John Oliver on tension with HBO lawyers: ‘there’s normally a deep sigh’

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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has been on HBO for 10 seasons. Season one, their rookie year, was not nominated for Outstanding Variety Talk Series at the Emmys. Season two did garner a nomination, and seasons three through nine won the award seven years in a row. Left in the dust of the show’s blaze of glory were the classic late night talk shows like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, et al. Well, for 2023 the talk show gang’s prayers were answered, because the Emmys moved Last Week Tonight into the Scripted Variety Series category… where they just won again! Beating out SNL! At this point the only group who may be more eager than Oliver’s fellow nominees for a stop to his winning streak is the team of HBO lawyers assigned to the investigative, instigative show. While taking a victory lap on Tuesday’s Jimmy Kimmel Live, Oliver succinctly explained the root of all tension between his show and their lawyers:

John Oliver joked that he butts heads with HBO lawyers assigned to his show mostly because of one issue.

“I think that the tension between us often comes from this,” he told Jimmy Kimmel on Tuesday. “I think we have two different opinions of what their job is.”

“They think their job is to stop us from getting sued. I think their job is to make sure that when we are sued, we win,” he continued. “And the distance between those two things is where the fighting is.”

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” won an Emmy on Monday for Outstanding Scripted Variety Series.

After thanking his staff onstage, Oliver expressed gratitude to HBO and “our lawyers, who are angry with us all of the time.”

On “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Tuesday, Oliver shed some light on his interactions with the legal team.

“In the week running up to the stories, so we’ve been working on them for a month, we tell them what we’re doing, and there’s normally a deep sigh on the other end of the phone,” he said before adding several seconds of bleeped words.

“‘Oh, what are you going to say about Bezos? That’s interesting,’” he added, pretending to hang up the phone.

Oliver’s show has tackled everything from the rail freight industry to cryptocurrency, performing comical deep dives into various current events and taking aim at politicians and other powerful people.

[From HuffPost]

So my question is, who does HBO designate for Last Week Tonight’s legal team: their best lawyers, the newest hires, or employees who aren’t fired but are somehow in the doghouse? Is it a punishment, learning curve, or for seasoned hands only? There’s a case to be made for each option! Elsewhere in the interview Kimmel suggests that Oliver might want to give one of his kabillion Emmys to the lawyers as a peace offering. Don’t worry, Oliver flatly rejected the idea, saying lawyers are compensated well enough thank you very much. Plus he acknowledged them (and their constant anger) in his acceptance speech. Everyone has their role to play, and the lawyers’ job is to maintain the safety net that allows Oliver and his fellow chaos gremlins (his writers) to continue their urgent work (and those are my words, not his). John Oliver & Co cannot be stopped, mon frères. We know it, the Emmys know it, and New Zealand knows it.

Including here for your viewing pleasure “Guillermo Back-to-Back at the Emmys,” where Oliver is Guillermo’s final guest (he shows up around the 3:50 mark, but the whole segment is a hoot). “Like you guys say in England, f–k off.”

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Photos credit: Getty

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12 Responses to “John Oliver on tension with HBO lawyers: ‘there’s normally a deep sigh’”

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  1. Kate says:

    Wow his wife is gorgeous!

  2. Jan90067 says:

    I. LOVE. John Oliver! Full stop! This man and his writing team are amazing. My only critique of the show is that it’s not on 52 wks a year!

  3. CatMum says:

    I love this! and am absolutely not surprised to hear any of it.

    I think it’s “seasoned hands only” because they know how he rolls.

    thank you, Kismet. this was a great read!

  4. Anna says:

    Absolutely love John Oliver, him and his chaos gremlins deserve all the awards

  5. Slush says:

    If I were an attorney, I would be breaking down doors to work for this show! How fun would it be to tell whatever aggrieved billionaire to shove it, legally?!

  6. smee says:

    Consistently hilarious but the topics are always relevant and enlightening.

    Now, off to follow the link on how he met his wife!

  7. Another Anna says:

    One of my law profs used to be a lawyer for HBO back in the 90s. Most of the lawyers who work on this type of show are former litigators, because that’s how they can know what has a high likelihood of causing a lawsuit. So my guess is that which lawyer is involved depends on the content of the piece and the skill set of the lawyer.

  8. Andrea L says:

    John Oliver is a beacon and a button and I’m SO glad you covered this! He and his team are a lifeline to all things wit, intelligence, tenacity, irreverence, and truth.

  9. AprilUnderwater says:

    I am a lawyer and his description of his priorities versus the lawyers’ priorities is both hilarious and absolutely 100% how we think. Just because we are trained to be really good at arguing and really persuasive does not mean we are desperate to flex those skills – lawyers are the most risk-averse people ever!

  10. Zengirl says:

    Excellent article. Laughed until I cried. Thanks for the link at the end. Love Oliver and Guillermo. Great way to end the day.

  11. Nicky says:

    I’m always reluctant to truly like anyone famous, because they inevitably wind up being horrible, raping, racist, scum balls. But mad do I love John Oliver. Please let us have this one, universe. We need at least one hero.