Hosted by former forensic and clinical psychologist Phil McGraw, Dr. Phil is one of the jewels in the daytime TV crown. Unsurprisingly, the demand to sit in the audience of the syndicated talk show is always high. However, those lucky enough to get their hands on tickets must adhere to a number of strict rules, including signing a very important document.
The brainchild of McGraw and talk show legend Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil first aired in September 2002. Problem children, failing marriages, financial difficulties and family squabbles are just a few of the topics that the former psychologist has regularly offered his advice on over the years. And the daytime staple has been a hit with both audiences and critics alike.
Indeed, since 2004 Dr. Phil has picked up a Daytime Emmy nomination every year it’s been on air. It also routinely beats the likes of Live with Kelly and Ryan, Wendy Williams and The Ellen DeGeneres Show in the ratings. In fact, in the summer of 2019 it celebrated its 150th consecutive week as the most-watched syndicated talk show on daytime TV.
Dr. Phil is taped at Hollywood’s Paramount Pictures lot in front of a live audience. Since the show is renewed until at least May 2023, there are still plenty of chances to get a coveted seat in the crowd. However, fans who haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing the man up close and personal should know that they essentially have to jump through hoops before doing so.
Yes, like many daytime talk shows, Dr. Phil producers expect the audience to comply with a seemingly never-ending list of rules before taking to their seats. And some fans may well be a little too sleepy to take them all in. Since audience members have to check in to the Paramount Studios lot by 7:30am at the very latest.
If you can tear yourself away from your bed even earlier then chances are you’ll get a better view. The audience are seated according to what position they are in the queue to enter the studio. So if you show up late, then expect to be positioned in the very back row.
No matter what time you get to the studio, you should expect to spend a lot of time queueing before you’re allowed in. The official Dr. Phil website states, “Upon arrival, you will be admitted to a waiting area outside the studio until the studio is clear for admittance.” Vending machines and benches are provided for patient fans but you may want to bring a book to pass the time.
Just make sure that it’s not one of the many books written by Dr. Phil. Audience members are prohibited from bringing any reading material bearing the star’s name into the studio. This rule appears to have been brought in to prevent his army of fans clamoring for the host’s signature.
As well as working out how to keep yourself occupied before the show starts, fans must also think carefully about their sartorial choices. Audience members are advised to be ‘camera ready’ when they rock up to the Paramount Studios lot. “Dark, solid color business attire” is favored, while beige and white clothing, hats, jeans and busy patterns are all on the no-no list.
According to some fans, your fashion sense can also determine your view of Dr. Phil. A past audience member posted on TripAdvisor, “I do think that what you wear does influence the seat you get, so dress in solid bold colors, no patterns. I wore black and hot pink and was seated towards the front for one taping and near Robin [Dr. Phil’s wife] for the second taping.”
Audiences should also be aware that they may have to brave Arctic-like conditions in the studio. Yes, even in the height of summer fans are advised to wear many layers due to the powerful air conditioning that’s used during recording. One TripAdvisor reviewer states, “I shivered for six hours with a sweater on over a top. It was not enough.”
If you need to get out ofl all those layers to use the toilet, then make sure you do so before you take to your seat. Restroom breaks are strictly forbidden on the set of Dr. Phil unless they are of an emergency nature. So be careful how much you use the vending machines provided.
If the thought of busting a move in public brings you out in a cold sweat, then watching Dr. Phil live may not be for you. Yes, it turns out that The Ellen DeGeneres Show isn’t the only daytime hit where dancing in the audience can sometimes be mandatory. The man himself will often help to get the crowd in the mood before taping begins by encouraging them to boogie.
But dancing isn’t the only method of getting the crowd warmed up. In a post for the blog host Medium, fan A.J. Deveaux wrote, “After everyone was strategically seated in frame, one of Dr. Phil’s producers took his spot center stage and began acting as a sort of hype man to the audience. His enthusiasm was very contagious — he had a very good stage presence and was extremely witty and quick on his feet.”
And this hype man usually comes bearing gifts. Indeed, those who enter into the spirit of the show the most enthusiastically can be showered with official Dr. Phil merchandise including signed books, mugs and lip gloss designed by the host’s wife, Robin. Unfortunately, producers aren’t so generous when it comes to handing out food. One particular audience member revealed on TripAdvisor that their free lunch amounts to little more than some water and crackers.
And don’t expect to get a better meall if you are classed as a VIP. You also won’t receive preferential treatment when it comes to waiting lines and seating, either. According to one fan on TripAdvisor, the only perk of having such a status is getting to arrive at the studio half an hour later than everyone else.
How you react to another of the show’s many rules will depend on your attention span or your level of Dr. Phil fandom. Audiences are typically expected to watch, not just one episode being taped, but several in succession. This allows the former psychologist to film enough shows for a whole week without having to turn up to work every single day.
You may end up staying on set even longer if the host needs to do some re-recording or film some extra footage. Yes, producers certainly like to get the most out of the show’s audience members. One fan claims that they spent no less than six hours watching Dr. Phil do his thing.
Thankfully, audience members aren’t imprisoned on set and are allowed to go home in-between the tapings of multiple episodes if they wish. One TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, “The subject matter was so intense that it ran for three shows. However, they gave you every opportunity to leave if you had to.”
Security is also a big issue when it comes to entering the Dr. Phil studio. Audience members are warned on the show’s official website that they will have to walk through a metal detector and have any bags searched before being allowed on to the premises. Unsurprisingly, fans aren’t allowed to bring their weapon of choice with them either.
Unfortunately, Dr. Phil fans with a physical disability will find it much harder to gain access to the set. As stated on the show’s own website, the studio’s main entrance doesn’t accommodate audience members with mobility issues. Instead, they are advised to use a separate waiting facility, which many believe is unacceptable in this day and age.
