Much in the media industry will change if the U.S. government approves AT&T’s pending $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc., but John Oliver insists his HBO series, “Last Week Tonight,” won’t be one of them.
“I do not anticipate the ground underneath us shifting,” Oliver told reporters at a press event Monday. “If it does, that’s going to be a problem. We’ll go down screaming.”
Oliver’s weekly HBO series, which returns for a new cycle this Sunday, has gained renown for its in-depth treatment of serious subjects – although it is ostensibly a comedy program. Among the topics Oliver and his team have explored in recent months are net neutrality; the Equifax security breach; corporate consolidation; and the effect the growing power that Sinclair Broadcast Group has on local news. It’s fair to assume that AT&T could have an interest in or an opinion on several of those subjects.
Oliver has also used his perch at “Last Week Tonight” to make fun of products, including McDonald’s and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bud Light Lime. In 2015, for example, he suggested the fruit-flavored beer tasted like a “lime Jolly Rancher fished from the mouth of Mickey Rourke” and lime jolly rancher fished from the mouth of Mickey Rourke.” And he joked that same year that items on McDonald’s “Dollar Menu” reminded him of “normal food that was cursed by a vindictive wizard.”
“I don’t take for granted the fact that we get to s–t talk companies,” said Oliver, noting that HBO’s financial model did not depend on commercial support. “It’s really, really great to have that kind of freedom.” He added: “Being a d–k to companies is the best.”
The comedian also added some context to a much-scrutinized exchange he had with actor Dustin Hoffman. In early December, Oliver moderated a discussion held at New York’s 92nd Street Y to commemorate the 1997 movie “Wag the Dog,” which starred Hoffman and Robert DeNiro. The actors were involved in the discussion, along with producer Jane Rosenthal and director Barry Levinson. During the discussion, Oliver pressed Hoffman on previous accusations of sexual harassment and Hoffman accused Oliver of “putting me on display.”
Oliver said people who were surprised he would delve into the topic should not be. “I felt like it would have been very weird not to bring it up,” he said. “I felt like he should have been aware he was going to have to answer this the next time he had to answer to anything.” He added: “I don’t know how little he would have to think of me to think I wouldn’t bring it up.”
While Oliver and his staff have not broadcast a new episode since November, he said the crew behind “Last Week Tonight” had been hard at work in the intervening weeks. He declined to offer specific details about coming shows or stunts being planned, but indicated the news cycle offered plenty of material. “It’s not like the problems of the world are finite,” he said.