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Dr. Phil McGraw Makes a Living Out of Giving No-Nonsense Advice

Aired June 18, 2000 - 7:00 a.m. ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's give a big Dallas, Texas welcome to Dr. Tell It Like It Is, Phil McGraw.

BEVERLY SCHUCH, HOST (voice-over): He's become one of the most famous people in America, virtually overnight, and audiences clamor to hear what he has to say.

DR. PHIL MCGRAW, CO-FOUNDER, COURTROOM SCIENCES: Who's ready to get drop dead, bottom line real about every relationship you've got in your life? If you are, let me hear it right now.

A lot of people do have tragic childhoods. But you know what? Get over it. If you need therapy, get it. If you need to do something, I don't care if it's suck on a rock and stare at the moon. If that works for you, do it. But do something and get back in charge of your life.

SCHUCH: Dr. Phil McGraw pulls no punches when giving advice. It's how he earned his nickname, "Tell it Like it is Phil," from his new best friend, Oprah Winfrey.

MCGRAW: My dad used to say boy, don't let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird *ss.

SCHUCH: Oprah was so impressed by Dr. Phil's straight talk that he's become a regular on her show, and millions of people drawn to his no nonsense approach have made him a best-selling author of two self- help books.

MCGRAW: Is the ticket to get along with you to let you do what you want to do?

SCHUCH: Radio shows across the country jockey to get the no- holds barred commentary of Dr. Phil on their airwaves.

MCGRAW: You've got your daughter standing in front of you right now with her heart absolutely open saying mom, I just need you to be there for me. I need you. And I ask you what you heard her saying and you talked to me about jobs.

SCHUCH: His message is simple, you either get it or you don't, and for those who don't get it, there is hope. Dr. Phil himself is living proof. Early in his career, he wasn't getting it.

MCGRAW: When I was practicing psychology, I used to tell myself if I ever get to where I'm just doing this for the money or I'm just going through the motions, I'll quit. And then when it came to the point that I really had to admit I didn't like what I was doing, that was a gut check because I was making an awful lot of money doing it. And I had a talk with myself. I said, you know, you've been spewing all this all these years bucko, let's just see if you'll put your money where your mouth is and stop doing what you don't like anymore.

SCHUCH: And just like that, he left his practice. Dr. Phil joined his equally dissatisfied lawyer friend, Gary Dobbs (ph), combining their skills in psychology and law. In 1990, they created Courtroom Sciences, a place where lawyers could bring their cases to be analyzed. Everything from opening statements to how a jury deliberates a case is carefully scrutinized.

UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: What you're asking, though is, and what the judge is asking us to do is pick the lesser of evils.


UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: No, that's exactly what because we...

UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: Well, that's what the job of a jury is.


SCHUCH: Dr. Phil refers to Courtroom Sciences as his day job and it's what put the fight back in his spirit.

MCGRAW: It was one of the smartest decisions that I ever made in my life because I started doing something I had passion about. It's kind of like Patton says about war, god help me, I do love it so. I mean I hate that people get sued, but if they are, I love to be in the fight.

SCHUCH: At 6'3", 200 plus pounds, you don't want to get in the way of this former Tulsa College football player.

MCGRAW: I talk to people sometimes that say my life's in a great place. I love where I am. I'm completely fulfilled. I tell you, if you're in the front row of the parade and you stop walking, pretty soon you're back in the tuba section. And if you want to lead the parade you've got to keep moving.

SCHUCH: So how did this tall Texan come to save Oprah's hide and what is it really like being married to the country's most recognized marriage counselor?

MCGRAW: Aren't you glad I planted all these?

ROBIN MCGRAW: Yeah, right.

SCHUCH: When PINNACLE returns, we'll get the straight talk from America's new band leader and founder of Courtroom Sciences, Dr. Phil McGraw.




MCGRAW: Relationships are negotiated and if you deal with ultimatums and authority all the time, then you're not going to get anywhere.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Sometimes it seems there's not enough of Dr. Phil McGraw to go around. This morning, he's a guest on Dallas' Kidcratic Show (ph), dispensing advice to some moms and their daughters who are having relationship problems.

MCGRAW: And you do need her, don't you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, because all these problems are coming up to me right now and she's not helping me like she used to.

MCGRAW: And you need her to do that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I have a lot to say and I just, and I can't, and she won't listen to me and she just keeps getting mad when I try telling her.

