John Oliver, “Last Week Tonight”, Landing George Clooney — Interview

The Emmy-winning HBO host looks back on what impressed him at midnight over a year in the white space and what it takes to earn time for the audience.

John Oliver has been conducting HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” for almost eight years. Comedians have developed a number of tactics to engage viewers. Most notable is the passion that drives direct reporting to the camera, often a hyperbolic headline. He claims “John Oliver Eviscerates X”, or “John Oliver Destroys Y”. Jokes can be developed as definitive exclamation marks for these stories and as pacing commas that divide them. The “And Now This…” video will be added randomly to help you move from one big topic to the next, which is edge, uplifting and style. Special guests stop by regularly enough to captivate the starry viewers, but they don’t often feel like a celebrity parade. The studio segment that moves Oliver from behind the desk is rare, but always memorable. The set may also talk to the host.

Already updated until 2023, “Last Week Tonight” has also won viewership (along with 23 Emmy Awards) by refusing to accept expectations. Executive Producers Tim Carvell, Liz Stanton, Jon Thoday, James Taylor — Make sure what’s waiting behind the curtain is worth it.

However, by Season 9, “Last Week Tonight” had a well-established audience. This is no longer a lively new sensation, but a well-known and admired property. At the same time, popular culture is becoming more and more siled. People can choose where to choose. They get the news that appears in their social media feeds and the number of streaming subscriptions they are willing to buy. Given the key issues raised by the show and the clear desire of Oliver to watch, the series does not mean that it is part of the Echo Chamber. The goal is to connect with everyone who can meet and benefit from a better understanding of what’s happening now, wherever the viewer is.

IndieWire talked to Emmy Award-winning hosts on Zoom when Season 9 began, and what was done to help “last week tonight” in entertainment news and continue to expand its impact. I dug into what it was. , Amber Ruffin and Seth Meyers, two hosts who have repeatedly landed George Clooney and beautifully adapted to the pandemic ordeal situation. As always, Oliver knows how to get your attention.

The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

IndieWire: There has been a lot of debate in recent years about getting people out of the bubble, whether it’s entertainment or news consumption, but when “last week tonight” first started, especially how to make a full segment. It seemed like a big focus in terms of placement. On YouTube. How important was it to extend your message beyond HBO?

John Oliver: I think the most reducing thing is that when we started, no one really knew who we were. On Sunday night, I felt like I needed to reach beyond the audience as the audience may not be there. Immediately, it was of great value to post that main story (the main story, not the entire show) on YouTube, so it could exist not only for HBO subscribers, but in a much wider world and contribute to any conversation. became. Talk to people who can’t hear what we have to say in other ways of that added reach, or may not necessarily want to hear.

It’s 9 this season, how can we continue to expand our reach?

I don’t think I think much about it from a bubble perspective [I think of it] So far, for eight years, people seem to be willing to sit down the story for 25 minutes in terms of a story that gets people’s attention, but it doesn’t seem to be that interesting when they start talking. .. You can talk about PACE loans on TV and get people to see them and know how lucky they are, the complexity surrounding ransomware, or how to raise money for EMT. I know this is not superficially the case. Tasteful Entertainment And while we really strive to make it more palatable, there are audiences who trust us to deal with stories that we believe are interesting, if not superficially. That is very lucky.

John Oliver from “Last Week Tonight”

Lloyd Bishop / HBO

How much work does it take to set that balance? Reports take time, and it takes time to shape a topic into a story. How much time do you spend rehearsing the show to be sure you’re ready?

It’s a good question because I’m working on 6 stories at once. These main stories are a 6-week process. All of these are at different stages of development. It’s like worrying about each. And what I missed most during the pandemic was that only the staff in our office room couldn’t read those stories early on. The story made sense, whether it was interesting, whether there was something confusing that needed to be clarified, or whether it overexplained a particular thing. It is very convenient to be able to learn those lessons. Before doing it to the audience.

There is a gradation of silence, right? There is silence, there is boring and confusing silence. You want the first silence to be as high as possible and the second silence as low as possible, but in general you are recording a show. During a pandemic, it is impossible to measure those emotions when reading with just the zoom of the laptop. Later I have to ask people, “Does it make sense?” There is nothing intuitive. Everything needs to be explained, so it all takes a little time.

