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‘Dr. Phil’ show staffers decry workplace as ‘traumatizing’ and a ‘war zone’

Can “Dr. Phil” fix his own reportedly broken work family? About a dozen current and former employees of the “Dr. Phil” show have shared allegations with BuzzFeed News that cast a dark shadow on the long-running advice program. In the CBS daytime show’s 20 years on air, psychologist McGraw has gained a reputation for his affable, no-nonsense advice and so-called “Phil-isms” — as one goes, “We teach people how to treat us” — that he doles out to guests and their families on the brink of crisis. “Everyone was just pretty miserable. You would walk into the building and there was just a palpable dread and anxiety,” one ex-employee told the site. “’Dr. Phil’ — the show about mental health where everybody who works on it has terrible mental health because our work conditions were really bad.” The irony of the new explosive claims — that a show whose mission it is to advocate for mental health hygiene couldn’t keep its own set happy — isn’t lost on the accusers. “I would have nightmares,” a former employee told BuzzFeed, choosing to remain anonymous for fear of backlash. “Even when I quit, I had to go to therapy for it, which is crazy because you’re working for a therapist.” It’s also long been noted that McGraw, 71, holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, not a medical degree, and is also not licensed to practice. Though McGraw himself was not directly implicated in any of the anecdotes heard by BuzzFeed, accusers suggested he must be privy to the alleged bad behavior of executive producer Carla Pennington. The Emmy-winning producer is being accused of, among other things, outbursts at lower-level employees — allegedly calling them “idiots,” “stupid” and “retards.” However, another group of anonymous staffers on behalf of Pennington insisted their experience had been positive overall, despite the high-stakes nature of the show. see also “It can be intense … but it is always professional,” said Michelle Thomasy, who has been the teleprompter operator since the show’s inception 20 years ago. “I think a control room, in general, can be intense, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a negative environment, nor does it mean that people would be treated in a disrespectful way,” said a “Dr. Phil” director of two decades, who asked not to be named by BuzzFeed News. Some workers, however, described it as a “war zone.” “It was traumatizing,” a former employee said. “There was full-blown yelling, calling people idiots and slamming doors, and it would not be acceptable in any other job in any other business. Then, after, everybody’s upset and everybody’s crying.” One current worker added: “I’ve worked jobs where people get angry, but this is a whole other level of just strange, neurotic behavior, and it’s just unceasing, it’s just constant. There is no relief.” Reporting bad behavior was pointless, according to some “Dr. Phil” accusers. “If you complain to HR, you might as well expect to be fired,” one former employee told BuzzFeed. “They will do anything and everything they can to keep anything under wraps.” see also “We were specifically instructed, ‘Make sure that she doesn’t take her medication before she goes onstage,’ because they wanted her to look unstable and quote-unquote, ‘crazy,’ for lack of a better term,” one employee recalled. “She did take the medication because no one got there in time and I remember thinking, ‘My God, I don’t want to be the one to tell them or dissuade them from that.’ And that’s all for the sake of TV. Obviously this girl should be on her medication and that’s what we’re trying to get her help for, but for the sake of TV they wanted her to look off the rails.” More than half of those who spoke to BuzzFeed reportedly said the set was further plagued by racism and racial stereotyping. But McGraw’s attorney, H. Patrick Morris, “categorically denie[d]” allegations in the report and said that the host “supports and believes in Carla Pennington and her team of Supervising Producers and Co-Executive Producers. “Carla does not behave inappropriately. She has the complete confidence of Dr. McGraw,” Morris continued in a statement. “She is beloved by her staff personally and respected professionally. The allegations against her are absurd and demonstrably false.” Pennington’s attorney, Bryan J. Freedman, called the reports a “work of fiction.” “BuzzFeed’s singular focus of creating a potentially viral story came at the expense of truth and facts. BuzzFeed spent months crafting a desired narrative and curating unnamed sources to anonymously support their manufactured story,” Freedman told the outlet. see also Meanwhile, in a statement obtained by The Post, a spokesperson for the show also said that the claims are “verifiably and objectively false characterizations and reporting,” and that McGraw’s “diverse team of more than 200 proud staff, many of whom have been here for two decades, have sincerely and respectfully worked with thousands of appreciative guests. “BuzzFeed [News] has been provided with dozens and dozens of attributed statements of fact, from current and past staff,” they added. “Verifiable data contradicting the entire premise of their ‘anonymously attributed,’ sensationalized and baseless article.” This isn’t the first time the public has heard such tales coming from “Dr. Phil,” which premiered in 2002 and is now in its 21st season. In 2016, a lawsuit — later dropped — alleged that McGraw locked a group of staffers in a room for an unmitigated tirade over supposedly leaked information about the show. Alleged abuse has extended beyond staff and on to guests, some of whom have since accused the show of encouraging them to drink or take drugs before their appearance in an effort to “manipulate mentally vulnerable people,” said one former staffer, all in the interest of must-see TV with an audience of millions.

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