Syndicating Dr. Phil

Viacom's two powerful syndication arms are teaming up for the first time to bring Oprah Winfrey's Dr. Phil McGraw to daytime television. Paramount Domestic Television and King World Productions made it official late Friday, announcing the arrival of longtime Winfrey guest Dr. Phil on the syndication scene.

The battle between Hollywood's top studios for the syndication rights to the Dr. Phil show went down to the last minute, with a number of syndicators bending over backwards to impress Winfrey, whose Chicago-based Harpo Productions created the show and will also play a key role in it.

Described as a life-strategies/self-help talk show for daytime and early-fringe time periods, Dr. Phil will be produced by Paramount and distributed by King World for a fall 2002 debut. It is the first time the two syndication giants have worked together since coming under the Viacom banner, which set off more Hollywood speculation that they may eventually be melded.

The deal also brings King World and Winfrey together on their second talk show. King World has distributed The Oprah Winfrey Show since its debut in 1986 and has syndication rights through the 2003-04 TV season.

Dallas psychologist McGraw, the best-selling author of Life Strategies: Doing What Works, Doing What Matters and Relationship Rescue: A Seven-Step Strategy for Reconnecting With Your Partner, has been appearing on Winfrey's syndicated talk show since April 1998. A Tuesday regular for over a year, he is scheduled to be on each Tuesday through the upcoming season.

Each time Dr. Phil appears on Winfrey's show, the ratings seem to increase. According to Nielsen Media Research, Tuesday episodes have averaged a 6.8 national household rating during the current season, 13% higher than the Monday-Friday average of 6.0.

"What Oprah has done with him is absolutely brilliant," says Paramount Domestic TV Programming President Greg Meidel. "She has single-handedly taken advantage of his skills, groomed him and nurtured him into stardom. We have someone who will have developed his instincts and style for four years."

Says Winfrey, "In 15 years, I've never come across anyone who understood human functioning better than Phil. He knows how to ... get to the bottom line of what really matters. He has become America's therapist."

Winfrey was expected to be an executive producer on the series, but sources say she will not take any title or credit on the show.

Dr. Phil joins a fast-growing syndication field for fall 2002, one that already includes daytime versions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Weakest Link and Pyramid. CBS executives would not comment, but sources say Dr. Phil will likely wind up on a number of CBS O&Os. The show will not be allowed to go up against Winfrey's syndicated show and will be sold only in outside time periods, say sources. King World and Paramount executives had no comment.

Until late last week, it had been unclear who would win the Dr. Phil syndication sweepstakes.