December 30, 2002 12:00 PM

When TV psychologist Phil McGraw sits “down with a troubled guest—a mother afraid she’ll strike her child, an overweight man with zero confidence—he may remind you of a trusted mechanic rooting around under the hood of a car. He lets the engine run, listens for the problem, then gets in there with a wrench. Ten minutes later he bangs the hood shut and looks up with a wide Texan grin. A floor-pounding 6’4”, Dr. Phil is nuts-and-bolts, not touchies-and-feelies. “I can’t dance, I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I can analyze things, and I’m fast,” says McGraw, 52, who looks like actor Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show) and talks in a booming twang that occasionally suggests Foghorn Leghorn. “Sometimes I look at a problem and it’s like the dots are connected with a bright of weekly appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, he launched Dr. Phil last September and became the hottest thing to hit syndicated TV since, well, Oprah (who happens to be his producer). McGraw’s style isn’t to everyone’s taste. David Letterman has joked that he wrote a book called More Advice I Pulled Out of My Ass. But the doctor, who still has a home in Dallas, sticks to his guns: “The vast majority of issues in plain talk.” It’ll likely stay that way, no matter how fancy a life his new fame affords him. “I’ve been in the Hollywood Hills,” he says. “It’s beautiful, but you’ve got to be a goat to get up there.”

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