Steve Harvey Is TV's Can't-Miss Man

You can hardly turn on a television without seeing Steve Harvey.

He’s currently hosting five primetime television shows; several one-off specials, including the Miss Universe pageant; one syndicated game show, Family Feud; and one daytime talk show, Steve. On top of all that, he’s still deejaying his nationally syndicated radio show, The Steve Harvey Morning Show, every weekday morning, as well as executive producing a series for BET called Man Caves. And all of those shows are successful.

Though it seems as if the comedian has always been here, it’s not like Harvey is an overnight success. In the 1990s, after kicking off his standup career in 1985 and spending some time living in his car, he landed a gig as host of Showtime at the Apollo, a job he held for many years and is currently working on bringing back. He starred on a short-lived ABC sitcom, Me and the Boys, in 1994. He hosted the earliest version of The Steve Harvey Show, also a sitcom, on The WB from 1996 to 2002. His longest-running job continues today: host of The Steve Harvey Morning Show, which began syndication in 2000.

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A late-career breakthrough came for Harvey in 2010 when he was tapped to be the host of Family Feud, produced by FremantleMedia North America and distributed by Debmar-Mercury. The show, which has been on the air in various incarnations since 1976, was foundering in the daytime syndication ratings. Debmar and Fremantle decided to give it one more go with a new host. If that didn’t work, it would be time to shelve it.

Harvey premiered on Feud in September 2010 and it’s been an upward climb ever since. In the week ended Aug. 20, Family Feud was the second highest-rated program in syndication, behind only CBS Television Distribution’s Judge Judy at a 6.2 live-plus-same-day rating in households. It’s been the top-rated game show for more than a year, overturning CTD’s long-running champ Wheel of Fortune. But more importantly, Family Feud is first-run syndication’s highest-rated show among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54 — and second only to Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory overall — averaging a 3.1 season to date.

Harvey also published a book in 2009 titled Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. It was a best-seller that was turned into a movie in 2012. That newfound cred in the world of relationships, self-help and dating led to the launch of Harvey’s first daytime talk show, Steve Harvey, in 2012. The show was co-produced by Endemol Shine North America and NBCUniversal. It was produced at WMAQ Chicago’s studio and focused on real people and relationships, just as Harvey did in his book. The show aired from 2012-17, but Harvey’s life was increasingly pulling him to Los Angeles, and he wanted to make a change.

Meanwhile, Hollywood had noticed Family Feud’s success, and had come calling. Primetime series such as Celebrity Family Feud, Little Big Shots and Steve Harvey’s Funderdome followed. While Harvey wants to make as much hay as possible while his sun shines, he’s strategic about his choices. He knows his brand and he plays to his talents.

The man is busy, but he still found time to sit ringside at the vaunted Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight on Saturday, Aug. 26.

Named B&C’s inaugural “Personality of the Year,” Harvey spoke with contributing editor Paige Albiniak to discuss that outing, which became a trending topic on social media, as well as what motivated him to relaunch his daytime talk show that premiered Tuesday, Sept. 5, and how he handles mistakes, such as the infamous memo he wrote to his Chicago talk-show staff last fall. An edited transcript follows.

Here’s the question on everyone’s minds: How the heck did you get better seats to the Mayweather-McGregor fight than LeBron James?

Does age not matter any more? I’m older than LeBron; I’ve been in Cleveland longer than LeBron. It’s just seniority. Oh, and also I’ve been friends with Mayweather and folks at the UFC for years.

You said at the TCA Press Tour in August that your daytime talk show, renamed Steve, is your highest priority. That’s saying something, considering how many other shows you have on the air. Why is your daytime talk show so important to you?

For starters, it bears my name. I make them do that so in case they want to get rid of me, they can’t just plug in another guy.

It’s the show that requires the most of my time, the most of my focus. I don’t have to prep for Family Feud, Little Big Shots or Funderdome. I don’t meet the contestants beforehand. This talk show, I have to get a monologue and desk segment together, and I have to be prepped because all of these stars have press people and publicists. There’s much more prep with this.

Did you expect there to be this extra work when you decided to make the move to Los Angeles and turn toward a celebrity focus?

I’m a celebrity, so I’ve done all of the shows except I don’t have a rider when I come to your show. We get that from celebrities. I get it; they want to be comfortable wherever they go.

Why did you want to make the move to Los Angeles? It wasn’t an easy deal to make. You definitely had to keep pushing to get the show where you wanted it to be.

