"We'd have to go and take the abuse."
Earlier today, BuzzFeed News released a scathing exposè into the toxic environment fostered on the Dr. Phil Show, as alleged by former employees. While some employees interviewed refuted negative characterizations that others whole-heartedly supported, both groups intimated that intense work environments which can be construed as abusive are par for the course in Hollywood.
BuzzFeed’s reporting largely centers on the recollections of a dozen current and former employees who remember working at the Dr. Phil Show as being tantamount to entering a “war zone.” One employee said they had to seek therapy after working at the show (which is theoretically about mental health), while another employee making $10 per hour said they couldn't afford a therapist they felt they needed to deal with the toxic workplace. Executive producer Carla Pennington is the highest-ranking staffer on the show connected to the alleged workplace abuse, with one former employee claiming Pennington “reprimanded me so severely that I couldn’t breathe.” As for Phil McGraw himself, none of the people interviewed by BuzzFeed witnessed toxic or abusive behavior on this part — though Tiffany Clark, who worked as a page from 2019-2020, questioned how he could not know about it. Employees, whose names were withheld from the article, allege being discouraged from booking BIPOC guests and encouraged to prevent guests with mental illnesses from taking their medication in order for them to “look unstable and quote-unquote, ‘crazy.’” And all of it, they said, was considered business as usual on the set of one of the most successful daytime TV shows of the last 20 years.
Amidst the allegations of mental breakdowns, manipulative leadership, dysfunction, and racism, the most horrifying aspect of the scathing behind-the-scenes look at the Dr. Phil Show is the notion that current and former employees were either forced or expected to accept objectively terrible conditions. For example, 31-year-old Clark was part of the page program of Paramount Pictures, the production company whose Hollywood lot the show is filmed on. As part of that program, the Studio Pages, as they are referred, do everything from leading people on tours of the studios to helping manage live TV audiences. Even though it’s a part-time role, they’re required to “make their position as Studio Page their top scheduling priority,” according to the job listing on Paramount’s website. Clark, who alleged to have been “mercilessly berated” by a supervisor while working on the Dr. Phil Show, claimed pages are little more than soldiers moved around with few or no alternate options.
“You just have to learn to take it, or you quit,” Clark told BuzzFeed. “As pages there was nothing we could do. If we were assigned to the show we’d have to go and take the abuse.”
Attorneys for McGraw and Pennington categorically denied the allegations made to BuzzFeed, as did a spokesperson for Dr. Phil, referring to the claims as “verifiably and objectively false characterizations and reporting” that “raises significant doubts about the credibility of the other unsubstantiated, anonymous claims relating to the show and its staff, which are not true.”
But per the report, the show’s toxic environment isn’t a secret in Hollywood. One of the former employees says every interview they’ve gone on, the interviewer compares working on Dr. Phil to “getting a Purple Heart in Hollywood.” While those who spoke on the Dr. Phil Show’s behalf (current and former employees referred to BuzzFeed by Pennington’s publicist) denied the serious allegations, even they had a hard time not describing negative experiences former employees experienced as simply occupational hazards of working in Hollywood.
Michelle Thomasy, who has been the show’s teleprompter operator since the beginning, rejected the “war zone” comparison — but admitted the nature of television productions sometimes yields intense interactions. “I will say at some point, everyone in that room has said something and sometimes when things are moving quickly, yes, you will yell and say ‘Hey, where am I going? What am I doing? Can I get an answer to this?’ and you’re trying to get a response from someone,” Thomasy told BuzzFeed, adding that those moments aren’t “malicious” or “intended to attack another person.” So, not exactly a denial of toxic treatment.
Thomasy attributing potentially harmful comments to a product of TV’s high-speed environment is why the allegations against the Dr. Phil Show are unfortunately unsurprising. The Ellen DeGeneres Show has been on the air for roughly as long as the Dr. Phil Show and plans to end its nearly 20-year run — a decision conveniently made after allegations of a toxic workplace surfaced. Former Ellen employees shared stories of having to battle with supervisors to get time off to attend a family member’s funeral, dealing with a work culture predicated on fear, and experiencing racist treatment from coworkers. The Ellen DeGeneres Show has been showered in Daytime Emmy Awards, and the Dr. Phil Show once was the top syndicated daytime talk show for 150 straight weeks, while their damaging workplaces were widely known secrets in Hollywood circles.
Ellen’s imminent departure and the publicizing of Dr. Phil’s allegedly disastrous workplace will undoubtedly cause a stir in Hollywood. But, if toxic daytime talk shows continue to get celebrated and renewed, how many more innocent people will be damaged in the process?