LOS ANGELES – Steve Harvey may be making a fashion statement by going sockless. More likely, he just couldn’t make the time to slip some argyles on.
The title of TV’s most in-demand host has passed from Ryan Seacrest to the 60-year old comic, who currently hosts four network shows, mugs weekdays on a syndicated version of “Family Feud” and wakes up listeners most mornings on his long-running radio show.
He’s just getting started. On Tuesday the comic will launch a revamp of his daytime talker, “Steve,” which has moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to allow more celebrities to stop by and pay their respects to the king. And he’s turning his version of “Showtime at the Apollo” into a series next year.
“I’m just a hard worker,” said Harvey, wearing a forest-green three-piece suit, black shirt, black loafers and a silk pocket handkerchief. “I worked at Ford Motor Company. I put eight spark plugs in 1,400 engines a day. That’s hard. You want me to come out here and talk and tell jokes, and you’re going to pay me this much money? That’s a piece of cake to me.”
Not that Harvey is new to the spotlight. In the 1990s, he starred in two semi-successful sitcoms, “Me and the Boys” and “The Steve Harvey Show,” and was one of the Original Kings of Comedy alongside D.L. Hughley, Cedric the Entertainer and Bernie Mac. But it was his 2009 book, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” and its follow-up film, starring Kevin Hart and Taraji P. Henson, that transformed Harvey from a stand-up to a Phil Donahue with punchlines.
“I wish I could sit here and tell you that I mapped it out this way, but I didn’t. It’s just a bunch of grace,” he said. “God’s just shining on me right now.”
The demanding work schedule may be partly responsible for the bad press he got earlier this year from what became known as the “No Pop-Ins Memo” — a leaked e-mail to the staff of his daytime talk show.
“I want all the ambushing to stop now,” he wrote. “That includes TV staff. You must schedule an appointment. I have been taken advantage of by my lenient policy in the past. This ends now. NO MORE. Do not approach me while I’m in the makeup chair unless I ask to speak with you directly. Either knock or use the doorbell. I am seeking more free time for me throughout the day. Do not wait in any hallway to speak to me. I hate being ambushed. Please make an appointment. I promise you I will not entertain you in the hallway, and do not attempt to walk with me.”
Harvey said he knew he was in a lot of trouble when he saw a report about the memo on CNN.
“I’m not really a mean-spirited guy at all,” he said. “I’m really a congenial guy. But it’s kind of like you go home every day and all your kids are in the kitchen waiting on you and start hammering you. You need a moment. That’s all it was. It’s really not that big a deal.”
The e-mail almost certainly came from one of the Chicago employees Harvey decided not to bring with him to the West Coast. Executive producer Shane Farley estimates that only about 10 of the 60 staff members made the trip.
“The old show would shoot and they would hold on to it for several weeks before it aired,” said Farley, who previously worked for Rachael Ray. “The new show, because it’s based on Steve’s comedy, is very topical. We’ll shoot and it’ll air the next day. So a lot of the new staff comes from different backgrounds, including live television in New York, so we can turn a show around really quickly.”
Both Farley and Harvey emphasize that the new format will put jokes ahead of traditional daytime staples, like cooking segments and advice on home improvements.
Harvey recalls the time a woman came on the old show with a recipe for diet German chocolate cake.
“So she gave it to me, and I spit it in a napkin,” he said. “The audience was horrified, but I’m not going to swallow something I don’t like. It’s just like ‘Family Feud.’ If you give an answer that’s utterly ignorant, why would I turn and point to the board like it’s got a shot in hell at being up there? I don’t. So let’s just stay here and address the fact that you thought that was a good answer. Somebody do that on daytime. Just tell the truth.”
It’s a game plan straight out of the late-night playbook.
“I always hum the theme from ‘Johnny Carson’ before I walk out on stage. I always wanted to do late-night,” he said. “It just wasn’t in the cards and nobody’s talked to me about it, so I just said, ‘I’ll do a late-night show in the middle of the daytime.’ Instead of waiting until 11 p.m., I want people in the middle of the day to tune in and get a really good, hard, ‘spit on your computer’ kind of laugh.”
Syndicated by NBC Universal, the series will indeed run midafternoon in many markets, including Duluth and Rochester. But here in the Twin Cities, KARE 11 will continue to air the series at 3 a.m. General manager John Remes said the station will dedicate much of its afternoon to entertainment news programs, including the new “Daily Blast Live,” and has no immediate plans to give “Steve” a more competitive time slot.
Not that Twin Cities viewers don’t have plenty of opportunities to catch Harvey’s act. And the comedian isn’t done yet. He says he’d love to host a New Year’s Eve special.
Watch your back, Seacrest.