Bill Maher has decided to stop the clock on the return of “Real Time.”
The comedian, who last week vowed to put his topical HBO program back into production, now says he will delay it for a while longer.
“My decision to return to work was made when it seemed nothing was happening and there was no end in sight to this strike,” he said via social media. “Now that both sides have agreed to go back to the negotiating table I’m going to delay the return of ‘Real Time,’ for now, and hope they can finally get this done.” All of TV’s late-night series have gone dark in recent months due to the strike, but Maher said he could no longer stand by as so many of his below-the-line crew were going without being paid.
In doing so, the iconoclastic host is following the lead of several other prominent hosts who have in recent days opted to halt production plans. Drew Barrymore had planned to start a new cycle of her CBS daytime program, and the network was ready to launch its afternoon series “The Talk.” Both changed course after the plans spurred backlash. The WGA saId it planned to protest outside any production of “Real Time.”
Maher had planned a stripped-down show, one that would have been devoid of many of its signature elements. Under his plan, a “Real Time” episode produced during the strike would not have featured any monologues, humor pieces, or the series’ flagship segment, “New Rules.” “And I’ll say it upfront to the audience: the show I will be doing without my writers will not be as good as our normal show, full stop,” Maher said last week.
The WGA strike has foiled many TV networks’ late-night plans. CBS had hoped to launch a new show at 12:30 a.m. this fall to replace the departing James Corden. The strike has altered that timetable, according to people familiar with the matter. In place of a companion to Stephen Colbert’s program, CBS has tapped “Comics Unleashed,” a collection of stand-up routines produced by entrepreneur Byron Allen’s Allen Media Group on a short-term basis. Comedy Central, which had been testing a wide variety of hosts to succeed Trevor Noah on “Daily Show,” has scuttled those efforts, even though comedian Hasan Minhaj is seen as a leading candidate for the role.
TV’s late-night programs continue to generate discussion and the threads of popular culture. But the longer shows like NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” remain dark, the more risk there is of viewers in the era of streaming video making permanent changes to their consumption habits. In 2018, seven late night programs — NBC’s “Tonight” and “Late Night,” CBS’ “Late Show” and “Late Late Show,” ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” — drew more than $698 million in advertising in 2018, according to Vivvix, a tracker of ad spending. By 2022, that total came to $412.7 million — a drop of approximately 41% over five years.
Some of the hosts have seemed eager to get back to their wee-hours antics. Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers. Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and John Oliver have banded together to produce a podcast in hopes of donating any revenues it generates to their out-of-work crews.
The strike scuttled production of “Real Time” in the midst of the series’ 21st season. “Real Time” debuted on HBO in 2003. It incorporates some elements of Maher’s previous program, “Politically Incorrect,” which ran on both Comedy Central and ABC.