As Bill Maher Returns To TV, Will Other Late-Night Hosts Follow?

Bill Maher has faced a lot of criticism after revealing that he was bringing Real Time back to HBO next week.

Called out by a slew of striking writers on social media, the WGA called the move “disappointing” and said that they would picket the show on its return.

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But the other question that Maher’s move provoked was whether the remaining late-night hosts – The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert, The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Late Night’s Seth Meyers and Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver – would make a similar move.

As it stands, the answer seems to be a hearty ‘No’.

The group has got together regularly after teaming up to launch the Strike Force Five podcast on Spotify, established to help pay for their staffs during the strike. The fivesome has not explicitly talked about returning or not returning to work on the podcast, but it’s clear that they all support the WGA and its fight against the studios.

Meyers, a member of the WGA who has been regularly seen on the picket line, told Deadline earlier this summer, “As a writer who identifies as a writer, there would be no trying to get around [it]. I wouldn’t be looking for loopholes to figure out how to write [the show],” he said.

Deadline has spoken to sources close to some of the hosts and while they would like to return to work, they have no interest in returning to work during a strike.

Could they? Theoretically, yes, under the same rules that allow Maher to return as the host on Real Time.

The difference? Colbert, Fallon, Kimmel, Meyers and Oliver are more in line with the WGA’s demands than Maher, who previously called some of the WGA’s demands “kooky”.

There’s also far few late-night shows on air in 2023 than there was even a few years ago. Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee, Hell of a Week’s Charlamagne Tha God, Desus & Mero and Ziwe have all left the space recently. The Daily Show is also in a different situation; the Comedy Central series had been going through a rotating cast of guest hosts after the departure of Trevor Noah and does not yet have a permanent replacement.

The landscape is also different; while these shows are money makers for their network, ratings for late-night in general are lower than they were 15 years ago. Remember, the networks are not spending money producing these shows and are running repeats in those slots.

One quirk; CBS revealed that it would swap out repeats of The Late Late Show with James Corden with a syndicated comedy talk show. Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen is launching on September 18 for a limited run.

Corden, however, had the good fortune of leaving his show days before the work stoppage.

Kimmel and Colbert were hosting late-night shows during the last strike. Kimmel was already hosting Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Colbert was the host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. Meyers was on SNL and Oliver was a correspondent on The Daily Show.

Maher’s Real Time was also hit, with its season finale replaced by a rerun.

Jay Leno, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien all returned to the air on January 2, 2008, after nearly two months off-air. They were followed by Stewart and Colbert on January 7.

But due to an unusual ownership model, Letterman’s production company Worldwide Pants owned The Late Show and The Late Late Show rather than CBS and was able to strike a side-deal with the WGA. Leno, Kimmel, O’Brien, et al, meanwhile, were employees of their respective networks.

On the Strike Force Five podcast, Kimmel said that all of the other hosts were “mad” that Letterman and Ferguson were able to go back first with their writers as a result of this side deal.

“Would it be fair to say that in 2008 the hosts didn’t get along quite as well as we do?,” quipped Oliver. “I know it’s an incredibly low bar but that was a sequence of dying marriages that they were engaged in.”

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