"I was a witch with my children!" Teresa Heinz Kerry has been saying for a week, over and over, in promos for yesterday's highly anticipated Dr. Phil interview with Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and his wife.
Dr. Phil took time out from his busy schedule hawking his book "Family First" and identifying future serial killers to ask the Kerrys -- somewhat pointedly, we think -- whether they spanked their children and how they handled living in a "blended" family. That interview, conducted last month, aired yesterday.
As he had when he dropped by the president's Texas ranch for a chat, Dr. Phil took along his wife to make it seem so much more like a social call with longtime friends.
"I really feel like we're going to have a lot in common," Mrs. Dr. Phil confided excitedly to Dr. Phil and the camera before the interview. Which was surprising, given that a week earlier she had pronounced her husband to be exactly like President Bush.
"I think I'm just going to fall instantly in love with them," Mrs. Dr. Phil enthused.
That's because Dr. Phil and his wife have two "boys" while Heinz Kerry has three sons from her first marriage.
"Because we both raised boys, I feel a certain kinship with you," Mrs. Dr. Phil told Teresa once they were all seated cozily around a coffee table in a Boston hotel room.
"Because I have two. You have three," she added, just to make sure Teresa had gotten it straight.
"Do you agree that it doesn't matter how old they get, they're still just little boys all their lives?"
Surprisingly, even when confronted with such questions as these, the top of Teresa the Outspoken's head did not come off. In fact, she let her husband answer far more questions during the one-hour interview than had first lady Laura Bush, who jumped in like a lioness protecting her cub when questions were put to the president of the United States by the Dr. Phils.
And, it turns out, when Heinz Kerry said, "I was a witch with my children," what she was really saying, Dr. Phil finally let viewers see about three-quarters of the way through the program, was, "I was a witch with my children, truly, about television."
When her kids were growing up, she let them watch only 30 minutes of TV a day -- "Wild Kingdom" or "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Once a week they were allowed to watch one hour more, but they had to write a one-paragraph report on why they liked that program. As a matter of policy, The TV Column has to disapprove of this behavior. But privately, we concede that even Brent Bozell would have to agree this means Teresa Heinz Kerry is the Practically Perfect American Mom.
In fact, the Kerrys seemed far more relaxed and open about their family life than had the Bushes on Dr. Phil's show. And, mercifully, it appeared that neither of the Kerrys ever gave any of their children a sewing machine.
To the degree that, God help us, undecided voters are swayed by information about the presidential candidates they glean from interviews by a daytime talk show self-promoter like Dr. Phil and his wife, Ima Tagalong, there's little doubt Kerry comes out the winner.
On the other hand, we came away from the whole experience a little worried about Dr. Phil's marriage. Dr. Phil, there are eight traits to a marriage in trouble. You have four of them; Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had six.
Take, for example, when Dr. Phil was asked by Heinz Kerry how old his two boys were.
"Twenty-four and 17," Dr. Phil responded quickly.
"Twenty-five," Mrs. Dr. Phil said, as if she meant it to hurt. "He turned 25 last Sunday."
"Oh, yeah, that's right," Dr. Phil said, somewhat sheepishly.
"Twenty-five," Mrs. Dr. Phil said for good measure.
"I need to correct myself," he said contritely to the Kerrys, while his eyes screamed, "Help me, please!"
Later, when Mrs. Dr. Phil asked the Democratic nominee for president of the United States whether one of his two daughters was more like him, Kerry -- not realizing that this was just one of her setups to give the Dr. Phils an opportunity to talk about themselves -- answered diplomatically that daughter Alexandra is more like him in some ways but, in other ways, daughter Vanessa is more like him.
". . . because we have one son that I call Dr. Phil Jr.," Mrs. Dr. Phil prattled on happily. "He is so much like his father. But of course both our boys have a lot of their father's traits. But Jordan is just Phil McGraw Jr.!"
"Yeah, that's true," Dr. Phil chimed in. "But you're just bragging on him now."
Then, remembering that he was in the doghouse, Dr. Phil looked down and said, "Well, maybe not."
Mrs. Dr. Phil was especially intrigued that the male half of the Kerry marriage had the two girls in the "blended" family, while the female half had contributed the three boys.
"Did you ever hope you would have a daughter?" Mrs. Dr. Phil asked Heinz Kerry.
"Yes, I lost a couple -- I had some miscarriages."
"Oh," said Mrs. Dr. Phil, momentarily surprised to find her foot in her mouth.
"I have several pinkies in heaven. I call them pinkies," Heinz Kerry explained.
"And now you have two daughters," responded Mrs. Dr. Phil brightly.
Nearly 44 million people tuned in to Tuesday night's slugfest between Vice President Dick "The Undertaker" Cheney and Sen. John "Atticus" Edwards, making it the most watched vice presidental debate since the three-way with Republican Dan Quayle, Democrat Al Gore and Reform Party candidate James Stockdale, Ross Perot's running mate, more than a decade ago.
Tuesday's audience, accumulated among ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC, represents about 14.5 million more viewers than caught the polite exchange between Cheney and Sen. Joe Lieberman in 2000.
Big winner Tuesday night? FNC with 7.8 million viewers -- up 454 percent compared with the 2000 veep debate, when it averaged 1.4 million.
The cable news network nearly ran with the broadcast pack. CBS copped about 9.2 million viewers for the debate, ABC 10.3 million and NBC the largest audience, 11.5 million viewers. Billed as a 90-minute debate, it ran nearly 15 minutes long, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Though CNN and MSNBC trailed, they, too, had something to brag about. CNN, with 3.3 million viewers, was up nearly 60 percent compared with 2000, while MSNBC's average of 1.5 million viewers was up 230 percent from 2000's 451,000.
As was the case last week when Nielsen put out its numbers on the first presidential debate, it did not include the viewers who watched on PBS. And in what can only be called a TV miracle, the public television network reports that more people watched the vice presidential debate on PBS than had watched its presidential debate telecast. According to PBS estimates, 3.3 million people chose to watch Tuesday's debate on PBS; 3.1 million had picked PBS as their network of choice for the first debate between Kerry and Bush. We're fairly confident that this has never happened before in the history of TV, that a network garnered more viewers for a veep debate than a debate between the candidates vying to be leader of the free world. From which we can conclude that PBS viewers are more concerned about who becomes No. 2 than No. 1. When we figure out what that says about PBS and the people who watch it, we'll get back to you.