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Friday, 02 January 2009 11:28

The 8 Minute Cure - Page 8

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To that unnatural brightness, add a live studio audience. The vast majority of workaday people have never addressed a large room full of strangers. Nothing can prepare most patients/guests of Dr. Phil's for walking onto that soundstage, where their intimate problems will be the subject of "entertainment" and "information," to crib from's disclaimer.

On that stage, the patients/guests interact with a consummate performer, who's also what we call "a star." They've already invested him with tremendous authority or they wouldn't be there. They've relinquished their privacy in return for his help. Now, under the bright lights, in front of rows of peering strangers and with Dr. Phil himself, they must make their stand. By definition, they're troubled. Now they're also surrounded and outnumbered. Can healing possibly take place in such an arena? What could be further from the environment and process of therapy? Yet these people think they're going to a doctor.

Any TV program, by virtue of its repetition, partakes of ritual. Quiz show and sitcom, newscast and episodic drama, talk show and sports show, each establishes a format and rhythm, enhanced by repetitive theme music, which creates a particular signature. A prime pleasure of television viewing is to sync in with the ritualistic repetitions of each favored program, surrendering to the (usually narrow) spectrum of responses that the program dependably, predictably elicits. A successful program achieves its own defined space, which it repeats and repeats and repeats. Each program is, in an archetypal sense, a kind of Mass, with its own particular and peculiar Communion. You know what's going to happen before you get there, though you don't exactly know--and this knowing-but-not-quite-knowing sustains both the comfort level and the interest.

Dr. Phil's TV show works this form masterfully.

To appear on the show, you send Dr. Phil a home video in which you reveal your troubles. If he and/or his staff chooses your video, they interview you on film, and sometimes place cameras in your home to watch your troubles firsthand and collect clips to be aired on the program. If they decide you're telegenic enough, you're invited on the show, where your average screen time with Dr. Phil is eight minutes (though subjects that are especially telegenic get more).

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Last modified on Sunday, 11 January 2009 16:40

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