‘Real Time with Bill Maher’ returning to HBO without writers amid WGA strike

Bill Maher’s political talk show will return to the HBO lineup for new episodes without writers amid the dual Hollywood strikes, he said on social media Wednesday night.

“Real Time is coming back, unfortunately, sans writers or writing,” Maher said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “It has been five months, and it is time to bring people back to work.”

He continued: “The writers have important issues that I sympathize with, and hope they are addressed to their satisfaction, but they are not the only people with issues, problems, and concerns. Despite some assistance from me, much of the staff is struggling mightily.”

Real Time with Bill Maher.Janet Van Ham / HBO

Maher is the first late-night host to say his program would return to the airwaves since Writers Guild of America members headed to the picket lines May 2, effectively shutting down the majority of the industry’s television and film projects. The writers in the union are demanding higher base compensation, improved working conditions and stricter protections against the use of artificial intelligence.

He said his team had been “hopeful” the WGA strike would be resolved after Labor Day, “but that day has come and gone, and there still seems to be nothing happening.”

The WGA leaders and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a trade association that bargains on behalf of the leading studios and streaming services, remain far apart on key issues. (The group represents NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.)

Hollywood’s actors, largely represented by the union known as SAG-AFTRA, joined writers on the picket lines in July. They are striking over similar issues.

“I love my writers, I am one of them, but I’m not prepared to lose an entire year and see so many below-the-line people suffer so much,” Maher said in the post, referring to behind-the-scenes crew members such as camera operators, hair stylists and makeup artists.

Maher said he would “honor the spirit of the strike by not doing a monologue” and other “Real Time” features that are scripted, such as the “New Rules” segment, which typically comes near the end of the show. He suggested the unscripted version of the show would revolve around the “off-the-cuff panel discussion.”

“I’ll say it upfront to the audience: the show I will be doing without my writers will not be as good as our normal show, full stop,” he added.

In a statement on X, the WGA said that Maher’s decision was “disappointing” and that guild members would picket the show. 

“If he goes forward with his plan, he needs to honor more than ‘the spirit of the strike,’” the statement said. “As a WGA member, @BillMaher is obligated to follow the strike rules and not perform any writing services. It is difficult to imagine how @RealTimers can go forward without a violation of WGA strike rules taking place.”

“Real Time” has been part of the HBO lineup since February 2003. Each season consists of 20 to 35 episodes. The show’s 21st season debuted in January and halted on April 28, after 13 episodes had aired. Maher and HBO have not announced a premiere date for the new episodes.

Three days ago, Drew Barrymore announced that her syndicated daytime talk show would proceed with its fourth season despite the strikes.

“I own this choice,” Barrymore said in a statement posted on social media. “We are in compliance with not discussing or promoting film and television that is struck of any kind.”

Barrymore has drawn intense scrutiny for her decision. WGA members picketed this week outside the New York studio where “The Drew Barrymore Show” is recorded, and the National Book Foundation rescinded its invitation for her to host its annual awards.

In a statement this week, a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson said Barrymore’s show is “produced under the Network Television Code, which is a separate contract and is not struck. It is permissible work and Drew’s role as host does not violate the current strike rules.”

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