September 18, 2012
Dr. Drew Pinsky may seem like he's everywhere when it comes to sex, relationship and addiction advice. He's been the host or been featured in a bevy of TV shows, from "Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew" and "Strictly Dr. Drew" to "Teen Mom" and "16 And Pregnant." But the show that took Pinsky from being a med student to where he is now is Loveline, the KROQ-based night-time advice show Dr. Drew has co-hosted for almost 30 years - currently with "Psycho Mike" Catherwood and Simone Bienne. Through the years, Drew has helped refresh the show by focusing on new personal issues using entertainment as am effective way to relay information. Here's Dr. Drew's prescription for maintaining success over the years.
So how did you, as a soon-to-be-doctor, get into radio in the first place?
By accident. At the time, I live few hundred yards away from KROQ; I was going to med school in the early '80s, and friends of mine socialized with the people from there. Their overnight show needed help, so a friend called me and said they wanted me to do a segment to be called "Ask The Surgeon." I don't know why they wanted me -- I wasn't really a surgeon -- but I went up there and after the first show, I really had an epiphany. Here was an opportunity to present this amazing material being in the middle of the night on FM radio.
You have to remember, at the time we were putting people in the ground from AIDS -- and young people had no sense of the biological consequences of their behavior, The term, "safe sex," hadn't even been coined yet; HIV wasn't even identified yet and we were still calling the condition "GRIDS." So I came up here and talked about this. We were the first place to bring this up with straight talk; it quickly became something people wanted.
How did you and your co-host, be it Riki Rachtman or Adam Carolla, realize the right balance between information and entertainment?
Adam Corolla described it as knowing how to give a dog a pill. When you want to give a dog a pill, you can either shove it down its throat, which the dog will promptly be spit out, or you can wrap the pill in a Gaines Burger, so the dog gets the medicine, but it tastes like Gaines Burger. It's still a model I use to this day with Loveline, as well as "Teen Mom" and "16 And Pregnant." You give them a story, an entertaining vehicle to impart the knowledge they need.
I would imagine the show really hit its stride with Adam Carolla. How long did it take you to develop chemistry with him?
Actually, we never needed any adjusting. In fact, we had met just once before. He had come up to guest on Loveline as Mr. Birchum; I asked him to be the handyman character he played on Kevin & Bean's morning show, he did the show and I didn't think any more of it.
Later on, MTV came up and asked my partner on Loveline, Riki Rachtman, and I to do a pilot for the show for the network. I had no idea what "a pilot" meant. Riki couldn't reach an agreement with them, so the TV people asked me who else I wanted to do the show with. I didn't know who to choose at first; the only person who came to mind was Adam.
Thing was, he wasn't even in town; he covering the VMAs in New York for Kevin & Bean ... and he thought he was in heaven there. And then he gets a call from his representation to come back to do a screen test for some MTV show that wasn't even green-lit; he was convinced we couldn't get it, yet he came back for the test, and it was immediately obvious that there was something there between us. So the TV producers said, "See you next Saturday for the pilot" -- and I still didn't really know what that meant.
So it's next Saturday and we're both in the makeup booth before the pilot. It's 10a and the producers come in and say, "You basically have an hour to work out your relationship." At the end of a day of shooting Loveline, a stage manager came up to us and asked how long we'd been working together. Adam said, "What time is it? Oh, four hours." The woman was floored; she thought we'd been working together for years. But we just kinda hit it off.
Getting back to the early days of the show, wasn't it difficult to balance the entertainment part with information when you were discussing something that tragic and serious as AIDS?
I knew that the only way to effectively reach young listeners with anything was to entertain the ears and provide a relatable source, such as peers who have suffered from the consequences of their actions. That's how adolescents learn. The information we're offering on AIDS, STDs or the consequences of those we talk to in "Teen Mom" today ... all that has the right impact on adolescents. So we haven't changed the way we present this information, although the kind of information we're presenting has.
Having co-hosted Loveline going on for almost three decades, does it trouble you that some of the same urban legends about STDs, pregnancy and the like persist year after year? Haven't you at least once thought something along the lines of, "Jeez, I wish these kids would get it by now."
I've always thought that we live in sick culture; I've always hoped, and continue to hope, that Loveline clears up all the misinformation that listeners heard elsewhere. You have to remember that there are new 13, 15 and 17-year-olds coming of age every day, so you almost expect to hear the same questions and misconceptions, as well as the same suffering from abuse and its consequence. It's a never-ending human saga; there will always be another adolescent with problems.
