HBO renews ‘Real Time’

Bill Maher's political talk show inks two-year deal

HBO is staying real with Bill Maher.

Pay cabler has inked a two-year overall deal with Maher, who will continue his “Real Time With Bill Maher” Friday night live talkshow through 2011 and will see its episode order increase from 24 to 35.

Separately, HBO said Thursday it has acquired domestic TV rights to doc “My Trip to Al Qaeda,” directed by Alex Gibney.

HBO senior VP of entertainment Nancy Geller said additional “Real Time” segs have been ordered because the gap between seasons infuriated fans of the show.

“People were always asking why he’s not back on,” Geller told Daily Variety. “A stand-up audience of his recently was so rowdy when they were asking questions about where he’d been.”

“Real Time” will end its current season in November. The ninth season will begin in February, will likely take July off and run through November.

With the new deal, Maher has now been associated with HBO for 20 years going back to his days on “Politically Incorrect,” which was produced by an HBO production shingle for Comedy Central and later ABC.

Maher has also done nine solo specials for HBO and his new deal includes other projects outside “Real Time,” including another unscripted show, that are still in development.

Ratings for “Real Time” have been solid for several seasons, averaging 3.8 million viewers per episode, including original airings, video on demand and DVR usage. With toons “The Life and Times of Tim” and “The Ricky Gervais Show,” plus “Real Time,” Friday night has become a home of original programming in addition to Sunday.

Cabler said that one reason for a two-year deal — Maher and the network normally sign one-year pacts — is that he’s been more in high demand as of late and HBO was afraid it might lose him to other commitments.

“He was very sought after and we weren’t going to let him go,” said Geller.

HBO has never shied away from Maher’s left-leaning agenda, and his ratings — as well as controversy — usually increase during presidential election cycles. Geller said the network allows Maher to tout his views freely and without repercussion, even if they go against public opinion.

“I love it when Bill is fun and provocative,” she said. “That’s when he’s at his best. I always respect what he has to say, although that doesn’t mean I agree with it.”

Maher, Scott Carter, Sheila Griffiths, Brad Grey, Marc Gurvitz and Billy Martin are exec producers for “Real Time.”

“My Trip to Al Qaeda” is a film adaptation of journalist Lawrence Wright’s one-man play. Developed from Wright’s 2006 bestselling book “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” the film is an emotional journey performed by Wright, chronicling fundamentalist Islam’s rise to power and the dilemma he faces as a writer in maintaining his objectivity.

The pic, which will screen at the Tribeca film fest, is set to debut on HBO in the fall.

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