WHY THIS MATTERS: Longevity is the goal in syndication, and SPT’s Dr. Oz enters rarefied company as it enters its 10th season this fall.
Just like in life, one of the secrets to long-term success in syndication is evolve or die. It’s a maxim that Dr. Mehmet Oz and his production team have long taken to heart and that’s why Sony Pictures Television’s The Dr. Oz Show is one of the fortunate few to make it to season 10.
“What’s helped is every year we look at where we are going and where Oz wants to go,” executive producer Amy Chiaro said. “As a result, today we are able to go deeper and help viewers make sense out of a chaotic world.”
“The Dr. Oz Show is about to celebrate its 10th season because viewers are seeking the information we deliver, and the producers evolve the show constantly to reflect viewers’ tastes,” John Weiser, president, first-run television, Sony Pictures Television, said.
One of the big changes Dr. Oz has made over the past two seasons or so is covering true crime on Tuesdays and Thursdays under the umbrella of “science, medicine and mystery.”
“When you are constantly tweaking and developing a show, you are always looking for new areas to enter and we saw a real strategic opportunity in true crime,” Chiaro said. “We knew we could create a science and medicine tie to the topic.”
In season 10, one of the show’s first true-crime episodes will focus on the Golden State Killer, revealed through DNA evidence in April to be 72-year-old former Navy veteran and police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 32 years after his last known crime was committed. The show is hoping to book a former girlfriend of DeAngelo and explore the case a little further.
“I’ve always been interested in forensics,” Oz said. “We are using the lens of medicine to look at topics like crime and death. My audience trusts me to teach them about how their bodies work, they can trust me to teach them about how crime works as well.”
The show always has dipped into mental as well as physical health, and on the true-crime beat, Oz explores criminals’ psychological states.
“We are asking questions like what makes sociopaths, what creates pathology and do you have evil in you? Could you do something like this?” Oz said. “We all have a little bit of wackiness in us, that’s who we are. If we were perfect, there wouldn’t need to be love.”
To better cover true crime, the show works with correspondent Melissa Moore, daughter of Keith Hunter Jesperson, known as the Happy Face Killer. This fall, the show will launch a true-crime podcast hosted by Moore.
To that end, the show is constantly working toward expanding its content and thus its brand. Oz himself launched a podcast in May through the production auspices of How Stuff Works, in which he gets into longer interviews with show guests and others.
“One of the best thing about TV is that I get to call on people I want to learn from,” he said. “On the podcast, I get to do that, only with audio, and I can create deeper dives than I can on the show.”
Also helping to expand the brand is the show’s growing social-media presence, which currently boasts 11.5 million viewers on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Oz also frequently does sessions on Facebook Live, which “hopefully brings a different set of eyeballs to the show,” co-executive producer Stacy Rader said.
Stations appreciate everything that the show has done to keep itself timely, topical and relevant over the years.
“They did a very good job this year with their digital and online efforts,” Frank Cicha, senior VP, programming, Fox Television Stations, said. The Fox owned stations have renewed Dr. Oz through the 2020-21 season. “They had clips on Facebook that were topical and long, two- and three-minute clips about things that people were really interested in. For example, when Tom Petty died, they did a segment and put it on Facebook the next day and then worked with our stations to get it to their websites through Facebook. The more ways you can integrate things like that, the better.”
Even though the show emerged from the auspices of Oprah Winfrey and her Harpo Productions banner, it wasn’t always assured that Dr. Oz was going to last. The show premiered in 2009 when audiences were really starting to fragment, making it increasingly difficult for any daytime show to aggregate strong ratings. Even today, the show’s ratings hover just over a 1.0 in households, averaging a 1.1 season to date through May 20.
“They should be commended for creating a show that’s been on for 10 years,” said Emerson Coleman, senior VP, programming, Hearst Television. “That’s quite a feat, especially given the fragmentation of the marketplace. Competition is really fierce and this show has had to evolve. They’ve evolved and they’ve done it successfully.”
Looking ahead to season 10, “we want to celebrate 10 years by looking forward to the next 10,” Chiaro said. “We really want to envision the path forward by looking at changes that have occurred in Dr. Oz’s life since he started the show — he’s become an empty-nester and a grandfather. Celebrities will come on and talk about their next 10 years as well.”
The show also has compiled a long list of celebrities that Dr. Oz has never interviewed on the program, such as Beyoncé and former President Barack Obama, although Michelle Obama has been a guest several times. LeBron James is also on the list, although Dr. Oz, Ciaro and Rader very recently got a surprise chance to meet the NBA star while out to dinner in Los Angeles.
Even with all the evolution, the key to Oz’s success remains the show’s ability to connect with the needs of its viewers, Oz said.
“Fundamentally, we are in the change business,” Oz said. “If you can get people to change, you can last on television for 10 years.”