And if you’re doing it alone in a room, you can’t tell if people are absorbing what you’re saying, because literally no one is listening to you at that stage. During the rehearsal, I was really grateful to be able to understand where I needed to make the cut and where I needed to explain more.

If you had to start that way, do you think it could have evolved into today’s show if “last week tonight” had started during the pandemic?

I think the honest answer is that you really don’t know. I really felt Amber Raffin, who started the show without an audience. She’s a great performer, right? Her relationship with the audience is very warm — much warmer than my relationship.The show has become incredible, but the difficulty is [was high]..Them [early] If you have to learn alone, it will be difficult to learn the lessons. You don’t learn from the audience. It’s great to be able to turn off all these signals and still make the show they made.

Not only is she always laughing because it’s funny, but it’s also a kind of exciting reaction to the spectacle, and the atmosphere that the audience can provide really helps. [Like when we] Make a 6,000-square-foot cake, and when the audience says, “Look at this cake,” they say, “Yeah!” — It’s euphoric. If it was in an empty room, I would just say “look at this cake” and a voice would echo on the wall. I’m not saying it’s not fun, it’s fun in a completely different way.

That’s right. The cake is brought to the room and only one person is waiting –

– When the wheel gets caught, the wheel becomes tense. And there is a feeling, “Is this individual faint?” And the answer is not no.

Late Night with Seth Meyers-Episode 1158-Photo: Amber Ruffin Appears June 10, 2021-(Photo: Lloyd Bishop / NBC)

Amber Ruffin (and Seth Meyers) in “Midnight with Seth Meyers”

Lloyd Bishop / NBC

Speaking of other voices at midnight, are there any other exciting ones? Or is there something you want to see?

I really liked Seth [Meyers] I really liked the show at his home where he started talking to all the paintings. I am really, true And I did something similar to Boyd and asked me to talk to him. I liked what they were doing with “Corrections”. They felt like they managed to take it as “no one is overseeing this.”Something like the atmosphere of a show at home and their unsupervised strangeness [no-audience] It was developed at the studio show so that it would not return to the state before the pandemic. Something is different. I really like it.

It was great to see such developments happening in real time. One of the reasons is that they understand what they are experiencing. Few people have a TV show and are in a position to do it at home. Not only do you feel responsible for “how to pay the staff while this terrible thing is happening”, but also have the same kind of difficulty and some kind of visible fun that other shows do it. I can.

I like the perception that it may have deteriorated a bit and that I will enjoy it.

100% This isn’t the nerve weakness you’re witnessing, but it’s one end.

We would like to ask you about the pace and composition of the show and how you can use celebrities and guests to keep your audience interested. Last year, George Clooney’s repetitive bits were so balanced that he worked to get attention. But you didn’t rely too much on him.

It wasn’t a planned idea. What we knew was this story about the sponsored content we wanted to do, and this clip showing that this woman could create a local newscaster. [with a snap of her fingers.] Conceptually, “seeing someone I can produce” felt like a fun joke. George Clooney found this story really personally important to him, as he thought he might do so, partly because his dad was a local newspaper reporter. And it worked. He was very passionate about the story. So he did that and then agreed to appear in other stories in these 5 second bits-as you say, it was very helpful to us, especially I’m a technical story. I’m in a solemn white empty environment talking about. We tried to distribute a bit of Clooney where he really needed it. story. This is George for you. “

he [recorded] Lots for us after the first one so we know what we have and can use them whenever we want. [That made it] It would be much easier for us to use if we could maximize the effect in a story that really felt like we needed a glamor splash, but it’s a brutal juxtaposition. When you suddenly find your face paired with George Clooney, it’s a relentless comparison.

At least in most of those clips, he looks a little angry because he’s a little frustrated, but you’re more amiable because you’re smiling and happy, and he’s a little moody. am.

But even that moody is like assembling his face beautifully. [gestures to his face]It really doesn’t help anything.

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” will release a new episode on HBO on Sunday at 11:00 pm. Season 9 can be streamed via HBO Max.

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