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Exclusive! The First Interview with Dr. Oz on His New Hearst Title

LunchAtMichaelsWe understand that the deadline for Oscar voters to send in their ballots is today, but we’re still more than a little miffed that we missed seeing Leonardo DiCaprio, Bruce Dern and Richard Gere by a day. A little birdie told us Paramount threw a schmoozefest in the middle of Michael’s dining room yesterday to drum up some Academy love for its pictures — the overly long and ridiculously profane The Wolf of Wall Street and the absolutely brilliant Nebraska. Having a slew of Tinseltown A-listers in their midst gave the regular folks (it’s a relative term, I know) a chance to do some serious stargazing. “It was a bit surreal,” one diner told me. It seems only fitting to us that Hollywood took over the dining room on a day when the rest of Manhattan was in a deep freeze straight out of a disaster movie. The Day After Tomorrow, anyone?

Well, it is Wednesday, after all, and we wanted to start our new year of celebrity confabs off on the right foot so who better to whip us into shape than none other than Dr. Mehmet Oz, the Emmy-Award winning daytime television host, author of seven New York Times Bestsellers and dispenser of daily doses of helpful medical tips on 1010WINS.

Diane Clehane and Dr. Mehmet Oz

Diane Clehane and Dr. Mehmet Oz

And oh, yes, he’s also a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon at New York Presbyterian Hospital, who somehow manages to find the time to perform about 100 heart surgeries a year (he has office hours on Thursdays if you’re wondering) and a part-time superhero who goes around rescuing New Yorkers in peril all in the course of an average day. At lunch he told me of another tale of  being at the right place at the right time which occurred the same month he came to the aid of the woman who was seriously injured when she was hit by a cab on Sixth Avenue. During a trip to Salt Lake City, a fellow marathoner literally fell in Dr. Oz’s path when the man went into distress due to a heart problem. Of course, Dr. Oz was able to put him in an ambulance, visit him the next day and has stayed in touch to stay apprised of his defacto patient’s recovery.

The good doctor is launching his own lifestyle magazine in partnership with Hearst titled Dr. Oz The Good Life, and this afternoon he brought along a retinue of bigwigs and handlers from his various projects and his charming wife Lisa Oz, whose CV includes a career in television and her own slew of bestsellers (the couple co-authored their You series together; Lisa wrote Us solo and as a result, says Dr. Oz, his wife has “one more bestseller than I do!”).

My first question when he arrived for our lunch at the appointed time on the dot of 12:15 was: how does he possibly do it all? “I have the best people working with me; I pick really smart people,” he told me while extending his arm out to introduce me to his wife of nearly 29 years. “And marrying Lisa was the best decision I ever made. She’s much smarter than me.” That’s saying something since he got his undergraduate degree at Harvard and received a joint MD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and MBA from Wharton Business School.

And lest you think Dr. Oz never sleeps, he tells me he does and gets up at 5:45, does a seven-minute yoga routine and is working at whatever is on tap for the day by 7 a.m. His days are anchored by routines that he says keep everything on track. “I’d rather work smart than hard,” he said, but that seems all but impossible when he reels off a daily schedule that would fell most mere mortals.

The Dr. Oz Show is taped in New York City three days a week with a production schedule that includes two shows a day breaking midday to allow Dr. Oz to take a 15-minute power nap. “That’s what keeps me going,” he told me between bites of his sea bass. “I need that nap.” I’ll bet. In listening to him describe his plans and enthusiasm for his latest project, it appears that integrating the time needed to work on the magazine seems to have posed no challenges at all. With Lisa as editor-at-large, who goes in for meetings with EIC Alison Brower several times a week, the doctor is able to keep close tabs on all editorial decisions and relies on Lisa, the chief architect of the Dr. Oz brand, to make sure everything is as it should be. “Lisa is an amazing window into what we need,” said Alison.

Lisa Oz, Ellen Levine, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Diane Clehane, Kristine Welker and Alison Brower

Lisa Oz, Ellen Levine, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Diane Clehane, Kristine Welker and Alison Brower

Alison meets with Dr. Oz periodically but much of their communications take place as you would expect via email. She sends pages to him as they’re ready and receives feedback almost immediately. “He’s so present, quick and clear,” said Alison. “I’ve been amazed at how I fully feel the DNA of the brand in all our conversations.” Alison most recently served as special projects editor for The Hollywood Reporter after a five-year stint at Redbook as executive editor. She’s also toiled at Glamour, where she supervised the magazine’s annual “Women of the Year” fete. Her new gig as EIC of Dr. Oz The Good Life is a homecoming of sorts as she first began her career at Hearst working for Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan. “This is both an amazing opportunity and responsibility,” Alison told me. “I feel a real responsibility because of the tremendously strong connection Dr. Oz has with his viewers.”

