a sentence when speaking to Dr. Phil. You'll get an earful for it. Not for grammar reasons, but because Dr. Phil takes this as trying to evade responsibility.
  • Happily Married: Subverted in one episode where Dr. Phil spent an episode talking to a couple who have been together for years but don't want to get married, citing this trope as the reason that they have a problem. Even when they said they are perfectly happy just being together, Dr. Phil would just keep asking "Well, then, why aren't you married?". It turns out not everyone feels the need to get married.
  • Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?: He's frequently criticised as having people on his show say they have a problem of something, and his response is "don't do this".
  • I'm Not a Doctor, but I Play One on TV: Dr. Phil's license to practice expired in 2006.
  • It Came from Beverly Hills: 15-year-old Nicolette, whose own mother Nina described her as a "Beverly Hills brat" and who wore that label proudly, was upset that Nina had cut her monthly allowance from $5,000 to $1,000 and hoped Dr. Phil would convince her mother to raise the allowance to $2,500 a month. Not surprisingly, it didn't work out the way Nicolette had hoped. Nicolette had a tearful breakdown on stage due to Dr. Phil and her mother suggesting that she get a job. The episode ended with nothing resolved, as Nicolette flatly refused to go along with Dr. Phil's suggestions.
  • It's All My Fault:
    • Dr. Phil's advice essentially boils down to making the guests realize this about themselves, in that whatever problems they are having, they, and they alone, are to blame.
    • In episodes with unruly and out-of-control children (sometimes adult children, that still live at home), Dr. Phil almost always places the blame on the parents. When one guest called him out on this, saying that he'll blame her because "he'll blame the parents like he always does" (she was a frequent watcher of the show), he was less than pleased. And indeed, he still blamed her for her child's problems.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Regardless of their misdeeds, some guests have pointed out that Dr. Phil exploits them far more for ratings ("good television", as one guest said) than helping them, and a few former guests of both this show and The Doctors have come forward accusing them of later going back on the help they promised after the show aired.
    • As awful as the Bumfights guy was, several commenters have noted that he had a point when comparing his exploitation of poor people and Dr. Phil's exploitation of his guests.
  • Never My Fault: Occurs often, even when a guest is confronted with hard evidence of the horrible things they've done. For instance, one recent guest continually justified her abuse of her daughter with, "Well, you're exaggerating/I already apologized/that's not true." Dr. Phil did not appreciate it.
  • Once an Episode:
  • Point-and-Laugh Show:
  • Pushover Parents: Fairly common. Most of the time when there is a problem with parents and children and they aren't Abusive Parents, they are the opposite extreme and do absolutely nothing to discipline their child. An extreme example is Kaylie, who let her 14-year-old daughter Gabrielle smoke weed and have sex (she even put her daughter on birth control) and was completely nonchalant when Dr. Phil told her what she was doing was criminal, writing it off as normal teenage behavior.
  • Reality Show Genre Blindness:
    • The guests often don't seem to grasp the fact that their private problems are being broadcast to millions of people; you'd think all the cameras and the giant studio audience would give them a hint.
    • There have been some rare examples where the guests point out that they are being humiliated to "boost ratings". An example of it being a 2006 episode where a father fails a lie detector test after being accused of molesting his daughter. The father only brings it up because he is caught in his lie. Dr. Phil promptly tells him to "get off his high horse."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Occurs at times when a guest is particularly abusive or obnoxious. Toned-down versions also occur, such as when Dr. Phil is confronted with a guest who responds to his observations with, "Yeah, but..."
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The guests who walk off the set either because they don't like Dr. Phil's line of questioning or because they refuse his offers of help.
  • Spinoff: From The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  • Straw Misogynist: One episode focusing on sexist husbands featured a man who, while on camera, goes on long tirades to his guest's face about how she as a woman is just not as good at anything as men are. But then subverted with the other husband. He's described as being sexist and mean to his wife, but in all fairness, his wife's complaints just make it sound like he came home tired from work a lot and just wanted to watch TV to unwind now and then with their rat terrier on his lap.
  • Talk Show
  • The Unfavorite:
    • This sometimes happens in episodes featuring broken families. Often, one child will be labeled as out of control or destructive, even "a devil". While the minor in question does have serious behavior issues, it's often the case that the parents favor siblings over that minor. Skylar is one example from Season 16; she had uploaded a profile to a sugar baby website, gotten three DUIs, and been in a boatload of other trouble while her twin sister Shaylen was an honor student with a good reputation. Yet her parents felt it was okay to constantly belittle Skylar, invade her privacy, and ridicule her attempts at getting treatment.
    • Preston is another example; his destructive behavior looks a little different when you know that, though Preston is 15, his dad still spanks him with a belt over every little thing. In contrast, his brother Adam is held up as what Preston terms "the golden child" whether or not this label is always valid.
    • Exaggerated in the story of 17-year-old Adrianna, whose mother, Jennifer, had been so verbally and physically abusive to her that the girl left home and was adopted by a former teacher. Jennifer doted on her two other daughters (who were both disabled) but regularly told Adrianna she hated her and wished she were dead, and once when Adrianna threatened to commit suicide, Jennifer's response was, "I'll get a beer and watch you." Jennifer had gone so far as to pull Adrianna, a straight-A student, out of school so she could help care for her disabled sisters, and promised she would home-school Adrianna but failed to keep that promise. For her part, Jennifer accused Adrianna of being a manipulative brat who was just putting on a good face for TV, and while she admitted she didn't mean many of the evil things she had said to her daughter, came very close to refusing Dr. Phil's offer of help (she eventually did accept).
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Spoiled kids such as Ronald, a teenage shopaholic and wannabe YouTube star who insisted on wearing only designer brands and insisted his allowance of $1,000 a month wasn't enough - in fact, he was the one who wrote to the show, asking Dr. Phil to convince his mother to increase his allowance. Dr. Phil asked him if he felt at all bad that his mother had to work 120 hours a week to finance his shopping sprees, and he responded with a blunt "No." Not surprisingly, the show didn't go the way Ronald had hoped.
  • What Were You Thinking?: Pretty much one of his catchphrases.

Alternative Title(s): Doctor Phil