Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher
Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher debuted on Comedy Central on July 25, 1993. The format was simple: The host and four people sat around and discussed what was going on in the world. Maher opened each show with a brief monologue, then turned to his panel, which often included comedians and high-profile political figures. It was sometimes difficult to tell them apart.
The series quickly built up a following, due mainly to Maher’s skill for keeping things moving and funny. His ability to ask tough questions (and to pointedly repeat them when guests evaded) made it interesting, and even some who abhorred his Libertarian/Atheist viewpoints admired his candor and showmanship. In ’97, ABC decided the series would make a great follow-up to Nightline and the show moved over, changing only in a few cosmetic ways, continuing to offer rowdier conversation than one usually finds on a network. It went that way until shortly after the attacks of 9/11/01 when Maher made a comment that said that whatever the suicide pilots were, it was wrong to describe them as “cowards.”
In hindsight, that was a mild and inarguable statement…but at the time, it caused protests, rebukes from the White House, advertiser desertion and, ultimately, ABC dropping the show. It has been suggested that they were already uncomfy with Maher’s outspoken manner and were looking for an excuse to lop him off their schedule. Whatever the thinking, he was axed in July of 2002 but soon resurfaced with Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO.
Politically Incorrect did its early shows (usually taped, occasionally live) from CBS Broadcast Center in New York but soon relocated to CBS Television City in Hollywood, the better to secure show biz guests. No matter who was airing it, it was done there, and Real Time is also presently done from CBS Television City.