The magazine, whose first issue debuts February 4, was ten years in the making. “Ellen [Levine, Hearst's editorial director] and I started talking about this a long time ago back when I was doing Oprah,” said Dr. Oz in his first interview about his latest venture. “But I didn’t think I had the bandwidth back then. I wanted to wait until the time was right.” Headlining one of the few genuine hits in daytime television since 2009 that is distributed in 118 countries with a website that attracts 100 million monthly page views (yes, you read that right) has more than given Dr. Oz the platform and recognizable personal brand that is key for a successful entry into magazines.  From the moment the Cleveland native first appeared on Oprah in 2003, he instantly connected with viewers with his accessible brand of compassionate authority and logged 88 appearances on the doyenne of daytime’s show before branching out on his own. “Television has really taught me how to talk to people in a very specific way,” he told me. Now, he added, it’s about deciding what topics work best on television and which are better suited to the pages of The Good Life. 

“The nuclear reactor of what I do comes from the medical unit [of my production team]” that researches topics to tackle on the show, he said. Regular viewers know that Dr. Oz is unrivaled in cutting through the clutter and boiling down often unwieldy topics of health and wellness into important salient facts that people can understand and use, and they can expect the same thing from his magazine. “I might know ten important facts about something, he reasoned, “But you may only need two or three to be informed.” Dr. Oz also revealed that the magazine’s “big, bold” design will make it easier for viewers to find what they want to read. And, of course, everything is communicated to the reader in a way that connects with her emotions as well as her brain. “People don’t change their minds based on what they know; they change because of how they feel,” he said.

But The Good Life goes way beyond health. There will also be plenty of lifestyle-related features, and topics like money will also be explored. “I didn’t want it to be all about health,” he explained. “The Good Life is about so much more. I love magazines and always have. My dream is that readers will rip out pages of the magazine and put them on their refrigerator. Whatever we are writing about, we are going to tell you what we’d tell our own families.”

In the first issue, Dr. Oz pens an opening letter and the back page will be a “call to action” from him (Alison declined to reveal the name of that feature, which is still under wraps). Future issues may feature stories with celebrities if there is something relevant to discuss that relates to readers’ lives. “Doing something with Tom Hanks about his diabetes would be something we would consider down the road,” said Dr. Oz.

When I asked if he would appear on the cover of every issue he said, “I’ll do whatever is best. If it turns out it works with me on the cover, I’ll do it. If it works best to have me with someone else, we’ll do that, and if it turns out it’s best I’m not on it, that’s okay, too.” (My money is on option one.) He’s slated to appear on the cover of the first two pilot issues (the second one is due out in April). Once there’s a sense of how well the initial issues score with readers, a more “regular” schedule for the remainder of the year will be put in place.

The obvious question is: With Dr. Oz The Good Life now in Hearst’s growing stable of magazines, how does the company plan to distinguish its message and sales strategy from its first cousin O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine? Alison was quick to explain the differences between the two. “There is a very different feel with Dr. Oz The Good Life. Oprah is a wise friend and you’re on the journey together, sharing experiences. Dr. Oz is much more of a coach motivating you and providing expert insight on the connection between your health and everything else in your life. ”

Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Oz’s undisputed position as “America’s Doctor” who makes daily house calls into millions of households through his popular television show has him poised to become that next mega-multimedia brand. (Yes, there are plans for some synergy between the show and the magazine, but details are still being worked out.) Judging by the number of A-listers today at Michael’s who were lining up to meet him and Hearst’s ambitious initial rollout of 350,000 copies of Dr. Oz The Good Life on newsstands (and an additional 450,000 will be sent to targeted subscribers), there’s no doubt Dr. Oz’s stock is clearly on the rise.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Dr. Mehmet Oz; Lisa Oz; Hearst’s editorial director Ellen Levine; Dr Oz The Good Life EIC Alison Brower; publisher and chief revenue officer Kristine Welker; Hearst’s vice president, executive director of publicity, Alexandra Carlin;Tim Sullivan, director of publicity of The Dr. Oz Show; and yours truly

2. Agent Luke Janklow and Ron Delsner

3. Attorney Bob Barnett and MSNBC’s Chris Jansing

4. IMG Artists‘ President and CEO Jerry Inzerillo, who I finally got to meet when Dr. Oz went over to say hello and offered to make the introduction to his longtime pal.

5.  Producer Michael Mailer

6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman and Michael Kramer

7. Wall Street Journal’s Anthony Cenname

8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and HeadButler’s Jesse Kornbluth

9. Star Jones and Dr. Holly Phillips

11. Patricia Duff and Holly Peterson

12. Radio diva Joan Hamburg

14. Simon & Schuster’s Alice Mayhew

15. TV Guide‘s CEO Jack Kliger and Missy Godfrey

16. Showbiz411′s Roger Friedman, author Jill Brooke (The Need to Say No) and Mykalai KontilaiJill called me over to introduce me to Mykalai, the former owner of The Nightly Business Report on PBS.  The intriguing entrepreneur tells me he is about to launch Collector’s Cafe “the first global auction site,” which will coincide with an announcement of “the discovery of some the most important historic documents in US history.” See, what did I tell you — everything happens at Michael’s.

17. Marie Claire EIC Anne Fulenwider

18. Andrew Stein

20. The New York Post‘s Page Six editor Emily Smith with  Dini von Muefling

21. BizBash’s David Adler

23. Warner Music’s David Johnson

24. Gordon Davis

25. Dr. Mitch Rosenthal

26. LVMH’s Pauline Brown

27. Robert Kramer

Diane Clehane is a contributor to FishbowlNY. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Please send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.

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