What has changed is the color, the hue of what we're dealing with. The last 10 years have been particularly onerous in terms of not just substance abuse, but physical and mental abuse and coming from destroyed families ... because that stuff gets acted out. The kind of health problems of our time has changed, more from the physical to the psychological and interpersonal. What was once a primary focus on STDs is now dealing more with mental health and the issues emanating from that.
Is it tough to effectively counsel a listener over mental or sexual abuse when the call can only go on for a fairly short amount of time?
It's difficult in a sense that these problems take years and years to treat. It's a nice, real luxury having someone like [British relationship specialist] Simone Bienne there, confirming everything I said. We're just trying to raise awareness, and we hope people hear relatable stories, then get the help and treatment. We're connecting the dots for people as to how their experiences and childhood continue to haunt them today, and the only way to overcome that is with more professional help. All we can do during a call is to raise a point and help connect the dots for people.
Do you do any follow-up with your callers?
We don't do follow-up; that would imply treatment, as we're not doing any treatment in any way. We're just guiding and raising awareness. People have been known to call back; that's not an uncommon thing.
Have you ever thought about tweaking the show, maybe lengthening the delay, so you could cut out the explicit talk, which would enable stations to air the show outside of the safe harbor?
I've always said that, especially now that we've really made a much more PG- ish show. We're very careful to try to make it something that could air at any time, where we could go in some places in an appropriate way. It's not about lengthening the delay; it's about call selection and knowing how explicit you can get. Nowadays, we're not doing as much about biology and sexuality, and more about interpersonal relationships - and we're happy to see it go in that direction.
You also have to remember that kids today have the Internet now to get a lot of information. When we started this show, there was no Internet ... no place to go to get that info back then. Now it's all over the Net, but people still seem to need to hear the relevant information from the mouth of someone they trust.
On the other hand, the Net can be a breeding ground for a lot of the urban myths and misperceptions about sexual health issues.
True, but the point is they also have access to the true information about STDs and other problems. You can't imagine how far we've come in making that accessible to people in the last 25 years. It allows us to focus on problems such as abuse, whose solutions don't come from the Net, but from counseling. I'm happy to see our show move in that direction.
You certainly have the ability to spot callers who are faking their problems just to get air time....
It's just about listening carefully and then listening to my body's reaction to what I'm hearing. If the emotional content of what the caller is talking about is not there, I immediately feel funny and can tell something's wrong. It's somewhat easy to do; you almost feel clairvoyant, but it actually comes from training. When you deal with drug-addled patients, you hear a lot of people lying, denying their problems or obfuscating the truth. By really listening to their voices very carefully, you begin to trust your instincts about them.
With a long-running radio show, a new radio project and with a handful of TV projects, has time management become a problem?
Because my professional training and early years in practice were so rigorous, an intense amount of work had to be crammed into a finite amount of time, which has made everything else I do now relatively easy. Right now I have a live TV show every day and a live radio show every day. After I do one, I go to the other. When I start doing a new season of "Celebrity Rehab" -- now without celebrities, but with a group of patients -- that will require a lot of attention. It was pretty rough earlier in this year when I was filming "Lifechangers." We used to have to do four to six shows a day on Tuesdays and Thursdays -- that in addition to HLN made for a difficult schedule.
Are you surprised Loveline has lasted so long?
Surprise doesn't even begin to describe it. I am surprised by the emotions I have for the show, but if you told me I'd be doing this for a year when we debuted, I wouldn't have believed it. If you told me we'd be doing it for 10 years, I would've thought you were absolutely crazy.
When I started doing TV, I thought "Well, I'll do radio a few more years, but now, 29 years later, I'm astonished ... just gobsmacked ... that not only am I still doing the show, but I still love doing it. I look forward to going into the studio tonight to interact with the callers. I'm truly grateful; what could be more rewarding than doing something you enjoy with no other goal but to help people? When you do this well, you combine skill sets and develop a rapport with your audience. It's pretty gratifying.
After 29 years, what kind of future do you see for yourself and the show?
That's the crazy thing, there's no blueprint to what I'm doing now -- and what I've done. I seem to be a polarizing figure for some reason, which I don't understand. I just try to find ways use the media to do good work, so I'm anxious about every choice I make. I want to continue to do this, but I don't know for how long. It's hard for me predict; all I know is that I look forward going in tonight.
I would love to speak to more of the country on the radio. Radio is such an intimate, wonderful medium. I'd love have a greater reach, particularly now that the show is different than what it used to be. I'd love to use what impact I have to expose more people to this show in its current form. I think we still do a lot of interesting things ... and I don't want to do anything else.