Title: Real Time with Bill Maher
Current Host: Bill Maher
Theme Music: Louis "Buster" Brown and Scott "Shavoni" Parker
Format: One-on-one interview; current events and issues roundtable
Broadcast information: Airs on subscription cable service HBO Fridays at 10 p.m. ET.
Tapes: CBS Television City, Hollywood, Calif.
Premiere Date: February 2008
Though Real Time with Bill Maher premiered in February 2003 on HBO, the current events talk show really got its start in February 1993. That's when Politically Incorrect debuted on Comedy Central.
Politically Incorrect became an overnight sensation because of host Bill Maher's insistence that guests speak truly speak their mind about current events and hot topics. He might plug an author's book or a celebrity's film at the end of the show, but the other 29 minutes of the half-hour program were meant for debate.
It was also on Politically Incorrect that Republican Christine O'Donnell first admitted she dabbled in witchcraft.
Politically Incorrect ran on Comedy Central and ABC until 2002, when it was cancelled. True to form, the cancellation came with some controversy. Shortly after the September 11th attacks on New York City, Maher was quoted on his show saying, "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly."
Contextually, Maher condemned the terrorists and terrorist attacks regularly, but the quote took on a life of its own. He whole-heartedly apologized, explaining that he was criticizing military policy, not glorifying the terrorists.
Advertisers pulled out of the show and it floundered, eventually cancelled by ABC.
The show - with a new name, more time (now an hour long), and a shift in the format - returned a year later on HBO. Commercial- and censor-free, the show quickly found an audience and continues to be a hit for the cable network.
New show, new success
Real Time with Bill Maher debuted in February 2003. Today, the hour-long show begins with a comedy sketch, followed by Maher's biting monologue. After the monolgue, Maher takes some time to interview a guest connected to one or more of the night's topics - something missing from Politically Incorrect's format.
After the interview, Maher sits with guests for one of two panel sessions. The two sessions are broken up by either a comedy bit, an interview with a pop culture figure or expert, or both. Then it's back to the roundtable for more debate.
Maher tops off the show with two editorials, one under the title "New Rules" and the last as a kind of monologue comedy benediction.
For awhile, the show would air during short fall and spring seasons, with a winter and summer break. Today, the show continues around the calendar, though taking a long summer hiatus and a decent winter interlude. Because of its topical nature, however, reruns are not shown during the hiatus, like other talk shows.
No cable? No problem
Though the show airs on subscription cable network HBO, those who want to hear the show have an option. Real Time with Bill Maher can be heard via podcast, downloadable from iTunes.
Audio only from each episode makes up each podcast, which includes material not heard in the pre-recorded show.
Visitors to the Real Time website can catch video clips from the show and watch Overtime, the 10 to 15-minute post-show webcast Maher and his guests take part in each week. Viewers can submit questions to the show, during the show, that Maher and his guests will answer.
Then there's Downtime, a more "flipcam" style online program in which Maher answers questions from Twitter - not so much by tweeting, but by straight-up answering them.