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A dozen current and former employees have alleged that the Dr. Phil set is a “toxic workplace” in a report published Thursday in BuzzFeed News.
Workers say senior-level employees frequently verbally abused them on the set and guests were mistreated on the show, both of which detrimentally affected workers’ mental health, in the story by BuzzFeed News‘ Krystie Lee Yandoli, who also penned an investigation into alleged workplace misconduct at the Ellen DeGeneres Show set in 2020 that set off a series of apologies and producer dismissals at the Warner Bros. show. (The Ellen show is going off the air in 2022.) Only one former Dr. Phil employee with criticisms went on the record in the story, while other sources were anonymous, which, according to BuzzFeed News, is because those latter workers “fear retaliation and retribution.”
A spokesperson for the show said the story contained “verifiably and objectively false characterizations” and called the “unsubstantiated, anonymous claims relating to the show and its staff” in the story false.
In the story, one current and four former employees said that executive producer Carla Pennington screamed, swore and suggested she would fire people in the show’s control room. “It was traumatizing. It was the worst hour of your life,” one former employee said in the story. “There was full-blown yelling, calling people idiots and slamming doors, and it would not be acceptable in any other job in any other business. Then after, everybody’s upset and everybody’s crying.” (The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Pennington’s attorney; the BuzzFeed News story says her attorney denied all allegations.) A former Paramount Pictures page who rotated through the show, Tiffany Clark, said she was “mercilessly berated” by a more senior-level staffer, who is not named, and asked other co-workers to trade shifts with her as a result.
Regarding the treatment of guests, five employees alleged in the story that senior producers made fun of guests on the show, specifically people of color, “mimicking the way Black and Latino guests spoke.” When it came to booking guests, the workers claimed the show discouraged booking people who appeared “like trailer trash,” but preferred an upper-middle-class look and discouraged booking people of color.
The Dr. Phil spokesperson denied claims of mistreatment of guests in a statement: “Dr. Phil and our hard-working, diverse team of more than 200 proud staff, many of whom have been here for two decades, have sincerely and respectfully worked with thousands of appreciative guests.”
Several former employees discussed the effect that working on the show had on their mental health, with one alleging, “This show destroyed me mentally, emotionally and physically … They make you feel like not only are you not worth anything, every single day you’re told how shitty you are, how horrible your work is, yet you’re indispensable, so they don’t fire you.” None of the story’s sources ever saw Dr. Phil himself, Phil McGraw, mistreat employees or even witness the alleged abuse. However, Clark raises the question in the story, “How can he not know?” as sources claim that verbal abuse from senior-level staffers was common. (THR has reached out to McGraw’s attorney; that attorney denied all allegations in the BuzzFeed News story.)
According to BuzzFeed News, none of the sources for the story ever lodged a complaint with human resources or with unions out of fear of retaliation. Pennington’s publicist also reportedly referred BuzzFeed to seven current and former employees who denied claims of racism and said they had never heard Pennington speak ill of a guest or yell at or insult staffers.
THR has previously reported on McGraw’s controversial chief content adviser, Frank Lawlis, whose methods have drawn criticism and even been considered dangerous by the medical community. Dr. Phil also had insiders “raising eyebrows,” THR reported, in early 2021 when the series kept production going through skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers, at a time when several major studios had delayed filming. At the time, a Dr. Phil spokesperson said that the show was continuing to follow CDC and L.A. County health guidelines.
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