Steve Harvey: TV Relationship Guru?

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Steve Harvey Foundation
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Steve Harvey Foundation

Comedian Steve Harvey, who has made Family Feud the fastest-growing program in syndication, recently shot a pilot in Stamford, Conn., for his own syndicated daytime talk show to debut in late 2012. If sold, NBC Universal Television would distribute the show, which would be produced by Harvey and his longtime business partner Rushion McDonald.


It will be a relationships show, focusing on Harvey's unique brand of humor about what makes women and men tick. And why not? Harvey has had a powerful run of good luck with the topic lately.

His book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: What Men Really Think About Love, Relationships, Intimacy, and Commitment, topped the New York Times best-seller list for 44 weeks in 2009. It was quickly followed in 2010 by Straight Talk, No Chaser: How to Find, Keep, and Understand a Man. The two secured Harvey's place among dating gurus.

Even Oprah glowed with approval as he sat on her couch dispensing counsel, and there were rumors that Harvey was at one time being considered for a talk show with Winfrey's own venerable Harpo Productions.

A Movie in the Making

To add to the frenzy, production on a film version of Act Like a Lady began this summer: A romantic comedy about a relationship expert with dating problems of his own, the film features recording artist Chris Brown (no kidding) in a leading role.

But for all the love Harvey is currently getting from fans (Harvey claims that his advice has led to marriage for several grateful readers), he has also had his share of criticism. 

Some berate him for pathologizing, yet again, single black women. Others wonder how it is that a man with two failed marriages and some nasty accusations coming from wife No. 2 (abandonment, adultery, "physical and mental" abuse) can be taken seriously as a relationship sage. (Harvey denies the accusations made by his second wife, Mary Shackelford, in a widely circulated YouTube video last February.)


And yes, he's retro, firmly rooted in a 1960s "nation-building" ideology. Such as when he advises women to let men know they're still the "head of the household" when things get rough financially.

Speaking From Experience

So why, despite these shortcomings, do Harvey's teachings resonate?

Simply put, he speaks from a place that's deeply familiar. We know this guy. We've watched him run games on women for years. Yes, Harvey has a messy past. But that's part of what gives him "street cred."


A visual image may help here: As host of the ninth annual Hoodie Awards earlier this month, Harvey brought a down-home sensibility that was the perfect match for categories such as "best fried chicken," "best car wash" and "best nail salon."

What Harvey is really telling millions of women is how to avoid hooking up with that guy — the one he used to be.


His message isn't for the happy-and-single crowd, clearly. They should ignore him and his books, along with his television shows and movies. But for those who are interested, some of Harvey's musings may actually be worthwhile. He isn't the first to say these things, and he may not even be the one who says them best. Still, they sometimes ring true.

Like when he says that men actually don't mind strong, independent women as partners.


"What we do mind is feeling like we're not needed," he writes in Straight Talk. "What turns us off is when your personal seams are sewed up so tight we can't see where we can fit in and what role we can play in your life. You leave us no room to be men."

Harvey has said that he hopes his new talk show will be "empowering" and "insightful" for women. He used those exact words. Which made me pause for a moment.


Women come into their own power in very different ways. And feminism, such as it is, can sometimes be an imperfect road map when it comes to matters of the heart.

"I'm not saying to go skydiving without a parachute," writes Harvey, "and I'm not telling you to chain yourself up, submerge yourself in a tank full of water and try to escape. I'm just asking you to consider thinking about relationships in a different way."


So what if Harvey can show a few unhappy single women (again, the happy ones should ignore him) how to avoid the losers that he apparently knows so well — and be funny to boot?

That could be a message worth tuning in for.

Kristal Brent Zook is the author of Black Women's Lives: Stories of Power and Pain. She is an associate professor and director of the Master of Arts in Journalism program at Hofstra University in New York.