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The authors convey shimmering angst
in their prose from the start. They want to bring down this big, balding media
mogul from his self-aggrandizing pedestal of psychological prowess. They want
to give us the real scoop on how Dr. Phil got to the top of the heap of
televised gurus, how he broke out of obscurity and joined a most exclusive
television club: those who are building empires by controlling an important
audience of viewers. The authors take pains to communicate that this guy isn't
perfect, he's no saint, and they have the goods on him.
Then you read chapter after
chapter, and what unfolds among the facts, although not the tone and
interpretation, is that Dr. Phil really is
pretty much the tough, straight-talking, fast-thinking, highly analytical and
successful man you see on television daily. He's abrasive but funny, can take a
joke, handles celebrity well, cuts to the chase quicker than a Blue Heeler on
an outback dingo.
He started as the smart-ass
football player, 1960s, who just "didn't get it"--just as he tells
his own story in his first book Life
Strategies--married a cheerleader and got it annulled a few years later,
crashed and burned financially, went home to dad and started studying
psychology; he married Robin, got a Ph.D. fast, listened to people whine for a
decade as a therapist, got into the self-development seminar business, 1980s,
with his father and a family friend, then started making serious money in Texas
doing jury consulting, running his own company, CSI. Then he got Oprah Winfrey
as a client, 1996-98, in the infamous case involving the beef industry, won
Oprah's genuine regard and support, spent two years on her show finding her
audience and immediately launched his own publishing and television career with
blockbuster successes that have transformed publishing and daytime television.
Also, he's rough and tough on all his employees, makes a ton of money, and is
just as abrasive with his clients and guests, except when he's being smooth as
silk to get his way or get his point across.
Tell me something I don't know.
So why read the book? And who would
read this book?
I think we read the book, because
as we get past the authors' angst in the early chapters, we find, well, WE
CAN'T PUT THE DAMN THING DOWN. It's just too good a story about too much man
who's having a giant impact and making more money than anybody except Oprah.
And it doesn't matter much if you loathe and repudiate Dr. Phil or are one of
his devoted (mostly female) fans: the narrative of success on this scale just
takes all the air out of the room and you have to keep reading to see how the
gruff therapist pulled it off.
Gradually, despite the authors'
stated aims to lay bare the clay feet of this power-mad mogul of airwaves, what
they depict, somewhat objectively, is a guy telling America to "get
real" who himself got real about himself, his wife, his family, his work, his
bank account, his methods, his goals and now has a short-hair grip on Paramount
studios (his production company) and his most recent publisher, Simon &
Schuster. The latter, for example, coughed up a ten million dollar advance for
his book on weight-control, a subject for which McGraw was not publicly known
to have any expertise before publication. He's got chutzpah and talent; he's
got web sites that push his weight management programs and books; he's still
got CSI in Texas; he's got a web site for therapists to Learn Dr. Phil
(learndrphil.com); he's got people using his web sites to sign up for his show,
buy product; he's got a vast newsletter; and he's huge in daytime television.
He's launched his son Jay into the business and kept his "perfect marriage"
to Robin going for three decades despite being a self-confessed
What he doesn't have, according to
the authors Dembling and Guitierrez, is a perfect past: he failed at some
ventures and went bust more than once; he was reprimanded for hiring a woman he
was seeing in therapy. And today's Dr. Phil, although he has learned much from
his many ups and downs, lacks a perfectly wonderful way of dealing with and
providing for employees or much patience with those who either cross him, fail
to deliver what they promise, or who try to buck his authority. And that last
flaw suggests he lacks a politically correct management style: He's demanding,
abrasive, fearsome. Why, he even sometimes tells the staff to stay up all night
and do it all over again!
I'm not making this up. It's in the
Read it. You'll love it.
© 2005 David Wolf
David Wolf is the author of Philosophy That Works, a
book about the practice of philosophy. His book page for orders (hardback &
paperback) is www.xlibris.com/philosophythatworks
; readers can also see the first chapter there.