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graduate of "Oprah University," Phil McGraw
(’76 M.A., ’79 Ph.D.) has taken daytime television
by storm — with only his benefactor ranking ahead of
him in the ratings since Dr. Phil the television show
debuted last September.
tough-talkin’ Texan, known for his pull-no-punches summations
of people’s lives and problems, first started dishing out
his advice on weekly appearances with Oprah after he helped her
defeat a slander lawsuit filed by the Texas cattle industry in 1996.
After some years of "sidekick" work, he cut the apron
strings (kind of) and launched his own daily talk show, which is
co-produced by Paramount Domestic Television in association with
Harpo Productions and King World Productions.
But before he went to school with Oprah, Phillip C. McGraw came
to North Texas for some schooling, earning his master’s degree
in experimental psychology and his doctorate in clinical psychology.
The North Texan caught up with Dr. Phil during a day of shooting
at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood to reminisce about his days in
Denton. As expected, the crown prince of talk TV had a lot to say.
The following are excerpts from that interview.
The professors at UNT who remember you say that in college you were
always driven. Would you agree that at that age you were very
driven, and are you still that way today?
A: I don’t know what driven means, but whenever I’m
involved in something, I always try to apply myself and do a good
job. It’s like here on the show — you can’t mail
this in. This is a very serious endeavor and I take it seriously.
I went to school at North Texas because I wanted to go to school
at North Texas. I’m very self-sufficient and I do what it
takes to achieve what
I want to achieve at any given time — if that’s a little,
I do a little; if it’s a lot,
I do a lot. I mean, you just do whatever you got to do to get where
you’re going. I don’t think that’s any different
from most people.
When I went to North Texas I wanted to get a really top-drawer
education. So when we would get a walk in a class, everybody’d
go, "Oh yeah, a walk!" But that wasn’t my attitude.
My attitude was, "You know what, I came here to get information — if
I hadn’t wanted to get the information, I’d have stayed
So, yes, I’m pretty passionate about things I do, and particularly
at this age, because I don’t have to do the things I don’t
want to, and I’ve got more things that I do want to do than
I can do.
Q: At North Texas you studied with G. Frank Lawlis, who is now
an adviser to the show, so I assume you value what he taught
you and still welcome his opinions?
absolutely. He always says he taught me everything I know and
I always say
he taught me everything he knows — just
chidingly, of course. He is, in my opinion, the most brilliant
and accomplished psychologist alive today, bar none. The guy is
a walking encyclopedia of psychological science and I recognized
that in him when I was in school.
I went to him and said, "I want you to be my major professor," and
we talked about it and he said, "You know, I’m not
the easiest guy in the world to study under, but if you want to
do it we’ll do it."
So we put it together and that started a relationship back in 1975
or ’76, and I’m very blessed to have him still in my
life. He has lived in different states but we’ve always stayed
in touch — we’ve always stayed involved with each other.
He’s been a great personal and professional influence in
And, honestly, at the time I was at North Texas, they just had
an absolutely all-star team on faculty. I mean they just had some
brilliant researchers, some brilliant practitioners and some great
teachers who I was very fortunate to encounter.
Q: Beyond the academics,
what do you remember about North Texas?
in general, and North Texas in particular, are among my wife
Robin’s and my fondest memories.
We loved everywhere we lived — loved all the little restaurants.
Really, we just loved the culture there. And North Texas is such
a music giant
and we love music, so we really
partook of all those opportunities.
We hardly ever missed a basketball game. That was an era when they
were really doing well and had just built a new coliseum and, boy,
we were there every single game. I played tennis there on the university
courts with other students and faculty.
So, we really immersed ourselves in the university life. Our friends
were at the university for the most part, but we also made friends
in the community itself who were then, and still are today, good
friends, and we get back there fairly often. We go up to basketball
games sometimes. We used to come up and eat at the Texas Pickup.
Now that it’s gone I guess there’ll be no more redneck
mothers or chili fries.
Q: What advice would you give to a student graduating from North
A: I think
the main advice I would give to them is: Take it serious while
you’re there. Understand that the classes you’re
bumping around in today, you’re going to be selling that
information tomorrow. You’re going to be selling that skill
set tomorrow, so take it very seriously. And then, when you come
out, find a way to apply that education that really suits you.
I’ve always had a philosophy — since the day I walked
out that door — to market my education in a non-traditional
way. I didn’t want to be
a face in the crowd. I didn’t want to
be just another psychologist ’cause
I knew there were a lot of good ones coming out of there and a
lot of other places.
So, I’d tell people to really think outside the mainstream
application about what they’re doing because you can’t
go through that university and not come out with a solid core education
in your field. They’re too good
at what they do there; it’s not a cattle call there like
at some of the gigantic universities.
Q: You spend a lot of
time talking about success and the bottom line in your books
and with your guests. For you, what is the bottom-line definition
a broad question. Success means different things in different
parts of my life, but overall if I have to define
ultimately what success means — the bottom line — then
for me it’s if the family is healthy and happy. You know,
if Robin is thriving and the boys are humming along, then everything
else pales in comparison and I feel like I’ve succeeded at
the most important thing.