The hardest working man in show business has added a reality competition to his busy schedule. Steve Harvey, daytime talk show host, radio show host, children’s talent show host, and game show host, turns his attention to business this summer season. Leading inventors in a head-to-head competition to secure funding for their products, Harvey’s “Funderdome” combines the high stakes of “Shark Tank” with the frenzied excitement of a game show. The show counts on the charisma of Harvey to win over viewers and it’s hard not to like Harvey.
The competition, Harvey tells us, is about “everyday people with extraordinary ideas.” Clever ideas, yes. Extraordinary? That’s a stretch. On the premiere episode one of the head-to-head battles is between the inventor of a soap specifically designed for sensitive lady parts because she tells us: “When a cookie is shut down the whole house is shut down,” and the inventors of all natural soaps each having a specific use (exfoliation etc.). The “V-Smart” woman’s product is good for some Harvey humor as he awkwardly admits he is nervous and has no idea what to ask the enthusiastic female inventor.
Each head-to-head battle is for a specified amount of funding, ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 but to spice things up, contestants have a chance to cash out before they learn who the audience voted to fund. In game show fashion, a button rises from the floor centerstage and various amounts of cash appear and disappear on a screen as they decide whether to take the money and run or risk going home with nothing if they aren’t the audience’s choice. The will-they-or-won’t-they cash out doesn’t add too much to the action but when one of the natural soap inventors hits the button for a few thousand dollars, he tells Harvey he took the money because his girlfriend needs his competitor’s V-Smart soap. Then quickly adds, “You know what I mean.” It’s a funny moment that Harvey almost seems too surprised to take advantage of with his signature “oh no he didn’t!” reaction.
Presenting to the audience, the inventors are enthusiastic and entertaining. Not burdened with having to answer tough questions about how their product would actually get to market, they are able to focus on the idea and are filled with the energy that comes from having a captive audience and a host who listen rather than criticize. Harvey may gently tease about a component of the product but he is not negative. While the element of audience participation democratizes the process by taking the power to award money away from business executives and putting it into the hands of the buying public, the “battles” for the audience vote are more celebrations of creativity than serious consumer pitches. Think “Shark Tank-Lite.”
Harvey is good at what he does, combining common sense reactions with humor in a way that never hurts anyone’s feelings. While the stakes are real for the inventors, “Funderdome” is lightweight summer fare and thanks to the talents of Harvey, not the worse for it.
“Steve Harvey’s Funderdome” is on Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC.
— Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing’” and the recently released “The American Television Critic.” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.