Steve Harvey hits on winning daytime formula

"Having both Oprah and Phil come on the show is really an indication the show has arrived," Goldberg said.

Endemol pursued Harvey over several years, the executive said. The company knew he was one of "The Original Kings of Comedy," celebrated in that 2000 stand-up concert film, but more recently he proved his mainstream viability by, as host, saving "Family Feud" and writing amusing but sincere best-selling advice books.

NBC's station group backed Harvey's show early, as well. Early last year, Larry Wert, now of Tribune Co. (parent of the Chicago Tribune) but then executive vice president of station initiatives for the NBC stations, helped to convince Harvey that Chicago, with its talk show traditions, trained workers and available studio space, was a better location than his home base of Atlanta.

Indeed, Winfrey, in the show that'll air Friday, looks around and says, "I see so many of my crew here," and Harvey responds, "You know, that's what I was going to tell you. Steve ain't stupid."

Pleasing enough of daytime America to be considered a ratings success doesn't mean the show is perfect. It is not as tightly produced as Winfrey's was, for instance. Where Winfrey's guests almost always felt like the best available examples of their issue, vetted like presumptive FBI agents, Harvey's guests have been hit-and-miss.

And Harvey still needs work as an interviewer. He has personal charm but too often seems content to cruise on that. In a segment about older single women, he brought on three men as potential matches and told the women he would take charge of questioning them. But he proceeded to ask generic, bad-job-interview questions. Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your goals? Ho and hum.

The afternoon, though, is not a time of day that demands much.

By those relaxed standards, Harvey can just ham it up as he rolls his hips in a Zumba segment, turn on the high-wattage smile and then, in the guise of counseling a man and woman having difficulty blending their two families, touch hearts by sharing a story about his kids and wife Marjorie's kids voting 4 to 3 against them getting married.

The former comedy king is looking like, at minimum, a daytime TV prince, and he's making it look easy.

sajohnson@tribune.com | Twitter @StevenKJohnson

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