With his current success in almost all areas of pop culture, you would almost think that Steve Harvey, who will be awarded a Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at NATPE, is some kind of overnight sensation. The truth is that the man who made his name as a stand-up comedian has been working toward this success for his whole life.
Harvey, the son of a day laborer and a homemaker, grew up in Cleveland. He started performing, like many of us do, using his toothbrush as a microphone while telling jokes to the bathroom mirror. But while most come to the realization that performing is not our calling, Harvey pursued his dream, even when times were tough.
Even considering everything he has done since then, Harvey says stand-up comedy has been the cornerstone of his success.
“It’s been the most rewarding thing for me. It is that God-given gift of humor that has been the basis of everything that I am. Nothing I’ve ever done supersedes the gift of making people laugh,” says Harvey, who turned 59 on Jan. 17.
It’s nearly impossible to turn on the TV, listen to the radio or check out Twitter without bumping into Steve Harvey. Clips from his game show, Family Feud, routinely go viral. He’s seen every daytime afternoon in markets around the country on his talk show, The Steve Harvey Show, produced by Endemol Shine and distributed by NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution.
“He’s made a great mark in the daytime landscape with his talk show,” says Sean O’Boyle, executive VP and general sales manager, NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution, who says he and his team are out in the marketplace renewing The Steve Harvey Show through the 2016-17 season. “He’s truly a broadcaster. He’s enlightened a lot of people along the way, while always making them laugh. He’s really firing on all cylinders right now.”
It’s a lot to manage but Harvey says, “I’m an expert, an absolute expert at time management. I get a lot more done than a lot of people because I care about every single minute.”
Over the holidays, Harvey blew up Twitter when he announced the wrong winner of the Miss Universe contest, saying the crown would go to Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez, when instead the winner was Miss Philippines, Pia Wurtzbach. Gutiérrez graciously forgave Harvey, allowing him to interview her on his talk show. Harvey was even vicariously present at the Golden Globes on Jan. 10, when Jamie Foxx poked a little fun at Harvey, reenacting the incident while announcing the winner of best original score.
It wasn’t always so easy for Harvey, who endured a stint early in his career in which he slept in his car in between stand-up gigs. Harvey first came to national fame when he succeeded Mark Curry as host of Showtime at the Apollo. He also hosted the first iteration of The Steve Harvey Show on The WB (now The CW) from 1996-2002, and during that time toured with Cedric the Entertainer, D.J. Hugely and Bernie Mac on the Kings of Comedy tour, which Spike Lee would later turn into a movie. He also wrote a book, Steve Harvey’s Big Time, and hosted a show by the same title on The WB from 2003-05.
The most consistent part of Harvey’s career has been his morning drive-time radio program, which he’s been doing since 2000. Today, The Steve Harvey Morning Show is syndicated across the country, reaching approximately 6 million listeners on a daily basis.
Harvey’s return to TV came in 2010 when FremantleMedia North America hired him to host Family Feud, distributed by Debmar-Mercury. The partners both thought Harvey would bring a needed breath of fresh air to the longrunning format, but neither could foresee the success the show would have.
“Our partners at Fremantle and we knew Steve was someone who could think on his feet and who is extremely funny,” says Mort Marcus, copresident of Debmar-Mercury. “To be honest, though, we were just blown away by the extraordinary response he got from viewers. The show started to take off immediately after he joined as host.”
Today, Family Feud routinely challenges CBS Television Distribution’s longtime game leaders, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! for the lead among syndicated games in households, and it often leads all of syndication among daytime’s demographic of women 25- 54. ABC just renewed a primetime version of it, Celebrity Family Feud, for a second season.
“What impresses me is that he’s not only a phenomenal entertainer, but he’s also a great businessman,” says Jennifer Mullin, co-CEO, FremantleMedia North America. “He’s got the ability to look at whatever project he’s working on—whether that’s Feud, his talk show, a book, his radio show—and approach it not only from the standpoint of an entertainer but also from the standpoint of what’s going to make it successful.”
Says Gaby Johnston, who executive produces Family Feud, “Brandon Tartikoff was such an original. He had a real heart for the business and real smarts. That’s also who Steve Harvey is.”
It’s a lot to have on one’s plate, but Harvey says he’s up for all of it. “I’ve been granted the great gift that I do what I love to do, so it’s not like I’m getting up to build bridges or dig ditches or work in the sewer pipeline,” Harvey says. “If you could wake up and do what you are gifted at and…passionate about, that’ll help you accomplish a lot more. If you hate waking up in the morning, it ain’t going to be a good day.”