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No Midlife Crisis for 'Family Feud'

The broadcast networks’ lack of hit sitcoms spells opportunity for veteran game show Family Feud, produced by FremantleMedia North America and distributed by Debmar-Mercury. The show celebrates its 40th anniversary on television this July and shows no signs of slowing down.

In the week ending May 1, Family Feud topped all of syndication—including CBS Television Distribution’s regular leader Judge Judy—with a 7.1 in households and a 3.5 among women 25- 54. In the week ending May 8, Feud fell back a bit to a 7.0, while Judy climbed to a 7.1, but Feud is a dominant force in access and a syndication leader.

That’s quite a difference from 2010 when Steve Harvey came on board to replace John O’Hurley. At the time, Feud’s household ratings were in the mid-ones. Adding Harvey was a last-ditch attempt to revive the series. The move worked better than anyone could have predicted.

“When we were first doing the shows down in Orlando, I didn’t know Steve Harvey, but I thought ‘this is a comedian, we can push it a little bit.’ From the moment we did the episode where the woman said ‘penis’ on the air, I knew we had found another level of humor,” says Gaby Johnston, executive producer, Family Feud.

The clip of Harvey’s hilarious reaction to that answer—question: We asked 100 men to name a part of your body that is bigger than when you were 16—quickly went viral, drawing millions of views on YouTube. From then on, Feud’s polling questions have gotten steadily racier, and Harvey always gives a solid-gold reaction. Part of that, says Johnston, is letting Harvey be Harvey and trusting his comedic instincts.

“He doesn’t look at the questions or learn about the families ahead of time,” says Johnston. “He sees the questions in the back as he’s about to play. He doesn’t know the answers so they are always a surprise.”

“It’s producing to your talent,” says Jennifer Mullin, co-CEO, FremantleMedia North America. “What Gaby and her team saw was his ability to handle all different types of people and reactions. Steve is so great at reacting to the families. We thought ‘let’s elevate the material to really maximize that talent.’”

Grand Slam

Harvey celebrates his 1,000th episode hosting the show on May 25, and he’s signed to host Family Feud through the 2020-21 TV season. He’s also the host of Celebrity Family Feud, which will air its second season this summer on ABC.

And that’s not nearly all: Harvey remains the host of his eponymously titled syndicated radio show and of his daytime talk show produced and distributed by NBCUniversal, which is cleared to air through next season. He’s also the primetime host of NBC’s Little Big Shots and has signed a deal with Mark Burnett to produce a primetime reality series for ABC.

While Harvey is clearly the heart of Feud’s humor, the lack of fresh comedies to compete against the game is also contributing to its success.

“A lot of the sitcoms are aging and there’s nothing new that has proven to replace what’s going away in access. It’s just a migration of viewers that keeps happening over time,” says Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar-Mercury, who leads the team’s effort to keep upgrading the show on stations across the country. “With Family Feud, stations get 200 new episodes every year. With veteran sitcoms, you get the same 180 episodes you already have.”

Feud is a better option than the potential available sitcoms,” says Mort Marcus, copresident of Debmar-Mercury. “That means more and more stations want to run it between 5 p.m.-8 p.m.”

Over the five years, Harvey will do another 1,000 episodes and the challenge will be to keep the whole thing feeling fresh.

“You can’t keep doing the show in the same way if you have a talent like Steve Harvey,” says Johnston. “It would be a sin, really. In that early episode when the audience was just roaring, I thought, ‘We can do anything on this show now.’”

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.