I think it’s important that you reinvent yourself every now and then so they don’t get used to you. This will allow me to be a lot more funny and light-hearted. I can make fun of a lot more things with a monologue and talk to guests in a different way to show more of their fun side, their human side instead of just talking about their latest movie or book. Ellen [DeGeneres] needs some company. Everyone else is solving problems and healing people, and I think it’s just time for Steve Harvey to be funny.

Have you started taping?

We started on Monday (Aug. 28) and it feels good. We’ve shot three shows already. We’ve got people coming to the couch like Chelsea Handler, Mario Lopez, Charlie Sheen and Craig Robinson — I know these guys. It’s cool to have them on the show. I fall right into the monologue because I’ve been doing standup for 30 years. And I’ve always wanted to do the desk.

Why is the desk important to you? Is it because you’ve always been a late night fan?

Nobody’s got a desk in daytime. People are going to go, ‘What the hell is Steve doing with a desk in daytime?’ That’s more of a late-night television thing. I’m a really good guest when I go on late-night shows, but I’ve always looked at Kimmel and Fallon and Jay Leno and Johnny and Letterman and thought, ‘I wish I was sitting over there instead of coming out and sweating bullets.’ Ever since Arsenio [Hall] was a late-night host, I wanted to do late night. I never saw myself in daytime. God had a different route for me though.

Why are you doing daytime, then, instead of late night?

I have been watching daytime TV for the past five years and I’ve been looking at it. The thing that used to be a requirement for daytime TV is takeaway. You’ve got to have takeaway — how to do DIY your dresser, how to make linguini — no one cares about that no more. They’ve got YouTube now. They get their computer and Google it and learn it. What’s left?

What do I do best? I’m an entertainer, so I thought, ‘Why not go out to L.A. and become more entertaining?’ Especially with the way the world is going right now. If you watch the news all day long, it’s depressing. People say, ‘I need a laugh.’

Why do you think after you pushing for a year, this finally happened?

Other than the fact that I’m actually an old-ass bottle of wine, I think it’s all come together. It’s a combination of things. It’s finally getting the TV world to understand what I’ve been trying to tell them for years: I’m really general market. You don’t have to keep putting me in the multicultural box. You can take me out of that and put me in general market. It took some people some time to realize that.

I think Family Feud giving me a shot to do that was important. That show was an iconic brand, but it was on its last legs. They gave me a shot and I turned it around. How do you take a 20-year-old franchise and make it the No. 1 game show?

That’s interesting, though, because you’ve seen other game shows try to do something similar and it hasn’t worked.

That’s the problem with Hollywood: They look at something that works and they say, ‘That’s the formula.’ But it depends on the person. You can’t just go and get another funny guy. You still have to have some sensibilities on these shows. At the end of the day, America has to turn on their televisions and want to hang out with you.

It’s different being a TV star now. People have to really like you for you to be a TV star because they have to invite you into their home. Very few people invite people into their home that they don’t like.

America admires my honesty. I actually say what people at home are thinking and that’s refreshing for them.

Speaking of admiring your honesty, you have recently had to address some missteps you have made, such as the memo that you wrote to your staff in Chicago. Reporters were wondering aloud how it would be handled. Turns out, we didn’t need ask anything because you joked about it in a promo for your new daytime show, and then it was the second question asked at the press tour and you just addressed it. That approach really seemed to defuse the room. How did you learn to deal with those difficult situations in that upfront way?

It’s like the big pink elephant in the room. I know it’s there; everyone knows it happened. If you meet me and talk to me and say, ‘Steve, did you write that memo?’ I’m going to say, ‘Yes, I really wrote it.’ Really, there should have just been two people’s names on that memo because that’s who was ticking me off, but you can’t single people out for lawsuit purposes.

Anyway, I wrote the damn memo, and writing is not my strong suit. I tell jokes really great, I write really poorly. After it came out, at first I thought it was nothing until I saw it on CNN. Then I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m in trouble.’

The first thing I do is go and address it. When you try to hide things from people and you don’t talk about it, you just piss them off. It’s like when I went to see [then-President-elect Donald] Trump, and that was such a big deal. But I thought, if the sitting president and the incoming president ask if you will come and meet with the new president, I thought you were supposed to go do that, although at the time I didn’t know he was going to say some of things he has since said.

I’ve been making mistakes my entire career. Miss Universe happened and then here comes Warren Beatty at the Oscars and I’m off the hook. When you make a mistake you can recover, just keep your head up. A lot of people can look at me and learn.

As your friend Oprah says, what would you say you were put here on Earth to do? What’s your mission?

To inspire people through entertainment. I used to think it was just to entertain. That’s what I get paid to do. But I learned something as I’ve gotten older. Your career is what your paid for, you’re calling is what you’re made for. I’m made to inspire people.

Paige Albiniak

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.