Move to cable suits Maher’s new show

Times Staff Writer

When his guests started talking over each other last week, host Bill Maher jumped in to scold them. After all, that kind of Springer-style cacophony did little for Maher’s previous show, “Politically Incorrect.”

He warned the panel: “I could get Carrot Top here in a minute.”

Luckily, there seems to be little danger of that. Maher’s new show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” features about a dozen rotating guests instead of an endless stream of hit-or-miss celebs promoting a book, movie or dinner theater commitment.

It’s one of several changes on the retooled, one-hour version of “Politically Incorrect” that airs Friday nights at 11:30 on HBO (live on the East Coast, tape-delayed in the West).


Based on the first two episodes, the biggest improvement seems to be the move from ABC -- which canceled “P.I.” last year -- to cable, where the topical conversation can build without being interrupted by commercial breaks and network censors.

Of course, this is not exactly “Booknotes” with Brian Lamb. Along with a round-table discussion, each episode includes Maher’s opening monologue, a tongue-in-cheek commentary by comic Paul F. Thompkins and a guest comedy routine.

Round-table guests so far have included comedian Larry Miller and author Ann Coulter, with other “P.I.” regulars including Arianna Huffington and Al Franken waiting in the wings. Sailor-mouthed comic Sarah Silverman did her shtick on the Feb. 21 premiere, and Monty Python alum Eric Idle offered a musical number last week mocking patriotism.

Tonight’s panel is D.L. Hughley, radio host Michael Graham and political cartoonist Ted Rall, and the comedy guest is the Marijuanalogues.

Some of the round-table rotation’s Johnny-one-notes, like Coulter on the right and Alec Baldwin on the left, could wear thin, but so far the conversations have been smart and lively.

The format lets Maher display plenty of his incisive wit. On Saddam Hussein: “He is Hitler like Oasis was the Beatles.” On so-called reality TV: “How can we say we are a good people if what we like to watch as our sole form of entertainment is the torture of our fellow citizens?”

Fortunately, Maher’s version of keeping it “real” is far from torture.