CNN generated plenty of buzz when it announced it would be airing Bill Maher’s “Overtime” segments on Fridays, but did they generate viewers? Not really.
In late January, CNN boss Chris Licht revealed to the Los Angeles Times that his network scooped the long-running YouTube extension to HBO’s “Real Time” and would air on Fridays nights after Maher’s program. Maher’s fans otherwise have to wait until Saturday morning before seeing the segment online.
The Times’ interview with Licht made plenty of headlines, getting attention from such outlets as The Hollywood Reporter and Vanity Fair.
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CNN had hoped to use in-house property, as both CNN and HBO share the same parent company Warner Bros. Discover, in hopes of juicing up the network’s waning viewership, but its ratings decline has only continued.
CNN has shed a whopping 47% of its viewers in the 11:30-11:44 p.m. time slot when “Overtime” has aired since January, according to Nielsen Research Data. The network lost an additional 58% in the key advertiser-targeted 25-54 demo during that same time period.
Maher’s segments during Friday’s “CNN Tonight” have averaged just 368,000 total viewers and only 74,000 in the key demo from February to early March. That’s less than half Maher’s actual audience, which averaged 782,000 total viewers during that same period with an audience that pays the HBO premium while CNN is broadly available on basic cable.
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CNN’s comedic experiment has only a fraction of Fox News’ “Gutfeld!”, which averaged 1.9 million viewers during the same time period with 305,000 in the key demo.
In the “Overtime” segments, Maher takes a few questions submitted by viewers and discusses them with his “Real Time” guests, lasting roughly ten minutes. One “Overtime” segment backfired on CNN when the network aired Maher’s guest taking a swipe at Don Lemon for his sexist comments about Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley being past her “prime” due to her age.
Even when CNN landed Maher for a primetime special, it did not deliver a major win for the network. Jake Tapper’s hour-long sit-down with the liberal funnyman that aired Feb. 28 reached just 821,000 viewers, an improvement for the vacant 9 p.m. ET time slot but still a distant third behind Fox News’ “Hannity” with 2.4 million viewers and MSNBC’s “Alex Wagner Tonight” with 1.2 million viewers.
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Notably, despite the headlines Maher makes throughout the year, CNN rarely covers his show. In 2022, only one “Real Time” segment was covered and the focus was largely on independent journalist Bari Weiss, who told Maher in January of last year that she was “done with COVID,” which sparked outrage among liberal CNN anchors.
Since the “Overtime” segments began airing in February, Maher is still seldom spoken about on other CNN programs unless it was to promote Tapper’s special.
CNN’s first foray into comedy came after reports that Licht was seeking a comedian to potentially fill the 9 p.m. time slot (a vacancy since CNN’s firing of Chris Cuomo in Dec. 2021), particularly following the success of “Gutfeld!”, which has quickly become the most-watched late-night show on television, frequently outpacing CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and regularly trouncing NBC’s “Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” and ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” As the former executive producer of “The Late Show,” Licht helped carry Colbert to the top of late night during the Trump era.
Names that were allegedly floated at CNN included Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah, Arsenio Hall and Maher.