On the surface, there's no obvious winner in this TV Smackdown. While Dr. Oz comes to us bearing not only an Emmy but the stamp of approval from none other than Oprah herself, “The Doctors” is no slouch in daytime TV’s quest to make us just a little more neurotic our health, either. The show has won an Emmy and is just one step removed from the Queen of Television: it’s executive produced by none other than “Oprah” alum Dr. Phil. But just as all herpes sores and dog foods aren’t alike (see below), neither are these TV shows. Okay, not the prettiest parallel I could draw there, but consider yourself warned.
Episode: “How Old Will You Be When You Die?
First Topic: As Dr. Mehmet Oz informs us, no one really wants to think about this whole dying business. Really, Dr. Oz? So why devote a show to it? You know we can change the channel, don’t you? Anyway, we are quickly introduced to Jay, who’s going to have to think about dying possibly a little sooner than he expects to. Jay is 43-years-old, eats gobs of brisket, doesn’t exercise and has probably gained 70 pounds in the last thirteen years. Dr. Oz asks him how long he expects to live. With a completely straight face, Jay replies that he thinks he’s going to live to be 80, 90 years old. I’m guessing he’s putting way too much stock in the idea that we’ll soon have jet packs, eternal life machines and fish that taste just like hot dogs.
Dr. Oz does not laugh at Jay, but gives him a quiz. We can take the same quiz on his website, which you may want to keep in mind if you, like Jay, consider barbecue sauce a beverage. Jay does not do well on this quiz. He has high blood pressure, high cholesterol and he’s just not a healthy guy. He considers himself outdoorsy and active because he hunts and fishes. Oh, Jay. Jay, Jay, Jay. So, according to the quiz, Jay will die at age 57. Jay is wrecked. I put down the sandwich I'm eating for lunch and get a container of Brussels sprouts out of the fridge and eat them cold. I’m not even kidding. Dr. Oz nods sympathetically and does not tell Jay it’s his own damn fault. He’s very good at this bedside manner thing, Dr. Oz.
Sappy Stuff: Dr. Oz informs Jay it’s now time for him to see what he’s going to miss when he dies. Seriously? This is like one of those true crime reenactments, but drippy, manipulative and no one gets to call a tipline and turn in some scumbag. We see age progressions of Jay’s kids, a church that his daughter could theoretically get married in if she a) gets married and b) marries a guy who wants to get married in a church. Big assumption, Dr. Oz. This segment is pretty much designed to make Jay cry. Dr. Oz wants everyone to live longer. Or he’ll send them into diabetic shock with goopy segments like this one.
More Sappy Stuff: Oh, yay. Jay’s friends have taped messages for him. They love him and don’t want him to die. I want a cow to be interviewed, so it can say it wants Jay to die so he’ll stop eating his friends.
Helpful Tips: Now, thank God, it’s time for Jay to learn how he can live longer. A series of different doctors flit in to give Jay helpful tips. This feels a bit like Dorothy in Oz (Oz!) except Dorothy is a fat, middle-aged man and the Cowardly Lion is checking his blood glucose levels.
A cardiologist says she has a secret weapon to help Jay: eat chicken and fish and not burgers and brisket. Also, eat less crap and more fruits and veggies. This is a secret weapon? A functional medicine specialist says that, to prevent diabetes, Jay needs to eat small frequent meals, stop eating sugar and eat protein at every meal. And no more barbecue sauce, because it’s all sugar. Oh, and he should take glucomannan supplements, which reduce the amount of sugar and fat that goes into your blood stream and help you lose weight. Dr. Robynne wants Jay to stop boozing to reduce his risk of cancer of the esophagus. And Dr. Oz wants Jay to lose 70 pounds. What will all of this do for Jay? Losing the weight will give him eight years and cutting out booze (in large quantities) will give him seven years. If he sees a doctor on a regular basis, he’ll live to be 79. If he fixes his sleep apnea, he’ll make it to 81. Not bad. Jay is excited and grateful. I continue eating Brussels sprouts.
Second Topic: Jay isn’t the only fat guy on the show. We meet Larry the bulldog. He’s overweight and has bad breath. Larry does not play fetch. He eats table scraps. He sits at the table and eats tacos. Larry is going to die. He doesn’t belong to Jay, but he might as well, really.
Dr. Oz informs us that Larry must enter the truth tube. The truth tube is a scale. Wow, can I call my refrigerator the coldness conditioner and my washing machine the magical land of soap and freshness? Larry is 60 pounds. His waist size is 28 inches. The audience oohs a little timidly, because no one knows what a bulldog is supposed to weigh. And we don’t find out here, either. But we do learn that you need to take your dog to the vet twice a year, not once a year. Your dog should be exercised twice a day for 15-20 minutes each time. And you must feed them Pedigree or they will die. Okay, that’s not entirely accurate, but the product placement here is just disgusting. You should also brush your dog’s teeth. Pedigree has x-shaped bits that are almost as good as brushing! Plug, plug, plug! And dogs need fiber. You can get that in Pedigree! Everyone in the audience gets a care package from Pedigree. Gee, that’s a surprise.
Fun and Games: Dr. Oz invites two women from the audience to battle it out, game show style, in something called Germ Edition. He gives each woman a scenario, then invites them to buzz in with the answer. We learn that you should microwave your sponge and your washing machine should be cleaned with one quart of bleach. The winner gets a bag of cleaning supplies with Dr. Oz rubber gloves. She seems pretty excited about this. Maybe she can sell them on eBay.
Wrapping UP: We sum up with a little segment called In Case You Missed It. Dr. Oz reminds us to take a take a fish oil supplement, use low sugar rubs instead of barbecue sauce, take glucomannan with water and not to drink alcohol after 7pm. Okay, he covered some of this during the show, but not all of it. So, is this really in case I missed it or is it a few things I missed and other stuff they didn’t have time for?
