None of this is a surprise to Harvey.
“Hollywood is still very racist,” he says. “Hollywood is more racist than America is. They put things on TV that they think the masses will like. Well, the masses have changed. The election of President Obama should prove that. And television should look entirely different. [Scandal star] Kerry Washington should not be the first African-American female to head up a drama series in 40 years. In 40 years! That’s crazy.”
It’s been nearly 20 years since Harvey fronted his first network series. In 1994, after seven years on the stand-up circuit, he landed his own sitcom, Me and the Boys, on ABC. It lasted one season. By 1996, he was on the then-fledgling WB Network with The Steve Harvey Show, a sitcom that co-starred Cedric the Entertainer and ran for six years.
For Harvey, it was an education in the thinly veiled ghettoization of network television. At the time, he says, a high-ranking WB executive explained to him that new networks invest in shows starring African-Americans because they bring a guaranteed audience. “But as they build the network and get more eyeballs, they slowly start phasing them out,” explains Harvey, and the networks try to woo higher-income brackets with a less diverse slate of programming that is perceived as more palatable to the mainstream.