While perched in front of the American League playoffs this week, I was introduced for the first time to one Dr. Mehmet Oz. During the local commercial breaks, he plugged his new syndicated series, "The Dr. Oz Show," via a handful of simpleminded, half-explained "fan facts." Thus, unwitting baseball viewers entombed in a shallow grave of pork-rind crumbs were treated to such nuggety pearls o' wisdom as "Ice is nature's Advil." Or something.
My interest piqued, I donned my protective research headgear and went to work. Turns out that Dr. Oz is an author, an accomplished surgeon and a certified Friend Of Oprah, and thus somebody with whom an alleged media critic should long ago have become acquainted. To make up for lost time, I checked out a week's worth of "The Dr. Oz Show," figuring I'd atone by immersing myself in his well-scrubbed banter.
Given the way the show has been marketed -- previews for the episodes I watched featured solemn intonations about "Information! Every! Parent! Must! Know!" set to an ominous backdrop of low-octave synthesizers -- I expected Dr. Oz to traffic in fact-free alarmism. The first few minutes of each episode did nothing to convince me otherwise. Each kicked off with an "Inside Edition"-type video surveying the episode's headline topic, complete with artistic camera tremors and scratched-up footage. Upon returning to the studio, the show zoomed in on audience members with mouths alternately agape and down-turned, their heads shaking in sad what-about-the-children-won't-somebody-please-think-of-the-children? disapproval.
But then a funny thing happened: Dr. Oz started talking. When he did, the scare-you-into-submission outlook upon which his show appeared to be premised went by the wayside. He spoke softly and plainly, presenting his health and wellness information in a way that was at once nuanced and easily digestible. He interacted with audience members without talking down to them, answering their (often bizarre) questions non-judgmentally and involving them in the show (via bits like "Name That Hormone") smoothly.
That's high praise. There isn't much precedent for daytime shows that thrive without titillation or the dangling of fabulous appliances. Dr. Oz sidesteps the hysterical bent of most health-news coverage -- "Swine flu in eight local schools! To find out which ones, tune in at 11!" -- and focuses on conveying actionable information. As a result, he's now one of the four omnipresent mainstream media beings I could conceivably trust (the three others are Stephen Colbert, Gail Collins and Marmaduke).
Among TV bloviators, Dr. Oz alone resists quick, hysterical conclusions. He makes room for opinions other than his own. Take the way Dr. Oz tackled his lead topics on Tuesday and Wednesday. He approached the first day's survey of teen sex with uncharacteristic-for-TV restraint, stressing open, frank dialogue with one's offspring (and giving tips on how to forge a dialogue that doesn't mortify either of the participating parties) rather than recommending blacksmiths who specialize in chastity belts. On Wednesday, he surveyed the issue of contaminated tap water without calling for all citizens to start hoarding canned goods and lanterns.
I also admire the way his show accommodates marketers without over-flogging the virtues of their products. In at least one segment per episode, Dr. Oz illustrates his advice by putting a bunch of stuff on a table and explaining its role in preserving one's well-being. Several brands are featured in those segments -- Dove's moisturizers, GE's tap-water filtration thing-a-ma-bobs -- but without an accompanying name-drop. In each instance, association with the marketer feels unobtrusive and doesn't compromise the credibility of the advice or the individual conveying it. That's a tough line to toe.
I don't watch daytime TV because I have a job and a tendency to spend my few spare moments outdoors. But if the worst-case scenario came to pass -- unemployment, abandonment by family and friends, the enactment of constitutional amendments banning reading and napping -- "The Dr. Oz Show" would instantly become my morning/afternoon mainstay.
Yes, the good doctor presents health information in a manner so breezy as to occasionally downplay its import, which makes it go down like a bitter pill coated with butterscotch. I get that. Nonetheless, "The Dr. Oz Show" is an oasis of sanity and responsibility at a time of day where both are in short supply. Dismiss it as both a reliable source of information and a marketing partner, at your own risk.