How Much Is Dr. Phil Is Like 'Bull'?

by Kayla Hawkins

At first glance, Bull looks like any other legal procedural premiering in the fall of 2016, right? Well, I'm about to blow your mind, because Bull is based on the life of Dr. Phil McGraw. Yes, the same Dr. Phil who became famous on Oprah's show and went on to have his own talk show where he uses his psychologist background to give out advice to people who are struggling with their lives. But how accurate is Bull to Dr. Phil's life? It it just loosely based on the early career of the future television host, or was McGraw once really a TV-handsome tough-talking jury analyst? According to the cast and crew behind the show, it's a mix.

According to TV Guide, star Michael Weatherly, who looks way more like a typical primetime soap TV doctor than he does the actual TV doctor he's playing, told the TCA back in August that "it's not a real person at all. This is a show about people, but there's compressed time frames. There's jumps. It's storytelling." So right off the bat, the show's star wants you to know that, while he may be playing a role based on a real person, the characterization is all his. That's why you won't hear Weatherly try to recreate McGraw's signature drawl, and why the show's protagonist is named Jason Bull rather than Phil. Weatherly emphasized the same point in another interview with CBS (below).

As Weatherly mentioned to CBS, McGraw is executive producing the show, and according to TVGuide, Dr. Phil worked with Weatherly about the nature of his history as a legal consultant. Weatherly tells CBS he learned, "Phil is a guy who gets human behavior." And Weatherly described Dr. Jason Bull to People Magazine as "Part Machiavelli, part P.T. Barnum."

While Weatherly is playing the McGraw-inspired character with a slight con-man edge, executive producer Mark Goffman is excited about portraying the real-life industry that Dr. Phil helped to invent. "What a revelation this idea of trial science is, a field that Dr. Phil pioneered," Goffman told the Forth Worth Star Telegram. In the show, Dr. Bull uses his psychologist background to help trial lawyers choose juries that are predisposed to sympathize with and vote in favor of their clients. "What’s been exciting about this show,” Goffman said, “is peeling the veil back and saying, ‘It’s not just facts that move a case; it’s the human dynamic.'"

The idea of facts not really mattering in a court case is a little ethically terrifying to me, but to McGraw, it's an exciting aspect of the series, which he promises will be developed more as the episodes go by. He told the Star Telegram, "As we’ve gotten deeper into it, exploring more and more of the trial sciences, I think the show has really gotten its legs." When it comes to the science behind Bull's work, McGraw is guiding the ship and basing it on his personal work, but Dr. Phil's real life deviates from Dr. Bull's when it comes to the character and the actor who's happy to change things up and take some liberties.

Image: Jojo Whilden/CBS (2)