Real Time with Bill Maher is a talk show that airs weekly on HBO, hosted by comedian and political satirist Bill Maher. Much like his previous show, Politically Incorrect on ABC (and before that, on Comedy Central), Real Time features a panel of guests that discuss current events in politics and the media. Unlike the previous show, guests are usually more well-versed in the subject matter, and there are fewer actors and random celebrities included in the panel. Additionally, many guests appear via satellite.
It is an hour-long program with a studio audience, airing live on Friday nights at 11:00 p.m.(ET). It originates from Studio 33 ("The Bob Barker Studio") at CBS Television City in Los Angeles. Approximately 12 new weekly episodes air in the spring (February to early May), followed by another such set of new episodes in the fall (late August to November). Because of the live, current-events nature of the show, HBO does not re-air old episodes between breaks, though occasionally a repeat will be shown when the program takes a week off during the season.
Since the show airs on HBO, the participants do not have to restrict their language to conform to broadcast standards.
In the first season, Paul F. Tompkins was featured as a correspondent. Also, every episode would end with a performance by a stand-up comedian, none of which were political satirists. The segments featuring Tompkins and comedians were dropped after the tenth episode. Viewers were also able to call into the live show in the first season and ask questions over the air, but this was also dropped.
Starting with episode 67 in February 2006, audio-only episodes have been made available as a free podcast via the iTunes Store and as a raw RSS feed The podcasts also feature material cut from the show but taped during the studio rehearsal, including New Rules not aired in the final version. For two weeks in February 2008, the podcasts were presented in video format. However, this video format was dropped for some unknown reason on the next episode, released in Podcast form on March 4, 2008.
During the fall of 2006, Maher began hosting a live chat (now called "Overtime") on HBO's website following each broadcast, usually including some of the show guests as well. Viewers are invited to submit questions prior to and during the original telecast, for Maher and the guests to answer and discuss afterwards.
The opening sequence begins with a spoken phrase from the (now defunct) Los Angeles speaking clock, featuring an (uncredited) Joanne Daniels as the time lady saying "Good Afternoon." The theme song is composed by Christopher "Kid" Reid and his voice is heard saying "Real Time" and "Bill Maher".
As a result of the writers' strike, the opening skit, the "New Rules" segment, and the closing monologue were eliminated for five episodes at the beginning of the year. The ice breaker used in the middle of the show (normally some sort of fake products dealing with a current event) was also eliminated due to the strike. The announcement about Real Time returning without writers claimed that the opening monologue would also be cut, but every episode ended up including a full monologue.
During the strike, the "Overtime" concept became part of the live show itself, through a new segment called "Blogga, Please!." Using HBO's website, viewers were able to leave comments or questions during the live show at 11 p.m. ET. Maher and the panel then responded to selected postings at the end of the show. The "Blogga, Please!" segment was discontinued, and New Rules brought back, on February 15 following the resolution of the strike. Additionally, during the strike, Maher aired pre-recorded interviews by himself with everyday people about the election and other issues after the opening monologue.
Established early on, the final New Rule served as a segue into the closing monologue. On the March 7 episode, the closing monologue returned to the format of the show. The opening skits, however, have not yet reappeared, except for April 4 and 11, 2008.
Instead of doing a second satellite interview near the forty-minute mark, the January 11 episode also featured the debut of the "Real Time Real Reporter", a blogger or political pundit who is brought on midway through the show as an extra panelist to offer opinions on the latest election campaign happenings. Such correspondents have included Matt Taibbi, Frank Luntz, Amy Holmes, P. J. O'Rourke, Dan Savage and others.
Maher is a critic of the Bush administration; however, his panel attempts to present a more diverse set of views. Frequently, it consists of a liberal commentator or political figure, a conservative commentator or political figure, and a third individual who does not have as clear an ideological label. This third individual is often an actor, comedian, musician or other entertainment figure.
Maher disagrees with the Republican party on most issues. He endorsed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry leading up to the 2004 presidential election. Maher has strong opinions on U.S. drug policy, advocating for the legalization of marijuana; against censorship, often citing his own dismissal from ABC and the backlash against the Dixie Chicks; and against conservative attitudes towards sex and sexuality, mocking outrages over Bill Clinton's infidelity and Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction". He is also not shy about his anti-religious views and frequently asserts his position that all organized forms of religious belief are detrimental to society.