New rules for 'Maher' return

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UPDATED 1:54 p.m. PT Jan. 6, 2007


HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" will return with new episodes Friday sans writers and without two of its most popular features, Maher's opening monologue and the closing segment "New Rules."

As an opening segment for his shows during the strike, Maher plans to go into the crowd to riff with audience members, drawing on his background as an improvisational stand-up that includes a stint as an emcee at the Catch a Rising Star comedy club. Coincidentally, both Jay Leno and David Letterman fielded questions from the audience last week in their first shows back.

The strike-impacted "Real Time" will feature an extended version of its regular roundtable discussion with guests, with Maher's conversations with remote guests via satellite also expected to remain.

But Maher will not write any material, sources close to the show said.

Monologues performed by talk-show hosts who are WGA members are at the center of a controversy sparked by "The Tonight Show" host Leno's decision to write openings for his show, which returned last week without writers.

The WGA has been adamant that, under its strike rules, such hosts can't perform any "writing services" for their shows, including penning their own monologues. NBC has claimed that the hosts are exempt and within their legal right to write monologues according to the WGA's 2004 collective bargaining agreement.

The most recent season of "Real Time" was cut short by the writers walkout. The Nov. 9 season finale was canceled and replaced by a rerun.

"Real Time" is one of three political comedy shows returning this week without writers, along with Comedy Central's "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report."

Steven Zeitchik in New York contributed to this report.
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