Less than a week after becoming the first late-night host to say he would resume his show despite the writers strike, Bill Maher has backtracked on that decision, announcing on Monday that he’ll now “delay the return of Real Time” until the strike’s end.
Maher initially said that Real Time would return to HBO on September 22, “unfortunately, sans writers or writing.” Now his program joins The Drew Barrymore Show, The Talk, and The Jennifer Hudson Show in postponing a return to the airwaves, presumably until the strike is resolved.
Maher’s change of heart, he said, wasn’t catalyzed by the pressure he faced from critics including Stephen King—who reposted the host’s statement and wrote, “This is exactly how strikes are broken”—and Keith Olbermann, who called Maher a “selfish and unfunny scumbag.” Instead, Maher said, he was convinced by apparent progress being made between the writers and studios.
“My decision to return to work was made when it seemed nothing was happening and there was no end in sight to this strike,” Maher wrote. “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.” According to The Hollywood Reporter, a meeting between Writers Guild of America leadership and top Hollywood showrunners, such as Kenya Barris and Sam Esmail, was canceled on Friday after the WGA told members: “The WGA and AMPTP are in the process of scheduling a time to get back in the room.”
Maher’s program, which he previously admitted would “not be as good as our normal show” without a writing team, was also facing planned picketing outside of its Los Angeles studio on Tuesday. The Writers Guild of America West, of which Maher is a member, took to social media last week to call his decision to return “disappointing.” “If he goes forward with his plan, he needs to honor more than ‘the spirit of the strike,’” the organization said in a tweet. The WGA also confirmed it would “be picketing this show,” adding, “It is difficult to imagine how @RealTimers can go forward without a violation of WGA strike rules taking place.”
Prior to confirming his now scrapped return, Maher had been openly critical of the writers strike; as he said on his Club Random podcast with guest Jim Gaffigan earlier this month, “They struck at just the wrong time; they have no leverage. Has anybody who’s watching TV recently noticed a difference? Has it affected the person down the pipeline? I don’t think so. I haven’t noticed a difference.”