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Steve Harvey shares secrets behind his TV, books and movie empire (Q&A)

“Steve Harvey,” the hit daytime talk show. (Elizabeth Sisson/NBC)
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Steve Harvey? Yeah, he’s having a pretty good year. His daytime talk show, which kicks off its third season on Monday, has thrived in an era in which similar ventures crash and burn (Katie Couric, Bethenny Frankel, Anderson Cooper and too many others to name). He won two Daytime Emmy awards, one for his talk show and another as Outstanding Game Show Host for the syndicated “Family Feud,” which he’s largely credited with saving. “Think Like a Man Too,” the second movie in a franchise based on his best-selling relationship advice book, was a hit at the box office. He’s got a radio program, “The Steve Harvey Morning Show.” Plus, there’s another book coming out this fall, “Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success,” which he calls a “game-changer.”

He’s matter-of-fact about his impressive list of accomplishments, and why shouldn’t he be? Women follow his candid dating advice so closely that they frequently approach him on the street and ask, “Steve, can you find me a man?”

We got him on the phone shortly after he landed in Chicago (he films his talk and radio shows there and travels between “Family Feud” tapings in Atlanta) and asked him about what’s left to conquer in the entertainment world; what he’s learned from the cutthroat daytime talk show world; and if he really can find his fans a man.

So many daytime talk shows struggle and get canceled almost immediately. What sets yours apart?

I think the authenticity resonates with people for the most part, because I have opinions and I’m not afraid to say them and I don’t care if it’s politically correct or not. My thoughts on child-rearing, on dating, on relationships, on your boss, on your attitude about money, whatever it is. I’m not afraid to say it. 

I think also, having a male perspective in daytime TV that’s a champion for women like I am, that helps. When a woman hears advice directly from a man, I think it resonates for them a little better than when they hear it from their girlfriends. They trust me and know I’m not going to lie to them. 

The daytime talk show audience is mainly geared toward women, so what’s the most common thing you hear from women about why they like your show?

The honesty resonates with them – a lot of times I hear that from women. They’re interested in my take on a lot of different things. Because they know I’m going to be very honest, and they know that I speak from a position of realness, that I don’t give them canned answers. I don’t give them the answer that my publicist told me I should say, or my marketing guy told me I should say. I give it to them straight. I think that they enjoy smiling during the middle of the day.

You cover such serious topics sometimes – people looking for missing loved ones, for example. How do you walk that line between also making it funny?

It’s tough because you gotta stay serious when it’s time to stay serious – I shed a couple tears on the show I wasn’t really looking for. Because some of it affects me, you know, I’m looking at the person sitting here and I can feel their energy and they’re being very genuine and they’re really trying to pull it together. Or they’re really looking for somebody that they missed in their life, and I can relate to a person wanting something so badly and it’s not happening. . . . But at the same time, I try to interject a little bit of humor when I can so we can keep everybody okay. I don’t want to push anybody off the deep end here.

When people see you on the street, do they corner you and try to ask for advice?

The majority of things I get from women is, “Steve, can you find me a man?” That’s my number one request. I say, “Well, you know, I can help you out, but I don’t know if I can find him. He’s going to find you.”

You’re credited with saving “Family Feud” from cancellation in 2010. How do you inject your own personality into that show while still keeping the game running smoothly? Can you do it in your sleep at this point or is it challenging?

It’s not a challenge at all, I’m doing the thing I was born to do. So I think it was really, really important for me to interject more humor into the show. Every answer a person gives is not going to be on the board – I don’t care how hard the family is clapping, saying, “Good answer, good answer.” No, it’s not! No, no, no. That’s not a good answer. And why you’re thinking this is a good answer, I don’t know, but let’s talk about that for a minute. That’s never been done on a show, where the host questions the person’s response. And I brought that to a game show business and I turned that into a really, really fun time. I’m not mean to any of the contestants. I’m only repeating back what you said, so if you said it, you can’t get mad at me for repeating it over and over and over.

“Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” turned into quite the phenomenon – when you were writing it, did you anticipate it being a giant hit?

(Laughs.) I wish I could say that I did – that was the plan, but nah. [The publisher] told me that a huge literary book is 250,000 copies. I told them I would sell 750,000 books. They laughed. I heard them, they were saying, “Yeah, that’s really nice, Steve, yeah, sure. If we sell 100,000 copies we’re going to be very happy. 200,000 copies and we’re bananas.”

Well what is it now? At 3.8 million copies, a movie, two movies? Come on. I’d love to say I thought of that, but I didn’t, that was a gift from God. 

And this new book will take the same approach, just not about relationships?

This new book, let me tell you something: This book right here, it’s gonna be a game-changer. This book right here will transform so many lives because I’m talking to where the average person is. 

And you know how I know that? Because I’ve been there. See, I’ve fallen and thought I couldn’t get back up. I’ve been written off and told I wasn’t going to ever be nothing. I jumped and took a chance, a leap of faith. I’ve been homeless. I’ve been dead broke and I’ve been well off. I’ve had the whole gamut. . . . It’s not like I’m writing a book and I’ve never had a day of suffering in my life, or I’m writing a book and I come from a family with money. It’s none of that. I’ve come from the bottom and I’ve worked my way up, pretty high up, on the pyramid.

So, TV show, movies, radio, books. Any area left to conquer?

My goal is to become [one of the] premier motivational speakers in the country. That’s what I’m working on right now with my new Web site, I’ve hired a bunch of experts to help teach a lot of different areas of this thing called success. I think that’s my next big deal.

“Steve Harvey” (one hour) is syndicated on NBC stations nationwide and airs in the Washington area at 2 p.m.