Episode: Health Scare Experiment
Awkward Intro: Because we have four doctors on the panel, I guess somebody thought it would be fun to kick things off with casual chatter, “The View”-style. But it’s not fun. It’s weird. The doctors come up with some of the most horrible segues you can imagine. Everybody has herpes! So don’t have unprotected sex! Lots of people drink when they have unprotected sex! You know what happens when you drink? You might have a stroke! You know what’s worse than a stroke? Your kid gets busted for bringing pot to school! That happened! To a three-year-old! Oh my Lord, this is making my head hurt.
First Topic: It’s time for The Health Scare Experiment. Not health care, mind you, health scare. Tammy is a smoker and a wife and a mother. Her pregnant teen daughter doesn’t want her baby to catch asthma from Grandma. There are so many issues with this situation I can’t even start and none of them have much to do with Tammy’s smoking. Anyway, time to get scared.
Weird Fake Stuff No. 1: Tammy goes to oncologist Dr. Lawrence Piro with her mom, who looks younger than she does. Smoking really is bad for your looks! The doctor is going to do a scan of her lungs. Dramatic, ominous music plays. Oh no! She has a tumor in her left lung! The doctor tells Tammy, her mom and her kids that she has incurable stage 3 lung cancer. She has just two years to live. Everyone cries halfheartedly because they are not professional actors and this is totally fake. The doctor tells Tammy to get her affairs in order. Her pregnant daughter is kinda disappointed to hear this. Yeah, not professional actors and not working from a script, either. Finally, the doctor says that was all a simulation. The scan wasn’t real and it was a mock diagnosis. Psyche!
Weird Fake Stuff No. 2: Oh, now they’re going to put a 40 pound vest on Tammy and stuff her nose AND make her climb stairs so she feels wheezy. Tammy thinks this is hard! Oh, now she’s in a wheelchair and an oxygen mask. Her daughters are sad! Kind of!
Next, Dr. Travis Stork re-introduces us to Bill, who was previously on the show for his smoking and was treated to sad fake stuff, too. Bill watched a video of what life would be like for his family if he died. Amazingly, he hasn’t smoked since and did not choke on his own vomit while watching the video. Dr. Richard Hurt phones in from the Mayo Clinic to say, basically, it’s hard to quit smoking and good for you, Bill. Um, okay. Dr. Stork then informs us that it’s never too late to stop smoking. Within twenty minutes your heart rate slows and your blood pressure goes down. Within a month, lung function improves. Your risk of cancer is drastically reduced. So, in short, stop smoking. Dr. Stork asks Tammy if she’s willing to change her story. She is! These weird fake things work!
Second Topic: Alzheimer’s disease is next. Great. This is just such a fun episode.
Weird Fake Stuff No. 3: One of our doctors, Dr. Jim Sears, is going to simulate what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s by putting on special gloves, goggles, noise blaring headphones and shoe inserts. Then, he tries to follow some simple instructions. He does some of the things but forgets others. He wants to sit down. He feels depressed. We go back into the studio and Dr. Sears is crying just thinking about what it was like to stumble around the house. He hopes he never gets Alzheimer’s. But then we learn that one in ten men and one in six women are at risk. So he might! We all might! And it will be like wearing goggles and listening to static on headphones! But I'm guessing worse! Dr. Andrew Ordon’s mom died of Alzheimer’s, so he starts crying. I am so depressed right now I wish I could forget this whole episode. But no, it’s time for fun facts about Alzheimer’s. It’s just like regular aging, but worse. You might have a hard time balancing your checkbook. Oh great, I already have a hard time balancing my checkbook. I’m dying in a slow and horrible way. Thank you, “The Doctors.”
Celebrity Appearance: Punky Brewster, aka Soleil Moon Frye, is on next. Her dad has Alzheimer’s. She has learned to live in the moment. Her father hid his Alzheimer’s. She says young people are getting Alzheimer’s. And you can tell because they have trouble balancing their checkbooks! Aaagh! Okay, she didn’t say that, but I’m just freaking out now. Punky smiles and that’s the end of her segment. Wow, that was quick. Did she have an appointment or something?
Third segment: Next we tackle drunk driving. A nice young lady named AJ will be testing a driving simulator while getting progressively hammered. It takes just two drinks to make AJ blotto, and while she says she’s frightened thinking of the harm she could do behind the wheel, her drunk driving isn’t too terrible. She misses a turn and goes a little fast, which means she’s a better driver than 90 percent of the people on the roads in Los Angeles.
Wrapping Up: Dr. Lisa Masterson tells us to take five minutes to write down things we’re grateful for every day. Thanks, Oprah.
The Verdict: Maybe I just don’t like being hammered over the head with re-enactments and maudlin goodbyes for people who aren’t (as far as we know) actually dying, but “Dr. Oz” wins by a landslide. Yes, both shows enjoy squeezing tears out of their miserable guests, but “The Doctors” is happier putting viewers through tiresome “scare treatments” than giving us any concrete information. Watching “The Doctors,” I discovered that if I get Alzheimer’s I’ll bump into furniture, if I smoke I’ll wheeze walking up flights of stairs and that three-year-olds are taking pot to school these days. Obvious, not helpful and scary. Watching “Dr. Oz,” I actually learned a few things (had you heard of glucomannan tablets?). If you just want to be sent on a tailspin of worry and be hammered with facts you already know, by all means watch “The Doctors.” But if you want to learn something (and can tune out some over-the-top product placement), try “Dr. Oz.” The only side effect may be eating cold Brussels sprouts in a desperate attempt to increase your cruciferous vegetable intake. Eh, it could be worse.