Fitted for Lawsuit

After years of basking in the national spotlight, Dr. Philip McGraw's good guy image took a hit. McGraw and the company that sells Dr. Phil
-branded supplements, Dallas-based CSA Nutraceuticals, are being sued. A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court March 26 charges they used "false and misleading advertising, deceptive practices, and false and fraudulent claims" to sell Shape Up! products.

McGraw's reps say he was paid an endorsement fee so that CSA Nutraceuticals could use Dr. Phil's image on the products. CSA is run by Gary Dobbs, his partner at Courtroom Sciences Inc., a legal consulting firm, and Dobbs's son, Brent.

McGraw's fee went directly to The Dr. Phil Foundation, which addresses childhood obesity and other issues. McGraw has no financial interest in the product.

The suit was filed by Henry Rossbacher, a Los Angeles attorney, on behalf of plaintiffs Joanne Levin, Steven Burda, and Nancy Harmon. Rossbacher is trying to collect enough names to warrant a class-action suit.

The defendants are asking for injunctions against what they claim is false advertising, as well as punitive damages against McGraw and CSA Nutraceuticals and attorney fees. They take issue with the claim that the Shape Up! supplements "contain scientifically researched levels of ingredients that can help you change your behavior to take control of your weight."

The lawsuit contends "there is no substantial credible scientific basis for the claims and representation that defendants make as to Shape Up!'s effectiveness." Says Bill Dawson, McGraw's attorney, "Any time you have a well-recognized celebrity, they become a target for this sort of thing."

By contract, McGraw did not promote Shape Up! products on his syndicated show, allow commercials for the products in it, or suggest them in his best-selling book, The Ultimate Weight-Loss Solution, say his reps.

Given the lawsuit, plus public criticisms of the Shape Up! supplements, McGraw and his foundation have stopped endorsing the products, which his reps say are backed by scientific research. Says Dawson: "Suits like this will have a chilling effect on celebrities doing charitable endorsements."

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997 - September 2002.