Dr. Phil moves to 7 p.m. today, making room for new 5 p.m. newscast on WTSP
A fan since his show debuted in 2002, she would sit down with each day’s episode, like reading a good magazine, savoring the life lessons offered by feuding families set right by Phil McGraw’s hardheaded straight talk.
But the formula that felt so refreshing in 2002 began to feel a little worn six years later, and faced with a stream of tabloidy topics – McGraw has inserted himself into everything from Britney Spears’ meltdown to Octomom Nadya Suleman’s life -- my wife banished the show from our video recorder last year.
Today, faced with steadily declining local ratings, WTSP-Ch. 10 will downgrade the show too, moving Dr. Phil to 7 p.m. weekdays, with a rerun airing at 9 a.m. the following morning. The reason: a show that once handily won the 5 p.m. timeslot now places third or fourth among key viewers, pulling down ratings for WTSP’s 6 p.m. newscast.
“He was the No. 1 news team,” said Pete Nikiel, director of marketing and promotion for WTSP, now known as 10 Connects. “They’ve told us they’re testing the show with focus groups and Dr. Phil himself is involved with changing the show. He’s talking about turning away (from tabloid topics) and being more current . . . talking about the recession.”
Dr. Phil’s move also makes room for a new half-hour 5 p.m. newscast led by top anchors Reginald Roundtree and Heather Van Nest. It will be the first time WTSP has offered local news at 5 p.m. since 2003; the station’s 4 p.m. news also goes away today, replaced by Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as anchor Dave Wirth prepares to take over as lead sports anchor in June.
Locally, Dr. Phil’s ratings for May’s “sweeps ratings period were down nearly 30 percent from May 2008, attracting about 1 percent of viewers aged 25 to 54 and landing in third place, according to figures from WTSP.
Nationally, the show dipped from an average 7.2-million viewers daily in the May 2005 sweeps to 3.9-million this year, according to figures from Nielsen Media Research.
This critic can guess why. With a show format which hasn’t changed much in seven years, McGraw has seen his status as talk queen Oprah Winfrey’s star protégé overshadowed by newer names such as Rachael Ray, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Jenny McCarthy.
McGraw didn’t help himself with questionable tactics like trying to see Spears in a hospital, then talking publicly about their interaction while trying to build a show around her problems (he eventually canceled the episode).
He also had to cancel a show on the Lakeland girls who placed the videotaped beating of a classmate on MySpace, after news broke that one of his producers bailed out one of the participants.
It seems the bargain at the heart of many of his shows – bare your problems in exchange for access to help you otherwise couldn’t obtain – may no longer be drawing the big crowds.