20 years ago, a show called “Politically Incorrect” debuted on Comedy Central. After a few years, it was moved to ABC. The show starred an outspoken and irreverent comedian named, Bill Maher. Every week Maher would host an assortment of celebrities, high-profile people and even regular people but he always loaded the panel with at least one or two more comedians. The result was a little like “The View,” only with guests who were actually funny and not afraid to be – you got it – politically incorrect. On second thought, it was nothing like “The View.” Maher called his show, “The McLaughlin Group on acid.”
Maher credits his show with giving the start to former Tea Party Senate candidate, Christine O’Donnell, who was an occasional guest. It was Maher who also had a hand in defeating her candidacy when he showed her saying that she once dabbled in Wicca.
Surprisingly, the show stayed on normally timid network television till shortly after 9/11, when Maher commented that the terrorists were not cowards, as they had been portrayed, but that dying with the planes was actually brave and that lobbing missiles from 2000 miles away was cowardly. The controversy that ensued proved to be too much for ABC and his show was cancelled in 2002.
Within a year, Maher was picked up by HBO, where there was no censorship. He polished the format and focused primarily on politics – with politicians and political pundits as panelists.
Still, it’s fun to look back at Bill Maher in his early talk show years. Everyone is young and smooth-skinned. The hair styles are different. The clothes are – shall we say – colorful. The feel is different, but with guests like Jerry Falwell to represent the religious right and with discussions of racism and (yes) penises, we are reminded that there’s much that hasn’t changed.