Move over, Ellen. TV has a new mean girl and her name is Dr. Phil McGraw.
As conversations about toxic work environments in the entertainment world continue, a host of employees have alleged “fear, intimidation, and racism” on the set of one of TV’s most popular talk shows: Dr. Phil.
A new report by Buzzfeed documents the testimony of a dozen current and former employees on the show that allege an abusive workplace environment. All spoke to the outlet on the condition of anonymity.
“Everyone was just pretty miserable. You would walk into the building and there was just a palpable dread and anxiety,” one former employee says. “Dr. Phil — the show about mental health where everybody who works on it has terrible mental health because our work conditions were really bad.”
McGraw rose to the status of a household name in the 1990s thanks to his frequent appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show. McGraw’s popularity with viewers led him to get his own talk show spinoff in 2002. It is currently in its 20th season. In that time, he has also come under scrutiny for his ethics and advice. Though he does hold a doctorate in clinical psychology, he is not currently licensed.
“I would have nightmares. I would literally be working in my sleep and have nightmares about something being wrong or not turning in something the right way,” another employee adds. “Even when I quit, I had to go to therapy for it, which is crazy because you’re working for a therapist.”
In the report, other former staffers also allege that the producers of the show consciously promote racist stereotypes, and manipulate show guests in dangerous ways.
In one disturbing anecdote, a former employee claims he was told to make sure a guest didn’t take her prescribed medication.
“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,” the employee recalls.
“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.”
Though the staff members interviewed by BuzzFeed allege McGraw knew of the abusive behavior on his set, they also allege the biggest culprit in creating the toxic environment was executive producer Carla Pennington.
Witnesses in the report describe Pennington’s verbal tirades, calling “idiots,” “stupid,” and “retards.” They also claim she threatened to fire staffers on a regular basis, and even bragged about who she got to quit the show. Others allege that she would mock guests.
“It was traumatizing. It was the worst hour of your life,” a former employee says of Pennington’s rants. “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.”
“She reprimanded me so severely that I couldn’t breathe,” another former employee adds. “It has nothing to do with my performance and everything to do with whether or not they liked you. They would look me dead in the eye and go, ‘Do you even know what day it is? Do you even know? Are you that stupid?’”
Lawyers for McGraw and Pennington, as well as a Dr. Phil spokesperson, have all denied the report. A publicist for the show referred to the reporting as a “click-bait story.”
Pennington’s attorney, Bryan J. Freedman, called the report “a work of fiction,” while McGraw’s lawyer H. Patrick Morris said McGraw “categorically denies” the allegations. Still, this isn’t the first time Dr. Phil and its titular host have come under fire for allegations of employee abuse.
In 2016, a former employee alleged McGraw locked her and several other staffers in a room and verbally berated them over leaks to the press. That same year, former guests on the show alleged they were given access to alcohol and drugs before filming. Producers for the show denied both reports.
In the meantime, as the story continues to develop, viewers and readers of the BuzzFeed report have begun to share their thoughts on Twitter…
I ? Believe The Employees??
Current And Former “Dr. Phil” Employees Say The Set Is A Toxic Workplace. – BuzzFeed News https://t.co/PmyzRbBnLw
— Kiersten (@1stKiersten) February 10, 2022
There are some notable parallels between our reporting and @BuzzFeed's recent story on the workplace at Dr. Phil, including discriminatory treatment against Black guests and a requirement that employees submit photos of guests' teeth prior to taping. https://t.co/pPteS7w3ON
— Nicole Einbinder (@NicoleEinbinder) February 10, 2022
I really want to see @BuzzFeed
stupid articles with @DrPhil employees and their insane stories , the funniest thing is Even the problem about him all the stupid Tabloids added Ellen’s name to their articles to sell their shits (3/4 )
— Jane_Roberts (@jane101roberts) February 11, 2022
@PreserenKelly we also know he gets his mail in his underwear
— Meghan Maureen (@Keggs719) February 11, 2022
i’m shocked said no one
— Hey, Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa. (@bbguyla) February 11, 2022