John Oliver gets his own show

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

• 10 p.m. Sunday


Posted 7:53am on Sunday, Apr. 27, 2014

A funny thing happened last year on The Daily Show while Jon Stewart was away.

John Oliver filled in as host throughout the summer months, hoping not to make a fool of himself (except when making a fool of himself could get a big laugh, of course), and the show’s “Senior British Correspondent” wound up becoming the new heavy hitter in the “fake news” biz.

Now he has his own show: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, a half-hour show with a deliberately convoluted name, premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on HBO.

The deal will keep Oliver shining a satirical light on the week in news, politics and current events for the next two years.

Oliver is thrilled, even though the move has meant leaving his “dream job” on Comedy Central. It’s especially exciting because, as the funnyman noted when the deal was struck at the end of 2013, “I presume this means I get free HBO now.”

Summer opportunity

Oliver didn’t expect any of this to happen when Stewart took an unprecedented leave of absence to direct Rosewater, a feature film and passion project about a journalist imprisoned and brutally interrogated in Iran. Oliver set out merely to keep Stewart’s chair warm while the king was away.

But Oliver’s deft handling of a summer filled with juicy stories — from breaking news involving Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency leaks to PR fiascos involving Paula Deen and Anthony “Carlos Danger” Weiner — demonstrated that the show was in capable hands.

Oliver had the same silly/smart spin on news that could make people laugh but also make them think.

By the time his summer gig was over, TV critics were suggesting that Oliver should be considered the heir apparent to Stewart when/if The Daily Show host decides to call it quits. Or that Oliver should get his own show now, the same way that Stephen Colbert parlayed a Daily Show job into his own hit program.

Sure enough, much to Oliver’s surprise, offers did start pouring in. The one that he ultimately couldn’t say no to — the one that Stewart urged him to take — was from HBO.

“We weren’t … searching for another weekly talk show,” HBO president Michael Lombardo said in a statement when the show was announced. (The network already has a long-running Friday night news-comedy-discussion show, Real Time With Bill Maher.) “But when we saw John Oliver handling the host duties on The Daily Show, we knew that his singular perspective and distinct voice belonged on HBO.”

Executives at Comedy Central now must be wishing they had locked Oliver up when they had the chance. Colbert recently announced that he’s leaving The Colbert Report, the fake-news programming companion to The Daily Show, to take over CBS’ Late Show in 2015, replacing David Letterman. That move leaves a gaping hole in the Comedy Central late-night lineup, one that can’t easily be plugged.

It remains to be seen what exactly Last Week Tonight will be like until the first episode airs, of course, but Oliver has made it clear that he intends for the show to have some real teeth, the same way The Daily Show does. The first test show reportedly featured a satirically hard-hitting take on General Motors and the controversy involving its handling of faulty ignition switches in vehicles.

Moving and marrying

Working on The Daily Show has been a life-changing experience for Oliver.

The comedian from Birmingham, England, who just turned 37, had never even been to the United States until he was brought over in 2006 to audition. Two weeks later, he was doing his first segment on air. (Oliver believes it was Ricky Gervais who recommended him to Stewart.)

Not only did the show introduce Oliver to a new audience in America, but the job also introduced him to his American wife, Kate Norley, an Iraq War veteran who served as an Army medic.

They met in 2008 at the Republican National Convention, where Oliver was doing mockumentary news coverage. Norley, who was there with a veterans advocacy group, helped hide Oliver, other Daily Show correspondents and their camera crew from security after they had been filming in VIP areas where they weren’t allowed to be. In 2011, the two tied the knot.

Now, as the new chapter in Oliver’s life blending comedy and news is about to begin, there’s no knowing what could happen next.

“I want to thank Comedy Central and everyone at The Daily Show for the best seven-and-a-half years of my life,” Oliver said in a statement that was released by HBO. “Most of all, I’d like to thank Jon Stewart. He taught me everything I know.

“In fact, if I fail in the future, it’s entirely his fault!”

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