Newly ruly

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

With Politically Incorrect, it was Bill Maher who first combined comedians and newsmakers in the give-and-take format dominated by Sunday-morning talk shows. And after nine years of Politically Incorrect and seven years of Real Time with Bill Maher, now with new episodes on HBO, the strengths and weaknesses of that format are firmly established.

Each show still opens rough with Maher's monologue and closes with its best segment, "New Rules." In the middle is a mixed bag of panelists and rotating contributors. Two episodes into his first post-Obama season, however, things are looking less rancorous and more left-leaning than usual.

Although the Feb. 20 debut included Republican Ron Paul as a guest, the in-studio, all-woman panel barely simmered (California Rep. Maxine Waters was a lot more fun on Capitol Hill giving hell to bank CEOs). Waning humorist P.J. O'Rourke is as far-right as it got last Friday, and this Friday, the best hope for sparks comes from energy upstart T. Boone Pickens.

On the lecture circuit, Maher is currently facing off against Ann Coulter, but on the airwaves, the most outspoken conservatives seem to be avoiding him. Regardless, this is the perfect political talk show for people who are too fuzzy from Saturday night to follow Meet the Press.

"Real Time with Bill Maher"

10 p.m. Fridays, HBO

Grade: B+