MCGRAW: So tell her what you want her to do when you're telling her your problems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to sit down and listen to me. That's all I want is for someone to listen to me.

SCHUCH: As Dr. Phil works through their problems, phone calls are coming in by the dozens, with listeners vying for a few minutes of his time.

MCGRAW: You've got your daughter standing in front of you right now with her heart absolutely open saying mom, I just need you to be there for me, I need you. And I ask you what you heard her saying and you talked to me about jobs. Answer my question, what do you hear your daughter telling you right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's still hurting.

SCHUCH: His candor has earned him the respect of millions. Dr. Phil's newfound stardom began when he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show.


MCGRAW: You have to make choices and you have to be responsible for your life. I mean it's like being at an intersection, you can go left, you can go right, you can forward or you can go back or your...

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: Or you can stand still. MCGRAW: ... your fifth choice is to stand right in the middle of the intersection and let life run you smooth over.


SCHUCH: Oprah first met Dr. Phil in 1997 when she faced a multi- million dollar lawsuit from Texas cattlemen. The cattlemen were angry about her program focusing on mad cow disease. They felt Oprah's show caused irreparable damage to the confidence of beef eaters after she told her audience it has just stopped me cold from eating another burger.

With the issue of First Amendment rights at stake and a trial to be held in the heart of beef country, Amarillo, Texas, Oprah and her production company knew they needed help, so they called Dr. Phil McGraw at Courtroom Sciences.

(on camera): What do you think the best thing that you did for her was?

MCGRAW: Helping her be who she is on the witness stand. When you get on the witness stand, it's a very difficult situation. You've got a judge over one shoulder saying stop. You've got this whole system swirling around you. You've got somebody up asking you accusatory questions and it can rock you back on your heels and you can be less effective than you might be otherwise.

Our belief in that case was that if the jury truly understood the case it wouldn't even be a close call. If it was innuendo and accusation and confusion and stereotypic beliefs about the media, then it could be a dangerous case.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Oprah won her case after six long weeks and she gained a new friend and weekly guest after she urged Dr. Phil to put his wisdom to paper.

(on camera): Was there a precise moment when the two of you bonded, when you really just came together?

MCGRAW: Well, you know, prior to the trial in Amarillo, we worked for most of the year in preparing this case and so I spent a lot of one-on-one time with Oprah and frankly I think we connected from the first five minutes we were together. I have a very plain talk, straightforward style and I think she lives in a world of hype and really responded to somebody that just tells it like it is.

SCHUCH: What's the essence of what she's done for you?

MCGRAW: Well, she brought me back to psychology, I can tell you that, because I was terribly burned out on psychology.

SCHUCH: What about it did you hate so much because you're still a therapist of sorts.

MCGRAW: Well, of sorts but what I hated about it was it was monotonous. It was drudgery. It was ineffective. I was doing some marriage counseling at the time. You've got to be looking at the world's worst marital therapist in the history of the world. Now, I understand I just wrote "Relationship Rescues" so everybody's going to be taking their books back.

SCHUCH: Yes, you did.

MCGRAW: But I'm the world's worst marital therapist you've ever seen. I couldn't get anybody better. I'd just be sitting there talking to them and I'd be thinking you people are bitching and whining. You don't like each other, that's your problem. What are you making me go through this for? I wanted out, whether they did or not.

SCHUCH (voice-over): That was in 1988. He gave up his practice for a decade until Oprah offered him a higher calling.

MCGRAW: She really brought that back to me and said tell you what, you don't like pecking at this from where you've been. Let me share with you a platform where you speak to millions of people every time you open your mouth and if you can't make a difference from there, that's your own fault. And I took that challenge and I feel real good about what we're doing.

SCHUCH: And that was her lesson to you?

MCGRAW: It was, to bring it back and say, you know, don't complain about what isn't, create what is.

SCHUCH (voice-over): When PINNACLE continues, find out why the largest corporations in the world visit this man when fighting a lawsuit.




MCGRAW: The earliest thing I remember I was three or four years old, I think, and I had on a little scrawny T-shirt and some scrawny shorts standing barefoot in front of a white frame house kind of out in the middle of nowhere. And I think it's where we lived in Oklahoma.

SCHUCH (voice-over): It is in these self-described "Grapes of Wrath" beginnings where Dr. Phil and his three sisters grew up. In pursuit of a series of careers from high school coach to pilot for an oil company, his father moved the family often. By the time Dr. Phil was 12, his father was still trying to figure out what he was going to do when he grew up.

