Steve Harvey's decision to end his current talk show and launch a new one next fall isn't just a sign of an in-demand talent taking more control of his creative output. It's also a signal of his talent agency's expanding ambitions.
WME-IMG will produce the new Harvey-hosted talker, which is said to be more celebrity-driven than the host's The Steve Harvey Show. That syndicated series will end in May after five hit seasons as his contract with Endemol Shine North America expires. Sources say Harvey, 59, was seeking more creative control, which IMG offered. The show will be overseen by IMG's Original Content team, headed by the recently promoted WME-IMG co-president Mark Shapiro.
The new deal gives both Harvey and WME-IMG substantial ownership stakes in the program, which may raise eyebrows in Hollywood because talent agencies traditionally have been prevented by California regulations from owning content. But IMG was producing sports-related shows for years before WME and its majority owner Silver Lake purchased the company for $2.3 billion in 2013, and in the past year, IMG Original Content has produced the documentaries Gleason and Michael Moore in TrumpLand, HBO's Gonzaga: The March to Madness docuseries, and the Miss Universe and Miss USA telecasts. WME-IMG, which maintains a big foothold in the fashion business, also teamed with Apple TV for the digital fashion network Made to Measure.
A talent agency producing, particularly on a client's show, may raise concerns about agents pushing clients into their own productions and negotiating potentially unfair terms of employment. But WME-IMG sources say the company urges clients to seek outside counsel, as Harvey did, when it comes to any productions from IMG or its affiliates. In addition, insiders say WME-IMG is working to create a "firewall" between the agency and production sides of its business in order to avoid conflicts. Earlier this year, the company paid $4 billion for the UFC mixed martial arts league, making WME-IMG the owner of the league that features a few of its clients, such as star fighter Ronda Rousey. (WME-IMG doesn't negotiate Rousey's fighting deals.)
"When there's a huge conflict with your core business and your new business, who do you look out for? It's a very hard thing to figure out," says one prominent television executive, who adds that deals can be "riddled with conflict" when a company is looking out for both sides of its business. "Somebody ends up with the good end of the package and somebody ends up at the bad end of the package."
Sources say Harvey did, in fact, shop the show around before ultimately landing at IMG. He'd previously worked with the company when he hosted the 2015 Miss Universe pageant, which, despite his on-air blunder in misreading the winner's name, he's set to host for the next three years. The upcoming series will see Harvey relocate from Chicago to Los Angeles, where his other four shows - Family Feud, Celebrity Family Feud, Little Big Shots and the forthcoming Mark Burnett-produced Funderdome - are based. NBCUniversal Domestic Television, which distributes The Steve Harvey Show, is currently shopping the new daytime talker, which will launch in September, in hopes that many of the same NBC stations will scoop it up.
Additional reporting by Rebecca Ford.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.