10 Questions For Dr. Phil

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In just six years, Dr. Phil McGraw has, with Oprah Winfrey's help, gone from an obscure Texas courtroom consultant to a household name and television icon. This month Dr. Phil, 54, launches the third season of his syndicated talk show, hosts a prime-time network special and publishes a new self-help book. TIME's Jeffrey Ressner caught up with him at his Los Angeles office.

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN YOUR SUCCESS? People in America are ready to hear someone tell them at least a version of the truth that's clear, precise and action oriented. I think they find it refreshing.


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DO YOU CONSIDER THE SHOW THERAPY OR ENTERTAINMENT? I consider it to be education. We give people usable information that they can tailor to their personal situations. It's very different from therapy and much more than entertainment.

WHAT'S NEW ABOUT YOUR THIRD SEASON? We'll embrace everything we've done in the past — Dr. Phil families, weight loss, silent epidemics — but we'll also take on some bigger social issues. A lot of places in America are losing control of young people with teenage pregnancies, drunk driving, drugs in the schools and things like that. We're going to turn a bright light on that.

YOUR LATEST BOOK IS TITLED FAMILY FIRST. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM FACING PARENTS TODAY? They're intimidated. Life is moving so fast and there's so much competition for influencing their children that they're a little taken aback by it. Parents aren't the only influence in their kids' lives, so they need to be the best, the loudest, the clearest and the closest.

YOU'VE WRITTEN 10 BOOKS IN FIVE YEARS. ARE YOU TRYING TO OUTDO STEPHEN KING? No, he's scaring people. I don't want to scare anybody. I just feel a sense of urgency ... to get a message out there. I've had obesity obliterate my family — it took my father early, and I've got two nephews over 500 pounds. I feel a sense of urgency to shake people up about that.

DAVID LETTERMAN AND HOWARD STERN HAVE BEEN BRUTAL IN THEIR COMMENTS ABOUT YOU. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? I've never listened to Howard Stern. I don't listen to the radio in my car — I listen to CDs. I've read a lot of things he's said and done, but I don't think I've ever heard his show. I watch Letterman, and he's funny, a huge talent. He makes fun of me endlessly, but I'll give him that. I get my body shots in when I go on his show. My favorite Dr. Phil joke was told by Letterman. He was introducing some new books coming out, and he held up one by Dr. Phil with the title More Advice I Pulled Out of My Ass. I thought, That's pretty funny. I liked that.

BOTH OF THEM RAZZED YOU FOR WRITING BOOKS ON WEIGHT LOSS. OBVIOUSLY, YOU'RE A BIG GUY AT 6 FT. 4 IN. AND 240 LBS. DO YOU FEEL OVERWEIGHT? No, I don't. This is a good get-real weight for me. I run five miles every morning; I play tennis every night. I lift weights three or four times a week. My pulse rate is really low. I'm in the low-to-normal range of body fat. I'm just a big old jock is all.

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