MCGRAW: He quit his job and became a full-time student and, you know, here is a family of six, you know, two parents and four kids with a father who is a full-time graduate student and we really had very little at that point. So we threw a paper route. That was our job. It was this long, they called it a motor route because you had to throw it from a car. It was 52 miles long and we threw it every morning. And that was pretty much the income that we had.

SCHUCH: His father finally earned a degree in his late '30s and became a psychologist. But it left the family with very little money as Dr. Phil was growing up.

MCGRAW: I didn't have like cars and clothes and things like that. But I could catch football and knock you down and so that was kind of my identity at the point. I was just kind of a jock.

SCHUCH: Were you a wild kid?

MCGRAW: There were times. In high school and college, my friends and I were pretty violent. It wouldn't be unusual to find us in a bar fight before the end of the night on a real regular basis and that's not my proudest hour. I probably shouldn't be talking about that.

SCHUCH: And what did that do for your at that time?

MCGRAW: Well, it got it out of my system, I can tell you that.

SCHUCH: Was it because of anger that you had? We're going to do a little psychoanalysis here now.

MCGRAW: Yeah, do a little psychoanalysis.

SCHUCH: OK. What were you angry about?

MCGRAW: I don't know we, you know, I grew up on locker rooms and my reputation was I'd fight a buzz saw if I had half a chance and that was just the dumbest part of my life. And -- but I got over it pretty quick and I've had no tendencies like that since that time. So I think it was a phase I went through.

SCHUCH: Dr. Phil went to Tulsa College on a football scholarship and his life revolved around sports. He had very little use at the time for an education.

MCGRAW: I probably would have dropped out of high school my junior or senior year if it hadn't been for my coaches. And they just would say no, we're not going to do that. And...

SCHUCH: Did you have any idea what you would do or -- no life strategy then, I guess, huh?

MCGRAW: Oh, no day strategy, let alone life strategy. You'd just kind of get up and react to whatever happens. And my GPA the first semester was like .6 on a four point scale and it was .6 because one of my classes was coaching of football and I got an A in there. And so I distributed that over the rest of the Ds and Fs I had.

SCHUCH: At one point you must have, something turned around in you because you went, took an undergraduate and graduate courses at the same time at two different colleges?

MCGRAW: How did you know that? SCHUCH: We know everything about you.

MCGRAW: Well, I did take a lot of work at one time because I got so far behind in not taking school seriously that when I decided hey, you're going to school for you, buddy, not for anybody else. Your teacher doesn't care what kind of grades you make. You're going to sell this information very soon and the more you have the more you can sell.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Dr. Phil's new attitude paid off. By 1979, he earned his master's and doctorate degrees at North Texas State University. He became a psychologist like his dad and specialized in neuropsychology. Because of his specialty, he made an ideal expert witness for malpractice suits. Today, Dr. Phil boasts that Courtroom Sciences is the largest trial science business in the world. Its clients include half of the top 100 companies of the Fortune 500.

(on camera): So is what you do an art or a science?

MCGRAW: I think it's some of both. You know, people would love to say that it's pure science but I don't think there's anything in psychology that doesn't have an element of subjectivity to it.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Courtroom Sciences specializes in litigation consulting and the art and science of settling cases out of court and it uses state-of-the-art technology to help convince jurors.

MCGRAW: If you tell them they retain about 10 percent of it. If you show them, they retain about 60 percent of it. If you show them and tell them, they retain about 80 percent of it. And then if you repeat it again at some point, pretty soon they start to get the essence of your case.

SCHUCH: In its Irving, Texas headquarters, two mock courtrooms allow the entire process to be videotaped and dissected. With CNN present, Courtroom Sciences was running a mock trial on a real media case.

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: If the school board had been doing its job it would not have been necessary for KCMK to investigate this matter and expose the undeniably true matters that it exposed.

SCHUCH: Because of CNN's presence, the names were changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: In fact, wasn't your station in negotiations for the sale to a prominent media buyer?

UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: It was during that time.

SCHUCH (on camera): What is your success rate?

MCGRAW: Well, it depends on how you define success. I mean we've had cases where a client was getting sued for a billion dollars and a verdict was brought back against them for $3 million. That's a victory. Did we win the case? No, not in an outright sort of way. But did we damage control it down from some huge exposure to something that was economically viable and they could live with? Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: And this man is driving handicapped children, or was, in our community, until this report came out.

