This start of the current syndication season was one of the most anticipated in years, with Katie Couric and Ricki Lake making their returns to daytime, Survivor host Jeff Probst giving it a shot and multihyphenate Steve Harvey adding talk-show host to his lengthening list of accomplishments.
A month into the new season, Harvey is at the center of one of syndication’s best stories, but right now, it’s actually as continuing host of Family Feud that the stand-up comic, radio host and best-selling author is really shining.
Harvey took over as host of the long-running game show in September 2010. By then, Family Feud, which is produced by FremantleMedia North America, was already a tried-and-true format, having first aired in 1976 when it was famously hosted by Richard Dawson. The format was revived for a network and syndicated run from 1988-94, with Ray Combs as host. In 1999, Family Feud again began airing in syndication, this time with a chain of hosts, starting with Louie Anderson, then moving on to Home Improvement’s Richard Karn, Seinfeld’s John O’Hurley and finally, Harvey.
When Harvey came on board, Feud’s distributor, Debmar-Mercury, was considering cancelling it if Harvey’s arrival didn’t manage to improve its performance. When Harvey took over, the show was averaging a 1.5 rating in households. In the week ended Sept. 23, Feud hit a 4.0 for the first time, making it syndication’s fifth-rated show, beating the likes of CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil and Entertainment Tonight. That’s a 60% improvement in performance in just two years.
“Family Feud went from a show that was debatably renewable financially into a major business,” says Mort Marcus, copresident, along with Ira Bernstein, of Debmar-Mercury.
And while Family Feud is still a lesser-rated show in households than CTD’s Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, it’s giving them a run for their money in the adult demographics against which advertising is sold.
Among women 25-54, Feud averaged a 2.1 in the week ended Sept. 23, compared to Wheel’s 2.2 and Jeopardy!’s 2.0.
“It’s been 30 years since any game show beat Wheel or Jeopardy! in any measure,” says Marcus.
While Feud’s rapid rise is certainly something to brag about, the show is actually still on a growth track, with a 5.0 likely on its horizon.
“Since we’ve been distributing Family Feud with Steve Harvey, every year we’ve been wrong with our estimate of how well it would do,” says Bernstein. “We thought it would hit a 2.7 or a 2.8, and it went to a 3. We thought it would de! nitely get to a 4, so now we think we’ll do closer to a 5 by the time this season is over.”
It was Harvey’s entertaining, relatable interaction with Feud’s families that drew the notice of syndicators, even though Harvey had shopped daytime shows around before.
And that relatability has helped the star kick off what looks like a promising new career as a talk-show host. The premiere of The Steve Harvey Show—distributed by NBCUniversal and produced by Endemol USA—is modest on its face, with the show averaging a 1.3 in national households in the week ended Sept. 23.
But the rookie talker is up significantly compared to last year and its lead-ins, the measures by which a syndicated show’s worth is taken.
What’s more, last week, Harvey was the only new talker to show improvement.
That said, it’s going to take a while to build Steve Harvey into a real talk business.
“If he gets to a 1.5 this season, that would be unbelievable,” says one unaffiliated syndicator. “At that level, you’re making money.”
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