KPRC Houston Pulls ‘Dr. Phil’

Post-Newsweek’s KPRC Houston has pulled CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil off the air in its 3 p.m. timeslot, replacing the show with Sony’s Dr. Oz.

KPRC decided to remove Dr. Phil from its schedule due to disappointment with sliding ratings and disagreement over the show’s content, said Post-Newsweek President Alan Frank. The station is continuing to pay the show’s license fees, although it is not airing the show’s national commercials, which are sold by CTD and provide additional income to the syndicator.

“It’s out of desperation that I did this,” said Frank, who said he’s personally met with show star and executive producer Dr. Phil McGraw to try and get his concerns resolved. “I did everything but stand on my head to get [CBS’] attention over the years.”

In response, CTD says it’s puzzled by KPRC’s actions:  "The facts are that KRPC has a contractual obligation to pay for the show through 2011,” said a company spokesman. “We have listened to the station's comments about the show and we are as proud of the content and direction as we've ever been. We are confused by the station's actions."

Frank argues that the show’s content has gone increasingly tabloid over the years, and that its ratings have correspondingly decreased. This year, Dr. Phil premiered at a 2.5 live plus same day national household rating compared to last year’s 3.2, a 22% decrease, according to Nielsen Media Research. Dr. Phil’s premiere ratings were likely affected by preemptions due to rain delays at the U.S. Open Tennis that forced the show to tape its live season premiere and then air it a day later. On a season-to-date comparison, Dr. Phil was down 26% in the 2008-09 season compared to 2007-08.

“We’ve been disappointed for some time in the direction of the show,” says Frank. “It used to be a friend to female viewers and it’s changed to become a very tabloid show. It’s not the topics, it’s the way they treat the topics.”

CTD says Dr. Phil’s content remains the same high quality that it’s always been.

Almost all daytime syndicated programs are down significantly over the past three years, although among the talk shows Warner Bros.’ Ellen has remained even and NBC Universal’s Steve Wilkos gained a tenth year to year. Every court show – including CBS’ genre leader Judge Judy – has fallen by double-digit percentages in the same time period.

Meanwhile, Sony’s Dr. Oz is up 13% in its Houston time period versus August 2009, and up 70% compared to its lead-in, which is CTD’s Rachael Ray, according to Nielsen. Among Dr. Oz’s key demographic, women 25-54, it’s up 33% over its premiere and up 60% over its August 2009 time period. Last September, Houston was hit by Hurricane Ike, knocking TV stations off the air and making more appropriate year-to-year comparisons unfair.
Compared to May 2009 – when Dr. Phil was in highly promoted originals – Dr. Oz is faring a bit worse. Thus far, Dr. Oz is averaging a 0.6 among the show’s key demographic of women 25-54, down 25% from Dr. Phil’s 0.8 last May. In households, Oz is averaging a 1.8 compared to Phil’s 1.9. 

Still, Dr. Oz is a less expensive show than Dr. Phil, having been developed and produced in a very different economic environment.

“We had no sense that Dr. Phil was going to do anything different so we finally decided to see if we could get ratings from a show other than this one,” said Frank.
KPRC stopped airing Dr. Phil at the beginning of syndication’s season on Sept. 14.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. 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.