SCHUCH (voice-over): When PINNACLE returns, find out how this jury voted but more importantly, find out how Dr. Phil led them to their decision.




UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: I see your point, but as far as where the money will ultimately go, it's rewarding the bus company for being a criminal.

SCHUCH (voice-over): While the jury analyzes the evidence, Dr. Phil McGraw analyzes the jury. He doesn't think they'll be able to reach a unanimous verdict.

UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: When the ratings sweeps come out we'd better all look at them. We don't know what's going to happen.


UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: And your business might be next. And you're giving them carte blanche. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)




SCHUCH: As Dr. Phil suspected, a hung jury is the result.


SCHUCH: But the most insightful part of the day comes from questioning the jurors about their experiences.

MCGRAW: The question is, Mr. Babcock (ph), what I like least about you as a lawyer is?

UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: A time or two I thought that you smiled and made light of something that was very serious.

MCGRAW: Number 10?

UNIDENTIFIED JUROR: You probably looked at the jury when you had key questions you wanted answered. You had a lot of eye contact with the jury, perhaps overly so.

SCHUCH: With Courtroom Sciences as a day job, appearances on Oprah weekly and nearly 1,000 e-mails a day, it's hard to believe Dr. Phil has any time left for his family.

(on camera): A lot of people think that you are, you know, the perfect, the perfect husband, I'm sure.

MCGRAW: Oh, let me tell you, if I've done anything to suggest that to anyone, let me end that masquerade right now. Before you talk to her, let me just turn myself in because that is not the case. I still work too much but I think I have more balance, probably, than most people think I do. But sure I have annoying habits. I don't listen as well as I need to. I don't...

SCHUCH: You don't listen?

MCGRAW: I don't express my emotions -- well, I'll be talking to her sometimes and she'll catch my eyes drift over to the window or something like that and it's like you're not paying attention. And I really am, it's just I multi-task a lot. I do different things at one time. But, yeah, I'm sure I have annoying habits.

SCHUCH: And what about expressing yourself?

MCGRAW: I've never been a very emotional person. My approach is think through it, get a solution and go to it and, you know, as women have told men for ages, that's not always what they want is for you to fix something. They want you to shut up and listen and deal on a feeling level. And I'm not real good at that.

SCHUCH: Tell the world, American women want to know, Robin, does he have, what's his most annoying habit?

MCGRAW: All right, now be easy here.

ROBIN MCGRAW: Annoying habit? Honestly, when he's just a man. When he's just being a man and just the normal man things.

MCGRAW: Perfect.

SCHUCH (voice-over): Dr. Phil and his wife Robin have been married for more than 23 years and although Dr. Phil claims he's not a great husband, Robin, as the judge and jury in this matter, renders a different verdict.

ROBIN MCGRAW: He was very intimidating and I would have family members and friends for years just be so afraid of him. And I would go oh, you just don't understand, he is not, he's like a puppy. He is not intimidating at all.

MCGRAW: You're blowing my cover here.

ROBIN MCGRAW: I know. But, and he used to be so big and to be so sweet to me and so gentle and like a little puppy.

SCHUCH: Robin and Dr. Phil are the proud parents of two boys, Jason and Jordan. After years of coaching and cheering them on from the sidelines, the boys reciprocated their enthusiasm for dad at his seminar in Dallas. MCGRAW: I coached both of the boys in basketball for seven years each. I've been a basketball coach for 14 years. I've just retired because my youngest now plays for the school so somebody else gets to do that job. When those boys look up from the stage at the school program or the field from football or the basketball court, dad's been there and if you ask me what I'm proud of, that would be at the way top of my list.

SCHUCH: Well, I heard you even flew down from New York to see one of your son's basketball games and flew back that night.

MCGRAW: I did. But, you know, you make a commitment, it becomes like a dare. When I play tennis it's very competitive but it's trash talking. I mean it's pretty raw. But we're just playing. It's just like four boys, we're playing doubles, just four boys out there playing and laughing and having a good time and that's really therapeutic for me. That gets the office off my back. It gets the pressure off my back.

SCHUCH: Do you believe in fate, that there are no chance encounters?

MCGRAW: I believe that throughout your life, you know, god will lead a lot of people past your door. It's your job to pay attention of which ones to grab onto and make part of your nucleus and which ones not to. And I think I've done a pretty fair job of that in my life. I've let some people linger longer than I wished they had. But all in all, I think I've been very blessed by being surrounded by people who have really contributed to my life and given me the privilege of contributing to theirs, as well.




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