CNN Dips Its Toe Into Comedy With Bill Maher Segments


CNN is adding comedian Bill Maher to its Friday night lineup. Starting this Friday at 11:30pm ET, the network will begin airing segments of Overtime, the after-show segment of Maher’s weekly HBO late-night show, Real Time with Bill Maher, during CNN Tonight. HBO and CNN share a parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery. The news, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, comes as Puck earlier this month reported on discussions around CNN using Maher’s post-show segments, which had previously only aired on YouTube. 

Maher’s addition follows reporting that CNN CEO Chris Licht is considering a comedian to host one of its prime time shows. CNN has been without a permanent host for its 9pm hour ever since Chris Cuomo got fired at the end of 2021, and its 10pm hour since October, when Don Lemon moved to mornings; Alisyn Camerota has been filling in for Lemon, and Laura Coates has been hosting an 11pm show. CNN executives have apparently floated Maher, Trevor Noah, and Jon Stewart as all possible “news entertainment” personalities to fill the void, per Semafor’s Max Tani. “Executives have also discussed turning the 9 pm to 12 am hours into a series of shows modeled like a variety program,” Tani reported. Licht, who came to CNN after six years as the executive producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has dismissed the idea that he’s looking to simply plop a late-night comedian in CNN’s empty prime-time chair. “I worked on a comedy show. And it took over 200 people to produce an actual comedy show. So no, I would not be so foolish as to, in one fell swoop, hurt the brand of comedy and news by trying to do a comedy show on CNN,” Licht told the LA Times’ Stephen Battaglio in an interview published Monday. Instead, Licht said, he’s in talks “with culturally relevant individuals from the worlds of entertainment, sports and comedy who can bring fresh and unique perspectives to the news” and “help broaden the appeal of our prime time.”

The political-comedy route has certainly paid off for Fox News, whose late-night show Gutfeld! has been pulling in a nightly average of over two million viewers. Based on recent Nielsen data, CNN is in need of a jolt. The network “notched its lowest ratings in nine years across all its day parts for the week of Jan. 16 through Jan. 22, 2023,” The Wrap reported. In prime time, CNN averaged 444,000 viewers and 93,000 in the key age 25-54 news demographic, compared to Fox News’ 2 million viewers and 256,000 and MSNBC’s 943,000 viewers and 91,000 in that same demographic. CNN is also lagging with its rebooted morning show, CNN This Morning, hosted by Lemon, Poppy Harlow, and Kaitlan Collins, the biggest programming move that Licht has made since joining the network last spring. It’s only been on for three months, but the morning show saw its lowest numbers since launch, The Wrap reports, averaging 331,000 viewers (that’s compared to the nearly 1 million that Fox & Friends drew and 760,000 for Morning Joe.) Licht told the LA Times the morning program is “just finding its footing,” noting that Morning Joe—which he created—“took about a year” to get into a rhythm.

Maher, the morning show, and the rejiggered daytime lineup are apparently just baby steps: Licht told Battaglio it is “too early to say” what’s better about CNN since he arrived “because we haven’t really executed a lot of what we’re going to do.” Apparently, Licht has been batting around a wide range of ideas to get more eyes on his network, including putting the newsroom’s 9am morning editorial meeting on air. Licht told Battaglio he “was talked out of it for a variety of reasons”—likely to a huge sigh of relief from CNN’s reporters, editors, and producers.

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