Show business veteran Chris Licht took over CNN last year, vowing to bring more ideological balance to the network and reverse its ratings slide.
“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” alum canned comically biased “media reporter” Brian Stelter, among other swift moves, but the channel remains a vehicle for Left-leaning news. Commentator Van Jones’ recent CNN column suggesting the five black officers who beat Tyre Nichols so badly he later died were driven by racism is a perfect example.
The latter part of the plan isn’t going according to schedule, either, and that’s being kind.
Reports circulated that CNN wanted to bring a liberal comedian aboard to sweeten its late-night lineup, hoping the change will restore some ratings glory. Team Licht took a baby step in that direction. CNN will broadcast “Overtime,” the online-only part of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” weekly series.
The long-running show finds Maher covering the latest headlines with a Left-leaning panel of rotating guests. Maher himself is an avowed atheist (remember his 2008 documentary “Religulous?”) and reliably progressive. Few comedians loathe President Donald Trump quite like Maher.
Sounds like a safe, CNN-worthy selection. Not so fast.
Maher is one of the only liberal late-night hosts who routinely hits his own side. He’s started an ongoing, rhetorical war against the woke orthodoxy, slamming identity politics and extreme speech measures from his HBO bully pulpit.
The New Republic was one of several progressive outlets to clutch its pearls over Maher’s addition to the CNN lineup, no matter how modest it may be. The site’s headline captures the sentiment – “CNN Welcomes Bill Maher, Who Once Used a Racial Slur on Air, to Its Lineup”
Why single out a singular episode from Maher’s past? His ability to mock both sides has drawn considerable fire from the hard Left. In a way, they have a point.
It’s one thing to watch Greg Gutfeld, an openly libertarian comic, scorch woke platitudes from his Fox News perch. It’s what viewers expect, which doesn’t diminish Gutfeld’s approach to the material.
Seeing an avowed progressive do the same, however, packs a punch.
It’s like turning on today’s biased “Saturday Night Live” and spotting a sketch skewering President Joe Biden or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
That’s a “man bites dog story,” no doubt, worthy of attention. (It’s also something we’ll never, ever see, alas).
That approach is what Maher can bring to CNN, and it’s sorely needed. CNN viewers may get a glimpse of news narratives kept away from them by the channel’s gatekeepers. Not everyone is on board with the woke revolution, for starters.
Maher also routinely debunks progressive talking points on the pandemic, crime, and more.
Here’s just one recent example: Maher called out climate change advocates like John Kerry and Taylor Swift who, in between environmental lectures, fly private planes. That’s a huge no-no given their massive carbon footprints.
No other liberal late-night comic would go near that kind of banter.
Licht suggests CNN isn’t interested in “partisan hackery,” and choosing a comedian as a brand enhancement makes sense.
“There is nothing wrong with opinion or perspective, especially in prime time, but it has to be authentic. We are completely uninterested in partisan hackery and ideological talking points,” he said.
That’s true, depending on the comedian in question. Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, for example, epitomize comics who spout “ideological talking points.”
There’s another aspect to Maher circa 2023 that’s worth noting. The comedian throws sharp elbows from his HBO perch, but he does just the opposite with “Club Random.” His weekly podcast, which allows him to drink and smoke weed along with famous guests, takes a lighter look at the culture, and Maher is keenly interested in speaking to voices on the ideological Right.
The goal isn’t another screaming match session but to see where people on both sides of the aisle can agree to disagree.
In short, Maher wants to unite Americans … even if it means agreeing to disagree with folks like Kid Rock and Dave Rubin, both Right-leaning stars.
Does CNN, which loves dousing gasoline on raging cultural fires, want a performer who reminds us we’re all American citizens despite our differences? That’s another reason the Maher addition may come back to haunt CNN. Tribalism sells, sadly, and sometimes Maher doesn’t want to push that anger.
The move is also suspect based on what Licht must do, and fast — reverse the ratings free fall. “Real Time” isn’t a ratings disaster, but it’s hardly the kind of content that guarantees a larger audience. The show routinely lags behind other late-night fare, from Fox News’ “Gutfeld!” to “The Tonight Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” although those shows air on free, broadcast TV.
“Real Time” does regularly trounce “Last Week Tonight,” the HBO showcase featuring a more consistently liberal viewpoint.
Adding Maher to the mix could be jarring to CNN’s dwindling base, the folks who think Don Lemon is the ultimate truth-teller. They want Trump Derangement 101, not examples where the Left has overreached in the culture wars.
That kind of content may come as a shock to longtime CNN viewers, and the modern Left doesn’t take kindly to alternative points of view.
Chances are, CNN’s Maher infusion could yield a microscopically better product while chasing away the channel’s small but hardcore fans. That means the current, sorry ratings could get even smaller before too long.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.