Mr. TV: The Land of Oz

Nurtured by daytime icon Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Mehmet Oz has the built-in advantage of recognition as host of his own daily talk show. And despite high expectations The Dr. Oz Show has lived up to the hype. Four months in and the Sony Pictures Television show is now the highest-rated freshman syndicated talker since Dr. Phil from CBS Television Distribution. Buzz already points to Oz as the one most likely to inherit a portion of the early fringe time periods Oprah’s exit in fall 2011 will open up. I had a chance to talk with Oz himself.

How has this experience been overall? This is more similar to heart surgery than you would ever expect. What I do here, which is always what I do in the operating room, is to give the people I work with the autonomy to do what they do better than I can. It’s like a choreographed dance, and if you get in their way, the end result will never be as good.

How has this changed your life? Oprah recently asked me if it has happened yet: “Do people stop you now and alter what you would normally do in your life because they recognize you?” And, yes, that is exactly what has happened. People are very respectful…they have problems and are looking for answers.

I just viewed six different segments on one show. Is it difficult to put an hour like this together? This show is not just about telling you what to do but examining why you don’t already do it. So, yes, it is a challenge. We like to give our viewers a voice. People write in all the time asking for help. We’re all screw-ups and can all use some help.

You’re a screw-up? When was the last time you had a Big Mac? Oh, it’s not just about food. My problem is I can just engulf myself in work and lose all connection elsewhere. Whenever I am at a restaurant, people seem to want to know what I am eating. They want to see if I practice what I preach. None of us are perfect, myself included, which is why I think we can make a lot of shows because we are examining people as they fail.

Do you follow your ratings? Once a week we go over them. I analyze the ratings to analyze the show. I want to see what segments are working and what are not. But I do not follow them religiously. The challenge for me—and the show—is to continue to engage an audience that passionately wants to feel better but does not know how to get out of its own way. That is not a challenge that is simple to overcome, and it is one that will take years to address, which for a talk show is a good thing.

What has not worked on the show? Remember the recent breast cancer issue? For the only time this season, we took a show out that we were doing and squeezed in a mammogram show and it only did OK. It wasn’t like it blew out the ratings. People come to us for our own perspective, our own lens, on what we think is important for you to hear, and not to compete with a much more effective, well-oiled news machine.

What lies ahead for The Dr. Oz Show? In January we are going to do a big blow-out week where we address weight, energy, habits, sleep, depression and sex. Sex to me is a way to test the relationship not just with your spouse but with your body. It’s a way of revving your engines. Did you know that the average American has sex one time per week…56 times per year, actually? If you double that, you will increase your life expectancy by about three years.