And those coping with a disability aren’t treated much better once they get inside. In a piece for Ragged Edge magazine, audience member Angela Gaggero wrote, “The seating in the studio is a half-circle of stadium seats; we are taken to the absolute worst seats in the place. We are all the way on the right, behind a big huge camera. Dr. Phil will be facing away from us the entire show; all we will see is his back!”
Any Dr. Phil fans under the age of 18 might also face problems finding their way into the audience. Those who aren’t old enough to vote must get consent from a parent before they’re allowed on to the studio. And if you’re under 16 then you won’t be allowed to step foot inside the studio at all.
Even if you are over the age of 18, you still have to sign several pieces of paperwork before you’re allowed a seat. There’s the document relating to I.D. measures just in case you’re lucky enough to receive a gift during the show’s taping. And then there’s the audience waiver form which protects the show from any legal threats.
In his article for Medium, Deveaux revealed, “The audience waiver primarily explained our responsibilities as audience members and the conduct expected in and outside the studio.” He then added that he didn’t want to expand much further due to legal reasons. However, Deveaux did add that “one of the main takeaways explained how Dr. Phil was not a licensed therapist by the state of California.”
This isn’t the first time that such a waiver has been discussed in the media. In 2004, mental health activist David Sutz told CBS how he attended a taping hoping to persuade Dr. Phil to assist in a public information campaign. Instead, perturbed by the documentation he had to sign at the studio entrance, Sutz ended up going home without even clapping eyes on the host.
The waiver in question required a signature confirming that the audience member wasn’t suffering from any mental illness. It also explicitly stated that any advice that Dr. Phil gave should not be interpreted as any kind of therapy. Sutz was also told that he would not be allowed to talk to Dr. Phil. These stipulations left Sutz without any choice but to walk away from the studio.
Sutz told CBS that Dr. Phil’s advice “is not real medical, psychological advice at all.” He continued, “It is pure entertainment and he should stop insinuating that it is anything but that, especially not real counseling. Too many people in this country think Dr. Phil’s words are the gospel for him to be mistreating the mentally ill, either directly or indirectly.”
It’s a viewpoint backed up by Robert Simmermon, an Atlanta-based psychologist, who told CBS, “It is important to distinguish between entertainment and actual treatment. It’s not done very well. It’s likely that some of the millions of people who tune into Dr. Phil ignore disclaimers and view it as therapy. I think it does need to be studied.”
Xavier Amador, a National Alliance for the Mentally Ill board member, admitted to CBS that Dr. Phil can sometimes be beneficial. He said the show “certainly smooths the way for people to feel they can speak with a psychologist.” However, Amador also acknowledged, “the danger lies in the people who do need professional help and confuse what he’s saying with that help.”
Indeed, Phil McGraw hasn’t been able to officially practice psychology in any state since 2006. The star surrendered his Texas licence voluntarily in 2006 following a series of issues which put his professional status in jeopardy. For example in 1989 he faced an ethics charge having reportedly engaged in inappropriate activity with a patient.
As well as potentially harming the public with his TV work, Dr. Phil has also been accused of exploiting several celebrities. In 2016 The Shining actress Shelley Duvall appeared on his show in a seemingly distressed state. Many viewers felt that the host had overstepped the mark by using Duvall’s mental state as a form of entertainment.
McGraw was also widely criticized for his conduct towards Britney Spears during her publicized mental health breakdown in the late ‘00s. The psychologist had been asked to visit the troubled pop superstar by her mother Lynne after an incident which saw Spears committed to the Cedars-Sinai Medical center. But McGraw soon proved that patient confidentiality wasn’t his strong point.
Indeed, McGraw wasted little time in sending out a press release about his visit to Spears. It read, “My meeting with Britney and some of her family members this morning in her room at Cedars leaves me convinced more than ever that she is in dire need of both medical and psychological intervention… I am very concerned for her.”
Understandably, Spears’ family was horrified at how McGraw had made such a private matter so public. Their spokesman Lou Taylor said, “What’s wrong with Dr. Phil’s statement is that he made a statement. The family basically extended an invitation of trust as a resource to support them, not to make a public statement. Any public statements he made, because he was brought in under this cloak of trust, are just inappropriate.”
However, McGraw remained entirely unrepentant about issuing the press release in question. In a defiant interview with Entertainment Tonight the outspoken host said, “Somebody needs to step up and provide a vector to get this young woman into some quality care… I do not apologize one whit, not one second.”
McGraw was also supported by Joyce Brothers, a fellow TV psychologist. She told The Orange County Register, “I’m sure Dr. Phil does not want to exploit her. He has all this experience in helping people get over problems. He has a lot to offer. But only to the person who wants it.”
McGraw didn’t face any disciplinary action for his conduct towards Spears. The California Board of Psychology reportedly did receive an official complaint from an unnamed psychologist about the violation of privilege between doctor and patient. However, this was never confirmed by the board and ex-president Martin Greenberg told The Today Show that the matter wasn’t a legal one anyway.
McGraw’s lack of a professional licence was also discussed during a backlash against his comments on the coronavirus lockdown in 2020. In an interview on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News, the star claimed that 360,000 people die from swimming pool-related incidents each year. He then added, “But, we don’t shut the country down for that, but yet, we’re doing it for this and the fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed.”
However, McGraw’s figure was wildly off the mark. In fact, only 3,709 accidental drownings were reported in the United States in 2017 — and not all of them occurred in swimming pools. Many social media users saw this as yet another example of how dangerous McGraw can be when it comes to informing the general public about serious medical issues.