At the risk of making it seem that I do noting but watch television (it’s not true, really), I’m writing about yet another “talking head” on the tube.
This time, however, it’s one I like – Bill Maher.
Last week, I devoted this column to Bill O’Reilly’s blurring of the line between journalist and commentator, and how that bothered me.
Maher, comedian and host of the television talk show Politically Incorrect, doesn’t have that problem. He’s unabashedly a commentator, full of opinions and not trying to come across as an unbiased journalist.
Hooray for him.
Unfortunately, he’s only going to be around for another eight shows. ABC, in its infinite wisdom, has canceled the unique, aggravating and ultimately enlightening program.
In case you’re not familiar with it, Politically Incorrect began in 1993 on Comedy Central and moved to ABC in 1997. It brings together a panel of four guests – usually with widely divergent views – who discuss hot topics from the day’s news. Maher serves as moderator and offers his opinions as well.
I don’t like Maher because I agree with him – in fact, frequently, I don’t. I like Maher because he’s thought his opinions out, backs them up and challenges guests on his program to do the same.
Where else can you find a panel comprised of an entertainer or two (I’ve seen James Brown, Al Franken, Ted Nugent, Larry Miller and many others) along with serious authors, think-tank types, lobbyists and the occasional actual politician?
Maher refuses to accept the party line from the left or the right, and will tell guests who spout it without facts to back it up exactly what he thinks of them. It’s not nice, but it’s great television.
Maher, a self-described Libertarian, espouses views guaranteed to enrage both ends of the political spectrum. Most on the left are angered by his support of racial profiling of airplane passengers and his railings about the ‘feminization’ of society.
Those on the right don’t like his opposition to the war on drugs and his ridiculing the Bush Administration’s efforts to encourage marriage.
He caused quite a stir a few days after Sept. 11, when comments he made were misconstrued – the cynical among us might say it was deliberate. Maher was attempting, he later clarified, to call political leaders cowardly, but many misunderstood him to call the U.S. military cowardly.
There was quite a tempest in a teapot for a while, with some sponsors pulling their ads, some people calling for the cancellation of the show. Even President Bush’s press secretary, Ari Fleischer, scolded Maher.
Maher’s program, which airs after Nightline, is on too late for me to watch it and get to work on time the next morning, but I Tivo it faithfully.
I don’t know what I’m going to do for my funny, irreverent, yet passionate and serious look-at-the-news fix after June 28.
Maher has said he’s thinking of starting a radio program – and I wouldn’t dispute that he has a face for radio – but I can’t Tivo that. He’s also started a Web site so he can communicate with his fans after his “firing.”
But unless Politically Incorrect finds a new home on another network – and I’ve heard no talk of that – I’m just going to have to go cold turkey.
Rest in peace, PI. The country will be poorer for your loss.