TV show gives wrong image of local family, mother says

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Essex family appears on The Dr. Phil Show

By Geoff Hamill



Hollywood may look glamorous from where most of us sit, but Laura Essex has developed a new point of view.
Essex and her husband, Willie, parents of four young boys, including 7-year-old triplets, recently appeared on The Dr. Phil Show. It was quite an experience for the Washington County family, according to Laura.
The whirlwind experience began by a simple visit to a cooking Web site for Laura. She was communicating with a woman on the site who made a comment about children, and Laura added her own comment.
“Someone was talking on the Web site about having bratty kids, and I replied, ‘Whose kids don’t act bratty sometimes,’” Laura said. The woman got contact information from her, and later called her on the phone. It wasn’t until then that she identified herself as being with The Dr. Phil Show.
The topic of the show about which the woman contacted Laura was “Brat-proof your child.” It was to focus on behavior issues of children. Having learned that Laura and Willie had triplets made them of special interest for this show, because an author and child development and behavior specialist, Betsy Brown Braun, was going to be a part of the show. Braun is also the mother of triplets, though her children are now grown.
“When I told him The Dr. Phil Show called, Willie said, ‘What have you done?’ I told him about the show, and before we decided to do it, I talked with our pastor, Troy Shelton, and told him I wasn’t sure what to do,” Laura said. “I had been praying about a lot of stuff, whether I should go or not, and Troy said it could be a good way to share our faith, and it might be a good opportunity to open doors for our family.”
Deciding that they had nothing to lose by participating, the Essex family was set to do The Dr. Phil Show. Laura received a video camera to record scenes from daily life in her home and show the behavior of the children.
After sending video to The Dr. Phil Show, it was time for the trip to California to appear on TV, and Willie and Laura caught a flight to California on Aug. 22 to film the show, which was taped the following day.
Laura said she noticed some strange things early on, including the fact that a camera crew was supposed to come to video her family, but instead, she was later told to use a small portable camera provided by the show to create her own video. She said the show’s producers told her they had a problem with her hairstyle, and they even had a problem with her being honest about how she came to be on TV.
“They wanted me to say I wrote the show and asked to be on it, but I didn’t, and I wasn’t going to go on TV and say I did,” Laura said. “I did all of the taping, and they edited the sound of the video and everything. They made it sound louder than it was.”
In one segment of the show, Dr. Phil McGraw, the host, played a video clip that featured Laura yelling as she dealt with a behavior issue with one of her children. He then made a comment to her, saying she yelled a lot. Laura said she didn’t yell all the time, and Dr. Phil commented that the show had a lot of video of her, suggesting that she did yell often.
“The only part I was yelling in was when I had fixed supper, and the kids were arguing over who was going to sit by me, and who got more tea. They made the audio louder, and it was heavily edited to look like it did on TV,” she said.
The edited video was just one area of concern for Laura. She said when they were about to go on stage, producers informed Willie that he would be sitting in the audience, rather than on the stage with Laura as originally planned.
“I thought they were tricking us right there. Then they showed the video and had skewed it all together, and I knew what was going on,” Laura said.
Following the taping, the Essexes were not allowed to view the tape of the show, and their first time to see the final version was on national TV, with everyone else who was watching when it aired Dec. 2.
“I felt like we were kind of tricked or ambushed. They acted like it was not as bad as it was,” Laura said. “The producer said you have to watch it three times before it sets in, and we should remember it’s not as bad as it looks. They called it the three-time rule. I didn’t see that that helped, though. After three times, I’m not watching it any more.”
As for people watching video, Laura said she got the impression that Dr. Phil himself had not seen the video she sent to the show prior to the taping.
“They even went back and edited the show,” Laura said, commenting on some remarks made by Dr. Phil during taping that were changed in the final program. “I think that was unfair. We couldn’t change what we said.”
Laura said she and Willie received no payment for doing the show, although they did receive airfare and hotel for the one night they were in California for taping. The show also paid Willie to compensate the time he missed at work. In addition, the show furnished a spring cleaning of the Essex home, and provided 10 free visits to a therapist not covered by the family’s insurance. During the visits, Laura said the doctor determined that one of her boys has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a behavioral condition that mainly involves social situations.
“I wouldn’t say going on the show was a mistake because I did get some evaluation for one of my kids, so I have no regrets, just for that one thing,” Laura said.
Before being a part of The Dr. Phil Show, Laura said she was a viewer from time to time.
“I always thought he was helping all these people, and I still do think he helps to some degree, but now I think he brings out the worst of the worst on the show, and I’m not sure that helps afterward,” she said.
Now, when she watches The Dr. Phil Show, Laura said she thinks how bad the person looks, and she wonders just how much editing was done to what she sees.
“I’m not the perfect parent, and I normally don’t worry about what people think. What God thinks is what matters to me,” Laura said. “I have nothing to hide, but  I think they really made me out to be a monstrous mom. My kids are well taken care of and loved, and I don’t think they portrayed any of that on the show.”