Oprah Calling Up Dr. Phil

Oprah Winfrey plans to spin off one of her most popular self-help gurus into a new syndicated talk show. Winfrey’s Harpo Productions is developing a daytime talk show around psychologist Phil McGraw, according to sources close to King World Productions, distributor of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

King World is in talks with Harpo to distribute the new program, the sources added. Harpo officials denied that a syndicated talk show starring McGraw, a frequent Oprah guest, is in development, saying only that the company is in talks with McGraw about “a variety of projects.” King World officials declined comment.

Known to Oprah enthusiasts as Dr. Phil, McGraw has become one of the most popular guests on Winfrey’s top-rated syndicated talk show in recent years, dispensing relationship advice and other assorted life coaching.

An executive close to King World said Roger King, president and CEO of the company, has been in talks with Winfrey regarding the new show since at least the beginning of this year. A program could be launched as soon as fall 2002, the executive added.

With ratings down significantly for almost every syndicated talk show in daytime this year, buyers are enthusiastic about the project.

“Given the long-standing success of The Oprah Winfrey Show, any project that [Winfrey is] behind has a terrific chance of succeeding,” said Karen Van Prooyen, assistant media director for Starcom. “I also think that the episodes in which Dr. Phil appears are some of the most compelling episodes produced for her show.”

While Harpo and King World haven’t previously produced and distributed an Oprah spinoff themselves, Buena Vista Television is set to launch another frequent Oprah guest, self-help author Iyanla Vanzant, into daytime strip syndication next fall.

Buena Vista cleared the last major hurdle toward launching Iyanla last week, gaining a clearance on Los Angeles’ KNBC-TV. The show is cleared in most major markets, including WABC-TV in New York and WBBM-TV in Chicago.

-with Alan James Frutkin