Bill Maher says the end is near for late-night TV

Bill Maher
Bill Maher /

Is the end of late-night TV on the horizon? That’s the sentiment coming from Bill Maher as the Real Time host shared his thoughts on the current state of the genre.

Late-night TV, including Real Time with Bill Maher, has been on hiatus since May due to the Writers Guild of America strike. Maher isn’t necessarily concerned about the future of his show. Instead, he doesn’t see how programs like The Tonight Show or The Late Show can survive.

Speaking on his Club Random podcast, Maher opined that the strike could mean the end of late-night TV as we know it. The comedian went so far as to question how late-night made it this far considering the rise of streaming:

"What I don’t get is this era of watching what sponsors are sponsoring a show that’s on after most people go to bed in an era when you can do anything at any time. You can watch anything. You get into bed, you can watch Netflix, you can watch HBO, you can watch YouTube, you can watch anything that was ever made or do video games. Even if you wanted to watch this late-night stuff, wouldn’t you watch it sometime when you could zip through the commercials or just see the stuff you like? It just seems so anachronistic. I don’t know how it survives until now."

Bill Maher’s concerns over late-night TV economics

Maher isn’t exactly breaking new ground with his take on late-night TV. Every host would agree that YouTube and social media are major factors in determining a show’s success or reach. The days of only looking at Nielsen ratings are long gone.

But what Maher can’t quite understand is why advertisers continue to sponsor late-night shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live!Late Night with Seth Meyers, or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Most viewers watching these shows aren’t watching them live or without some way of skipping ads. For Maher, HBO and streaming shows are much better products for viewers because they’re typically an hour long and without any commercials. Maher called these shows much more entertaining.

And while Maher may sound a little pessimistic about late-night TV audiences and the economics of the genre, there have been reports supporting his position. Much was made earlier this year when the cost-per-episode of The Late Late Show with James Corden went public. However, a streamlined show with a reasonable budget can still be a valuable asset for broadcasters.