It’s taken him less time to learn how to be a TV star then it did to finish medical school. Heading into his fifth year as host of “The Doctor Oz Show,” Mehmet Oz, 52, has become one of the most recognized faces on Earth. One of the top cardiothoracic surgeons of his generation is also now the go-to guy for housewives around the world looking to drop belly fat. “I had no interest in this,” says Oz, who, despite a frenzied TV production schedule still sees patients at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights on Thursdays, where he does rounds and heart surgeries. For nonurgent cases, th ere’s a three-week waiting list for an appointment with the doctor.
That he’s joined daytime TV’s top earners and become the fourth-most-watched syndicated TV host (behind Ellen DeGeneres and ahead of Maury Povich) is a career afterthought.
“It’s really my wife’s fault,” the father of four says of his TV career. “She was moping around about how many of my patients didn’t appreciate how they had brought these illnesses upon themselves and the things that they could have done to avoid me doing invasive procedures on them.
“You can’t deliver that message in the long green corridor to the operating room,” says Oz.
Television, however, offered the perfect means to blast his message to millions at once.
“I had never thought about the media as a way of talking to my patients, and in fact it’s a much better way to talk to them, because I can talk to people who would never be my patients.”
Oprah Winfrey thought so too. She booked him so many times on her own daytime show that she eventually created one for him. Oz quickly seized the opportunity, using his tremendous platform as a bully pulpit to focus on medical issues he feels strongly about.
In 2011 the apple industry turned sour when Oz, who was nominated for his fifth and sixth Emmy awards last week, said apple juice naturally contained dangerous amounts of arsenic .
Even after the FDA found that drinking all brands of apple juice is safe and blasted the report as “irresponsible,” Oz stood by his investigation. Despite the controversy, Oz has never been sued for such reports, as each detail is painstakingly researched before he goes on TV. His mentor, Winfrey, however, has been slapped with lawsuits for similar investigative pieces.
“All we’re looking to do is start a conversation,” says Oz of his efforts.
On Tuesday’s show he revealed a six-month hidden-camera investigation into the back pain industry, where Oz says dangerous $2,000 steroid-laced spine injections are overprescribed to clueless patients by doctors who may only be looking to boost their bottom lines.
“There’s a lot of money in epidural steroid injections, and in the history of our show we have faced some really big crises. Each time the folks that are the decision makers have said if we don’t do this show, we don’t need to have a show,” says Oz. “But whether it’s arsenic in apple juice or taking on epidural steroid injections, you get a lot of heat from some unexpected places,” he said.
“We’ve had similar conversations about arsenic in apple juice and mercury in our mouths [fillings],” he said. “That second one is a very unpopular subject, but if most of the dentists in the U.S. are not using mercury [fillings] anymore, don’t you think we should know about that? People might get mad at us or boycott us, and I get that, but if everyone’s completely happy, we’re probably not doing our job.”
To illustrate the danger of stabbing people in the back with a needle, Oz and his producers relied on drama in the show to prove their point.
Some people in the studio gasped as he jammed the business end of a syringe the size of a baby's arm between two dinosaur-sized vertebrae and squirted blue goop onto a tangle of plastic yellow tubes the doctor said served as the spinal cord.
Oz, who earns an estimated $4 million a year from his show, had them eating out of the palm of his hand.
He drew widespread attention in 1995 when he helped found the Complementary Care Center at Columbia Presbyterian. Like Oz, the center saw value in alternative therapies. In 1996, Oz landed on the front pages when he assisted Dr. Eric Rose in the heart transplant performed on Frank Torre, the brother of Joe Torre, the Yankees’ manager at the time.
Despite his frequent visits on “Oprah,” Oz came across on TV in his early days as a bit stiff and wooden — too much like a surgeon and not enough like the kindly country doctor to whom people would flock for advice.
“He’s a great student,” says executive producer Amy Chiaro. “We took him away from being world-class master surgeon and focused more of his time on being a general practice, country doctor, which is more about not spending time with your patient at the time of crisis,” she said.
“He had this whole beautiful side to him that people were not able to see and that’s what we put the emphasis on. He has a tremendous bedside manner, he has a lot of deep emotional ties to his patients, and we kept saying to him: ‘This is the embodiment of what your show can be.’ ”
Mindy Borman, the show’s other executive producer, adds, “For him, this show is all about getting to the root of a problem.”
Roots of a different sort are behind a big move for the show this summer. “The Dr. Oz Show” is moving from NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where it shares a floor and hallways with “The Jimmy Fallon Show.”
The close living quarters have sometimes made for awkward pairings. Since guests from both shows sometimes wait in the hall to go on stage, goiter-striken older ladies from Milwaukee have been known to mingle pleasantly with A-listers like Nicole Kidman and Samuel L. Jackson.
But as Fallon expands his studio while preparing to take over the “Tonight” show, “Dr. Oz” is being pushed over to ABC’s upper West Side studios.
Oz’s new neighbors will be “The View” and Katie Couric.
“I remember getting to the end of my first year [as a host] and Oprah asked me how it was going,” says Oz. “I looked at her and said, ‘It’s just so hard,’ and without blinking she goes: ‘Just trying do it for 25 years!’ ”
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Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07