TV doctor alleges racism in Dr. Phil family empire
ViacomCBS and the production company co-founded by TV doctor Phil McGraw are facing allegations of racism on the medical show, "The Doctors."
On Monday, the show's former host, Dr. Ian Smith, filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging race discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.
Smith, who is Black, alleged that he was subjected to racially insensitive remarks and that producers were dismissive of his complaints about the lack of diversity among the staff and guests who appeared on the syndicated show.
According to the complaint, the top producer brushed off Smith's concerns about diversity, saying: "We have you as the host. That's what matters."
Smith, an expert in physical medicine and rehabilitation, alleged in his complaint that he was abruptly fired in January after complaining about racially insensitive remarks overheard on a Zoom call.
Smith said he learned of his ouster from his agent, who heard the news from the show's executive producer, Patty Ciano, and McGraw's son, Jay McGraw, who owns the show and Los Angeles-based Stage 29 Productions. The latter was named for the soundstage that is home to "Dr. Phil." CBS Media Ventures distributes the show.
"'The Doctors' show has an extremely hostile work environment," Smith said in an interview Monday. "It has a tremendous disregard for diversity and it is extremely abusive to those who speak up with concerns about behavior or about the culture of inequity."
A spokesperson for CBS declined to comment.
Smith's allegations come five months after another Black doctor who co-hosted the show, Dr. Rachael Ross, complained about her treatment in a story in the New York Post.
Among her complaints were that producers seemed uninterested in featuring Black patients in medical segments, unless the story was about weight loss. In his filing, Smith cited Ross' complaints "about a lack of diversity and racism."
CBS has been reeling from allegations of racism and misogyny in its chain of 28 TV stations following a Los Angeles Times investigation. Two top station executives were ousted, and CBS reorganized the unit and brought in new leadership. CBS also retained attorney Keisha-Ann Gray of the Proskauer Rose law firm to investigate misconduct complaints in the stations division.
Smith's complaint alleges that after he was fired, he met with CBS Chief Executive George Cheeks, who allegedly expressed displeasure about the situation at the McGraw-produced show and assigned a compliance officer to investigate.
Jay McGraw created "The Doctors" in 2008, following the success of "Dr. Phil," which remains one of TV's most popular syndicated shows. The McGraw family has a production deal with CBS, and it is behind some of the broadcaster's most lucrative assets, including "Dr. Phil" and the CBS prime-time drama, "Bull."
"The Doctors" has witnessed declining ratings in recent years. The production moved to Connecticut from Los Angeles last year.
Jay McGraw did not respond to a call for comment left at his office.
Smith is a graduate of Harvard College, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.
Previously, he was a medical contributor to the "Rachael Ray Show" and NBC's "Today." He was a member of former President Barack Obama's Council for Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. He also is a novelist and an author of bestselling weight loss books, including "Shred: The Revolutionary Diet."
Smith initially appeared on "The Doctors" as a co-host during the 2013 season, when Ross also was one of six medical experts. During that time, Smith complained the African American hosts were marginalized and paid less than their white counterparts.
Smith was not invited to return for the 2014 season. Separately, Ross left the show after three seasons.
But a year ago, weeks after George Floyd's murder by a white Minneapolis police officer, Smith said in his complaint he received a text message from Ciano, the show's LA-based executive producer. They wanted him back on the show, but Smith was still troubled over his 2013 experience. The show was changing its format, and Smith said he was told he would be the sole host. (The show's popular white host, Dr. Travis Stork, announced last summer on Instagram that he was leaving the program)
Around the same time, Smith said in an interview that Jay McGraw also expressed interest in bringing him back because of "all that was going on in the country. He said this was an important step for the show to take."
Ciano assured Smith that, since 2013, "things had changed for the better, the show would be committed to fair treatment, and there would not be any discriminatory behavior," according to the complaint.
"I believe in second chances, and that people can change — that's why I went back," Smith said in the interview. He said he initially raised concerns that of 23 producers, only three were Black and there were no high-level Black executives involved in creative aspects of the show. The complaint alleged that Smith was told the show didn't have the budget to hire more Black producers, but that two white producers were subsequently hired.
"They thought having Dr. Ian as the face of the show exempted them from diversity," Smith's attorney, Rick Ostrove, of the Leeds Brown law firm in New York, said in an interview.
In October, Smith alleged that Ciano complimented his physique. "She said he needed to wear tighter clothes and fewer sweaters so people could see his body," according to the complaint. "These comments made Dr. Ian uncomfortable as he felt objectified."
Smith alleged his suggestions that the show bring on more Black medical experts and guests were occasionally greeted with questions about whether Black guests would be articulate. When he suggested an accomplished Black doctor from Atlanta, Ciano asked: "Can she talk in a way so viewers will understand her?" The Atlanta doctor never appeared on the show.
The complaint also alleged that show bookings often featured talent who had financial ties with McGraw's company, including hosts of its Stage 29 Podcasts.
Smith often taped the show from his Chicago home because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. By early this year, the show's producers began relying more heavily on a second host, Dr. Andrew Ordon, a white plastic surgeon in Los Angeles.
On Jan. 22, after the completion of a taping of a show segment on Zoom, Smith remained on camera to chat with the Black guest, Jacqueline Walters. During their conversation, Smith expressed concerns about the portrayal of African Americans on Walters' show, "Married to Medicine."
Smith said in his filing the Zoom call was still being recorded, and soon he overheard three white producers speaking about him. One allegedly said: "Just because he's Black, he thinks he can talk to a guest like that."
When he raised the issue with the executive producer, Smith said he was told the producers were "tired after a long week and [were] just venting about their bosses."
Four days after the Zoom incident, Smith said he was let go and replaced by Ordon.
"Even after Dr. Ian's complaints, CBS did nothing to remedy the situation and instead fired him," Ostrove said in an interview. "If my client didn't complain about racism, he would still be the host of 'The Doctors.' "