May 24, 2024

Bill Maher returned to the airwaves with HBO’s “Real Time” for the first time since the strike with only mild praise for the Writers Guild of America for settling the five-month strike.

Season 21 of “Real Tiime with Bill Maher” became the first of TV’s prominent late-night talk shows to return to the airwaves after the conclusion of the 148-day work stoppage. Maher opened Episode 14 of his hourlong weekly talk/roundtable series with a one-on-one between Maher and GOP presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, the controversial governor of Florida.

After that as the show transitioned to a panel discussion with Maher and Sam Harris, host of “Making Sense” podcast, and author and podcaster Mary Katharine Ham, who co-hosts the “Getting Hammered” podcast and penned the book “End of Discussion: How The Left’s Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).”

Before the panel ensued Maher made brief reference to the disruption in TV over the past five months. He thanked “my brilliant staff writers and non-writers who scrambled the jets to get us in two days.” And he extended thanks “to the union folks who expedited the paperwork” to allow talk shows and late-night shows to return to production on Sept. 27, two days after the WGA finally clinched a tentative three-year contract agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. SAG-AFTRA also went out July 14, heightening the stakes and KO’ing any TV or movies that were still in production.

Maher angered members of his own unions — WGA and SAG-AFTRA — when he announced earlier this year that “Real Time” would return with new episodes as of Sept. 22, without his handful of WGA writers. But Maher was forced to reverse course and delay after a tidal wave of pushback from both striking guilds, and the promise of picket signs deterring guests from entering Maher’s stage at the CBS Television City complex in Los Angeles.

Maher had already angered WGA members and others by criticizing the guild’s stance in the negotiation process during a discussion with comedian Jim Gaffigan on the podcast “Club Random.”

“They’re asking for a lot of things that are, like, kooky,” Maher said in early September. “What I find objectionable about the philosophy of the strike [is] it seems to be, they have really morphed a long way from 2007’s strike, where they kind of believe that you’re owed a living as a writer, and you’re not. This is show business. This is the make-or-miss league.”

Maher’s long-running HBO talk show aired its most recent episode on April 28, days before the WGA went out on strike. That installment featured Tesla/X/SpaceX firebrand Elon Musk, political scientist Ian Bremmer and satirist Konstantin Kisin.

On Friday’s return episode, Maher characteristically mixed it up with DeSantis on his credibility and ability to win a general election.

“If the campaign was going well you wouldn’t be on this show,” Maher observed.

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