I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to be a VIP Guest at the Dr. Phil Show today. Now, do not confuse that with being a guest ON the Dr. Phil Show. I was merely an audience member, though having good seats and early access, gave us a tremendous view of the proceedings, including all of the pre-event work that goes into pulling off a production of that scale.
As someone who has put together events, it is impressive to me to see all of the moving parts come together. Even before we got into the studio, the number of people involved in organizing the crowd, taking and securing our cell phones, lining people up, moving people to the right locations, granting access in priority order and keeping people in the proper areas was impressive.
Once in the studio, there was a whole additional set of workers placing us in seats and walking around during the pre-show hours to make sure that nobody was chewing gum, had on a jacket or sunglasses or was holding a purse or anything else on their lap. They seated people in groups fairly efficiently though there were certain seating sections where they only wanted shorter people and my towering 5’10” frame was apparently too tall J
The set was quite elegant and heavily based on screens on which images could be projected set inside light wood frames. There were 5 large rolling cameras moving around the stage, as well as a large boom camera and one hand-held close up camera.
Each day of shooting seems to consist of filming two episodes. While we only see the finished production on TV, there is an enormous amount of work that goes into preparing each episode. When you look at the research into the backstory, the video production of the elements in the show, the film clips, securing the guests, and learning the substance of each show. Despite having a teleprompter and holding a binder with more details, Dr. Phil was impressive in his command of the facts and details surrounding the show. The amount of information he has to process for each show is vast and even with a few misstatements or periods where you could “hear” him re-processing info, his performance demonstrated a remarkable ability to capture info quickly.
The first episode was very interesting. The second, extremely disturbing.
The first one dealt with the false reporting of a hate crime, focusing on the incident in which Empire actor Jussie Smollett reported being attacked by two men in Chicago. There was a very interesting discussion with a number of commentators about the potential for a chilling impact on other hate crime victims. Not surprisingly, at least to me, the audience poll did not seem to support the concept that they would be less likely to believe a victim of a hate crime. In fact, the reality seemed to be that the audience was not particularly influenced by false report. The bigger issue, was whether law enforcement would become more skeptical. The data seems to show that only a tiny, tiny fraction of incidents seem to have been falsely reported, though how that data is measured seemed a bit suspect (i.e. is it based on “proven” falsity, recanted claims or only those that do not result in prosecution). There was a lot of discussion of the Smollett case in particular, and while there are quite a few inconsistencies in his story, the facts that seem most compelling to me are the facts about the night of the attack. Here are the things that Smollett apparently did after being attacked, having a noose placed on his neck and having bleach thrown on him:
- Went out in a polar vortex to pick up a Subway sandwich. This seems unlikely to me given that nobody wanted to go out in that weather. Seems more likely that he would have ordered in and also seems to make it more unlikely that the perpetrators would be out on the street.
- Walked calmly back to his building—still holding the Subway sandwich bag that he apparently went out to pick up. Seems to me that if you got attacked, you would not still be holding the Subway sandwich.
- Walked into his building without mentioning anything to the doorman. Seems to me that the doorman would know you fairly well at this point and there would be some discussion or some likelihood the doorman would see the noose around your neck
- Was still wearing the noose 45 minutes later when police arrived. Seems to me that you would want that taken off. I realize that victims are told to preserve trace evidence for forensics but I think most people would have removed it and put it on the counter.
To me, the weight of the evidence goes against Smollett, not because of the stories, but because the physical evidence doesn’t seem to support an attack. There should be more evidence of what happened given the magnitude of the attack.
It will be interesting to follow this story more closely after having seen this show.
After filming most of the show, it was interesting to watch the retakes of a few statements or intros that will be used on various parts of other episodes or substitute in for part of this episode. Dr. Phil came out to discuss a few points on the issues involved in this show before everyone was led outside for a break.
During the break, they supplied energy bars and bottles of water and people had a chance to hit the restrooms. After about 30 minutes, they led everyone back into the studio, in priority order again. People were put into different seats to give the appearance of different episodes. I got separated from my cohorts who were able to get placed closer to the stage, a decision they would later regret when they heard the content of the episode. I was placed in the last row which is still close to the stage. The entire studio holds less than 300 people per episode. Most notably, our row was given clear advice from the boom camera operator that we were not allowed to stand up, no matter what Dr. Phil asked from the audience. The camera came within quite close range to our heads throughout the episode.
As I mentioned early, the second episode was disturbing. It involved a woman who had been physically abused, sexually abused and literally tortured by the people purporting to be her own parents. Purporting because they were not her birth parents and they never formally adopted her. They took her from a home on a “trial” basis to see if she would be a fit for the couple, a preacher and his wife. They used her as a slave for the family members and the torture she suffered is truly unthinkable and unspeakable. Nevertheless, I will attempt to give a few examples, and as you read this list, keep in mind that this list is NOT exhaustive of the incidents that we heard about (and certainly not exhaustive of the suffering she went through):
- Thrown down the stairs strapped into her high-chair
- Fingers smashed with a hammer against the floor
- Portion of tongue ripped out with a pliers and hedge trimmer
- Repeatedly sexually assaulted
- Placed on a toilet and told not to move. Talc powder placed around the base of the toilet so that they could see if she stepped off the toilet. She was told that she would be beaten if they saw footprints in the talc. And then left there. For several days. With no food.
- Honestly, we heard so many other stories that I cannot recall right now, I am guessing because I blocked them out of my mind because they were so gruesome.
What was perhaps most disturbing in the story was hearing how many times the system failed her. At multiple points she was examined and evaluated, and each time, the relevant authorities returned her to the care of the parents. She had over 200 wounds, and scars and yet when a hospital evaluated her, they continued to put her back in that home.
Ultimately the parents were tried and sentenced. The victim still had feelings for her parents despite everything that they had done to her. It was amazing to hear her articulate that she still loved them in a weird way. She was nervous and fidgeting throughout the show. Her leg was constantly tapping and at various points she was in tears.
I cannot even fathom the abuse and torture she suffered, especially from parents. I cannot even begin to conceive of how another person could intentionally inflict this abuse on an ongoing basis. It seemed like the “mother” was the primary driving force and eventually was successful in persuading the “father” to cooperate with the abuse.
Walking out of the studio, the audience was mostly in a stunned silence. In contrast to the energy at the break after an interesting first episode, the mood was completely subdued.
Overall, it was a very interesting experience and unique opportunity to get a close-up view of the long running show.