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The New Dr. Drew on Vaccines, Weed and How He’s Not So Different from Dr. Oz

As a primetime host on CNN’s smaller sister network HLN, which declared last year its intentions to become the “first TV network for the social media generation,” Dr. Drew Pinsky has never quite reached the fame strata — or the ratings — of someone like Anderson Cooper. But as we found out last spring, the two hosts are routinely mistaken for one another. During a recent phone interview with Mediaite, Pinsky confirmed it still happens all the time. “He hates it, but I’m actually flattered by it,” he says of Cooper now.

Pinsky is hoping that can change, to some degree, with the relaunch of his eponymous show. “HLN challenged me to grow, to change,” he says of the new format, which will feature a regular panel of guests and experts like Samantha Schacher and his Loveline co-host Mike Catherwood. “People who like me in other places, I want them to join me here and let’s talk about things that I think are important.” he explains.

But the biggest change will be the presence of a live studio audience, something that is a bit of an anomaly in the world of cable news. “It changes everything,” Pinsky says. “It’s massively energizing and of course the audience reacts to things we say and that changes what we say and how we say it,” he adds, comparing the experience to “live theater.”

One thing that won’t change is Pinsky’s dedication to issues that are “important to the human experience,” as he puts it, with some extra emphasis on stories that are capturing the attention of social media. For example, the unlikely “debate” over vaccinations.

“I really don’t like government crawling into our lives and dictating what we do with our bodies. I have an issue with that,” he says when that suddenly controversial topic comes up. “However, I also believe that the rights and the protection of the community has grotesquely been outweighed by the rights of the individual.”

But Pinsky does not blame parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. “I lay the blame squarely at the foot of our educational system,” he says. “We do not teach biology. We do not teach science and that makes me crazy. And if people studied biology, they would not be persuaded by nonsense.” That’s just one reason why he aims to be an “educator” and “interpreter” for his audience.

Then there is the discussion over marijuana legalization, an issue on which Pinsky’s views differ sharply from the host whose show airs right before his on HLN: Nancy Grace. Earlier this year, the two hosts found themselves in a heated debate over the supposed dangers of marijuana, with Pinsky attempting to dissuade Grace of her hysteria.

“My positions have never really changed. Maybe they’ve softened a little bit, but they’ve never really changed,” he says now of his feelings about marijuana, before reiterating the point he made to Grace. “You want to talk about drugs that do harm? If you are going to die of a drug addition today, it’s going to be pills. The next in line of things that are going to kill you is alcohol and tobacco. Not just kill you, but ruin your life, make you sick, cause addictions.”

“The way we approach drugs and alcohol is just so ridiculous, it’s so draconian,” he adds, making a point that may ring more true on social media than it does to HLN’s older viewers.

Starting tonight, Dr. Drew might look a little bit more like a daytime medical program than the news-driven show he has hosted on the network since early 2011. And if the revamped show reminds viewers of The Dr. Oz Show, Pinsky does not necessarily have a problem with that.

“I stand behind him very squarely. He is the kind of guy you want on television,” the host tells Mediaite. “Everybody, calm down, let him learn. Help him do a better job as opposed to trying to crush him because it feels good to crush somebody in the media.”

It had been just about four weeks since Dr. Mehmet Oz’s Columbia University colleagues began calling for him to be fired for “promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.” In response, Oz cited his “freedom of speech” and declared that he “will not be silenced.”

But for Pinsky, who says he also struggles constantly with the balance of giving viewers good advice and making entertaining television, it comes to down to knowing where to draw the line.

“If you blink and don’t think about what you’re reading in the prompter, you get yourself in trouble,” Pinsky says. “The producers put stuff up there — they’re not medical people — they’re putting stuff up there that they think makes good TV. And if you just read the prompter, as a physician, you can get into trouble.”

“I know he has enthusiasm for the things he is advocating,” he continues, speaking for Oz. “I mean, how can you assail him for [promoting] eating healthy and exercising? It’s ridiculous to assail him for that.” But when it comes to Oz’s “poetic excesses,” Pinsky adds, “I’m certain, I feel confident those were not his words.”

So, does that mean his producers are to blame?

“I’m not here to blame producers,” Pinsky assures us. “They know how to make television and if it weren’t for them, the rest of us wouldn’t have a chance to capture eyes, but they sometimes don’t understand the subtleties. And it’s up to people like me and Oz to keep a careful eye on them.”

[Photo via HLN]

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