Bill Maher and Guests Discussed Norman Lear’s Legacy on “Real Time”

Holiday decor abounded on this week's episode

December 16, 2023 2:26 am
Bill Maher on December 15, 2023
Bill Maher and guests debated Norman Lear's legacy this week.

The phrase “a very special Real Time With Bill Maher Christmas” may never have been read before this weekend, but on Friday night that’s precisely what viewers of the long-running show got. As Maher explained, the show is usually off in December; given the WGA strike, however, this year brought a break from the norm. And the show’s set was adorned with various seasonal decorations, including multiple Christmas trees.

While Christmas itself came up a few times over the course of the episode, much of the night involved tributes to high-profile artists who had recently died. This week’s panel consisted of CNN host Laura Coates and novelist Walter Kirn, and it wasn’t long before Maher raised the subject of Norman Lear’s death earlier this month. 

“Without somebody like that, I couldn’t do what I do,” Maher said. “I think he opened a lot of doors, but a lot of those doors have shut.”

For her part, Coates spoke of her admiration for Lear and “how he was able to connect so many different people.” Her comments also brought up something that would become a recurring topic over the episode: namely, whether some of the groundbreaking television Lear made in the 1970s would be made today. 

Kirn talked about his experiences of growing up in a small conservative town and watching Lear’s shows at a formative age. “Norman Lear’s All in the Family is the show that taught me what a liberal was,” he said. Kirn also lamented the way that the show in question featured characters whose worldviews were often at odds with one another.

“The great thing was, you never knew who [was] the hero and the villain,” Kirn said. (Later in the discussion, he also revealed that Maude “scared the dickens out of me.”)

Lear wasn’t the only subject of a tribute. The episode began with Maher talking with Ray Romano about his career. When Maher praised Romano for avoiding being typecast after Everybody Loves Raymond, Romano talked about his work bringing the series Men of a Certain Age to the screen, and then said a few words in memory of his late co-star on that series, Andre Braugher.

While the “could Norman Lear’s classic shows be made today” question loomed over the panel, it wasn’t the only dimension to the conversation. Coates brought up the enduring aspects of Lear’s characters, noting that “Archie Bunker is not really in the rear-view mirror.”

All in the Family wasn’t the only one of Lear’s shows to be discussed, but its influence and impact did spark plenty of conversations. It was Coates who addressed why the character of Archie Bunker has endured, for good and for ill. “I peel back those layers to acknowledge, yes, there are people who can look fondly on the yesteryears when they felt like they were living the life that they felt entitled to,” she said. “But that came at the expense of a lot of people.”

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Other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher on Christmas: “I love any holiday when you get to lie to kids.”
  • Maher on Trump’s most recent foray into NFTs: “George Santos bought 20 of those. He sold 30.”
  • Unfortunately, Maher’s conversation with Romano wasn’t as lively as some of his other conversations about comedy this season. The two men seemed genuinely fond of one another, but it didn’t quite translate into a memorable interview.
  • For those keeping track at home, Maher and Romano did briefly discuss Tommy DeVito.
  • New Rules included a riff on the controversy over Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose in Maestro that involved a fake movie poster featuring Cooper playing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I’ll never be able to unsee that.
  • Maher on streaming services: “All I know is: I’m paying a fortune for all these fancy platforms, and every time I turn on the TV, someone is making cake.”
  • Maher on history: “History is brutal, and humans are not good people.” 
  • Real Time With Bill Maher will return to the airwaves on January 19, 2024. Also due out next year: a book, titled What This Comedian Said Will Shock You.

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