I’ve eagerly awaited my first copy of Dr.Oz’s The Good Life from Hearst. Given his successful daytime talk show, it was inevitable long before the announcement from the publisher that there would be a print magazine bearing his name. Oprah provided the model. Oz was a magazine waiting to happen.
From what I have seen, Dr. Oz’s television show is aimed at women in Middle America and at times is replete with props and exaggerated depictions of human anatomy. On today’s show, three women played a G.I. tract, a uterus, and a bladder, in that order, without any self-consciousness I could detect. There’s a celebratory feel to the show with the good doctor at times something of a barker. This is evident in his pushing of herbal remedies and other regimens considered outside of mainstream medicine. And this seems precisely his point.
This magazine is probably the only title to be launched by a major publisher this year, so it’s getting a lot of attention. Actually, I think health and fitness is one of the few categories that can sustain another big magazine of consequence. My first real magazine job was with Prevention, and I have nothing but respect for what Rodale has contributed to the sector, exploring non-traditional therapies a generation before Dr. Oz popularized them on television. The bedrock of Rodale’s health coverage could be found in the medical journals. Editors translated this information into language the lay person could understand. Now, every health editor can do this. It is no longer a competitive advantage. Today we want advice tinged with celebrity promise. And we want props.
While watching some of Dr. Oz’s shows, I was reminded a little of Bob Rodale, the late company president, who in his understated, decidedly non-celebrity way took on the medical establishment and its emphasis on cure rather than prevention. That has been Rodale’s editorial cornerstone since its launch seventy years ago. I sensed, somewhat nostalgically, that Dr. Oz would have been a perfect fit for an earlier Rodale, editorially speaking, but also realized Rodale was probably not the best home for the doctor, a driven celebrity who like Oprah is comfortable with his image on the magazine cover again and again. The closest Rodale got to this breed was with David Zinczenko, past Men’s Health honcho, television celebrity, author and New York man about town. When he became the de facto Men’s Health brand, the owners showed him the door. Dr. Oz doesn’t have to worry about that. Hearst, with its successful joint ventures with Oprah, The Food Network, and HGTV magazine, is the perfect home for The Good Life. The company understands celebrity.
Dr. Oz writes in his launch editor that “The battle for your health is going to be won in your kitchen, your bedroom, and your living room.” He “won’t be hesitant to make suggestions that aren’t yet proven by medicine just because certain areas haven’t been fully explored by science. My litmus test is this: Would I give that advice to my own family? If so, then you’ll find it here.”
About a year ago in an article in The New Yorker entitled, “The Operator,” author Michael Specter asks: “Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?” That is the subtitle and doesn’t really reflect the tone of the article. Tracker, a science blog from MIT, while praising Specter for his knockout piece, notes that the author “circles Oz slowly and attacks indirectly.” He is writing for The New Yorker after all and Oz casts a very large shadow.
Specter acknowledges that most advice on Dr. Oz’s television show is grounded in medical fact and science. On other occasions he suggests that the doctor’s descriptions of medical treatments as “startling, breakthrough, and miracle,” his giving air time to a spokesman for gay reparation therapy, his support of laying on of hands in the operating room, and his aggressive pushing of supplements, constitute an abdication of his medical responsibility. For Specter, “There is no hierarchy of evidence for Dr. Oz.” (The New Yorker, February 2, 2013).
From what I’ve seen of the television show, the article is spot on. There is a certain hyperbole in the show’s presentation and a touch of reality television when Dr. Oz asks his audience to handle a large intestine as if they are part of a Conga Line. On the other hand, this is also, Dr. Oz-style, Exaggerated Physiology 101 with wounded hearts, bulbous livers and arteries you could die for. This is daytime television and therefore theater with a touch of the absurd. The audience laps it up and apparently learns a lot.
That said, even though Dr. Oz is clear about the limits of traditional medicine, he has provided a forum for views that seem far outside the mainstream. The program on arsenic in apple juice, based on a discredited report, is one example. So is the session on miracle green coffee beans to burn fat fast. Giving air time to an osteopathic doctor who considers cancer a fungus that can be cured with baking soda seemed a little over the top.
In The New Yorker article, Dr. Oz the host is described by an associate as an “entertainer.” The show provides considerable latitude (and longitude, if you like) for medical entertainment that is likely essential for its survival. Dr. Oz manages to hold his time spot and his audience by telling women how many orgasms they should have a year if they want to improve their lives (around 200). Another doctor has called this kind of advice, “lunacy.” Someone else might call this advice, ratings.
The Good Life is a New Magazine from Dr. Oz. That is what the cover proclaims. The doctor’s photo is on the cover and his image appears about seven times throughout the issues, in different styles and different clothes. But this is not about vanity, as the personalization of “Oprah” sometimes appears to be. His image is always tied to specific medical advice. It hardly appears intrusive. This is exactly what the consumer is buying.
As a longtime editor and publisher, I usually pay attention to the masthead of new magazines. Hearst probably handles business partnerships and joint ventures as well as any media company in the world. With the veteran Ellen Levine sitting in the Editorial Director’s chair, there’s no chance the editorial will mimic daytime television or stray too far.
The premier issue of The Good Life has 148 pages with 66 pages of advertising. The magazine is blunt, cheery, and designed with Optimism that is also the doctor’s final page and last word. The editorial direction is subtle and organizes the magazines around categories including: Health + Happiness, Mind + Mood, Love, Family, and Friends, and Food + Recipes. The plus sign underscores an important theme of this magazine: everything is additive. I suspect it will grow on people.
This woman’s magazine has a couple of advantages. Advice about the power of kissing, the benefits of tea, and safer cat food is anchored in the medical literature but retains through deft editing the over-the-fence chat quality that Dr. Oz has perfected on his show. The Good Life is not filled with breakthrough medical advice; it doesn’t have to be. And that’s not what monthly magazines do anyway. The challenge of this magazine is to harness unselfconsciously the power of the Dr. Oz brand and let this power seep into to every piece of information, whether the doctor’s image is on the page or not. The reader knows that he is ubiquitous.
After camping out with a half-dozen Dr. Oz television shows, I must congratulate the editors of The Good Life for their exquisite restraint. The tone, brand, and point-of-view belong securely to Dr. Oz. The editors have made sure of that.
They honor their craft by remaining invisible.