Steve Edwards is the Ringmaster

Aug 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

I first met Steve Edwards a decade ago, when we were fellow fathers with daughters at a prep high school in suburban Los Angeles. At the time I didn’t realize this affable, charming family man was giving me a glimpse of a side of his life that he carefully keeps private from most of those who know him professionally.

Although he is on TV as a talk show host and anchor on Fox television every weekday morning (for two hours on “Good Day L.A.,” a local show in Southern California, and for one hour on the national version, “Good Day Live”), Mr. Edwards has been surprisingly successful at keeping his public and private lives separate. “I’ve got three hours on the air every day,” he explained recently in a rare sit-down interview. “That’s enough. That’s as much as any balanced person should need for people to pay attention to them.”

“Steve’s perfect day,” says his longtime co-host Dorothy Lucey, “is to go home and not be disturbed until the next day.”

Positioned as the bemused patriarch surrounded by a cast of characters that includes at least two sexy younger women as sidekicks, Mr. Edwards approaches his daily duties with a blue-collar work ethic. He understands his role is to be ringmaster and to get in a few serious stories each day. He is up early every morning to prepare and reads several newspapers, though by choice he leaves much of the decisionmaking to his producers, including Lisa Kridos and Josh Kaplan.

“I’m involved with everything but I don’t ever want to be the boss,” he explained. “I don’t want the responsibility. I don’t want to call the shots. They know what I think.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. “The producers will tell you the one thing I’m crazy on is news coverage,” Mr. Edwards said. “I will drive them nuts on these stories. I just want to make sure the story is right. And I know this stuff. I know the content. I know where things fit. A lot of people don’t, so they create stories, and things are left out. They don’t get the nuance. So I’m all over these people.”

He was born Steven Edward Schwartz in New York City. It was while studying for a doctorate in psychology at the University of Miami that he got the broadcasting bug. He talked his way into an FM station in Houston, where the general manager asked him whether he had a professional moniker and suggested he just drop his last name. He soon became so widely known as Steve Edwards that he went to court and had his name legally changed.

Covering Everything

His work on radio led to a job with the CBS-TV affiliate in Houston, where he produced and anchored news shows and first hosted talk shows. That led him to the ABC affiliate in Chicago, where he hosted two talk shows and served as entertainment critic on the news. He moved to L.A. in 1978 to work at the CBS station, where he did entertainment reporting and reviews, before taking on a series of local and national TV and radio talk shows that covered everything from hard news to sports. He was also one of the first hosts on “Entertainment Tonight.” He landed at Fox in April 1995.

For about nine years on “Good Day L.A.,” Mr. Edwards has been teamed with Ms. Lucey, who does mostly entertainment news, and Jillian Barberie, an unpredictable blonde from Canada who does the weather, style stories and the seemingly daily segment involving animals.

Although the local show is about news, it is better known for being sexy, chatty, occasionally catty, often outrageous and unafraid to go off-script, which makes it at least slightly unpredictable. “I don’t know when we break the rules anymore. We just do it,” Mr. Edwards said, adding: “I have a theory about these shows. If 15 percent of the potential audience isn’t throwing up, it’s not working. Because the show isn’t for everybody. I’m not even sure I would watch it. But I have a good time doing it.”

It was the success in L.A. that led Fox to launch a one-hour daily national version about two years ago. However, the programs have evolved to be quite different. “The national show has news in it,” said Mr. Edwards, “but we’re not going to the chopper pilot [for traffic] or to our reporters for breaking news stories. The national show is more entertainment features and entertainment news.”

Rough National Reception

The team that has woken up L.A. has found rougher going nationally. “Good Day Live” has barely broken into the top 50 syndicated shows in terms of ratings. Putting a more positive spin on it, Twentieth Television promotes its strength in the key demographic-women 18 to 49.

However, that audience apparently is the real reason Ms. Barberie suddenly left the national show last month with little explanation. The official reason was that she wanted to pursue other daytime projects, but rumors abounded that she had clashed with Mr. Edwards. “There’s not a scintilla of truth to that,” he said. “It’s hard to even talk about it. We get along exceedingly well.”

Ms. Lucey said it does feel odd to do the national show without Ms. Barberie, “because we’ve all been together so long.”

Ms. Barberie has not given any interviews since the switch. Her personal publicist said she would not have time to talk about Mr. Edwards, explaining that “Jill has moved on and is doing many other things.”

You won’t hear it from Fox, but the real reason the provocative Ms. Barberie was dropped, according to several sources, is that she wasn’t clicking with the largely female audience for the national show. Unafraid to flaunt her sexuality or her ideas, she seems to draw in younger women and most men, which works fine on the local show, but she turns off many women over 25, who see her as too brazen.

A series of guest hostesses hasn’t helped the show turn the ratings corner either. Ms. Kridos said the producers will eventually pick a permanent replacement.

Mr. Edwards shrugs off the controversy and focuses on his job and life. He doesn’t like too much change. He has been married to the same woman for 32 years and lived in the same house for 25 years. When he does appear publicly, its usually on behalf of one of a handful of charities he supports, including the Alzheimer’s Foundation, with which he got involved after his mother-in-law was struck by the disease.

He spends his private time with a small group of longtime friends or reading or working out. “I feel so lucky. I’ve never had a real job,” Mr. Edwards said. “I’ve worked for 30 years but never had a real job. I get to pursue a lot of things I find interesting and things I don’t find interesting. I’ve always had a dollar more than I’ve needed and I’m not a material person. I have a great marriage, great kids. I’m a lucky guy, but part of that is understanding that if the show goes bad, it goes bad. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Those things are not the big issues. I care about it. I want to be that guy on television and then I want to be a private citizen off the air. And the joke is, this is my career. That’s what I want and it’s great that that’s what I’ve got.”