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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

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Title: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver  
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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Genre Comedy, news satire
Created by HBO
Developed by John Oliver
Presented by John Oliver
Narrated by David Kaye
Opening theme "Go" by Valley Lodge[1]
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 56 (as of November 1, 2015)[2] (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) John Oliver
Tim Carvell
James Taylor
Jon Thoday
Producer(s) Liz Stanton
Location(s) CBS Broadcast Center
New York, New York
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Avalon Television
Partially Important Productions
Original channel HBO
Picture format 1080i (16:9 HDTV)
Original release April 27, 2014 (2014-04-27) – present
Related shows The Daily Show
External links

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is an American late-night talk and news satire television program airing on Sundays on HBO in the United States and HBO Canada, and on Mondays (originally Tuesdays) on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom.[3] The half-hour long[4] show premiered on Sunday, April 27, 2014, and is hosted by comedian John Oliver. Last Week Tonight shares some similarities with Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where Oliver was previously featured as a correspondent and fill-in host, as it takes a satirical look at news, politics and current events on a weekly basis."[3]

Oliver has said that he has full creative freedom, including free rein to criticize corporations. His initial contract with HBO was for two years with an option for extension.[5] In February 2015, it was announced that the show has been renewed for two additional seasons of 35 episodes each.[6] Oliver and HBO programming president Michael Lombardo have discussed extending the show from half an hour to a full hour and airing more than once a week after Oliver "gets his feet under him".[5]


Oliver described his preparations for the show to an interviewer for The Wire: "... I basically have to watch everything. The only thing I kind of watch for pleasure is Fareed Zakaria's show on Sundays... That and 60 Minutes I watch for pleasure, or maybe Frontline... I have a TV on in my office all the time and I'll generally flick around on that from CNN, Fox, MSNBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Al Jazeera... I'm watching with a certain thing in mind and that is how to see a story told badly."[7]

He admitted to another interviewer that he is concerned about dealing with old news:
"If something happens on a Monday, realistically all the meat is going to be picked off that bone by the time it gets to us — there's probably barely a point in doing it... I think we'll be attracted to some extent by stories that are off the grid... Our show may end up skewing more international in terms of stories."[8]
Tim Carvell, executive producer of Last Week Tonight, explained to an interviewer how the cast and crew deal with a half hour of Oliver speaking without any commercial breaks.[9] Carvell also revealed that HBO gave them freedom in choosing guests for the show, advising them not to feel obligated to feature celebrities.[9]

When asked by an interviewer about "correspondents" such as those featured on The Daily Show, Oliver replied, "we're not going to be a parody news show, so no people pretending to be journalists."[10]


The format is John Oliver sitting at a desk in front of a backdrop of a skyline containing buildings from around the world, including the Dome of the Rock, the Washington Monument, Burj Khalifa, and the Empire State Building, as he reports news of the week, or a political issue. The backdrop also includes the castle Dragonstone from Game of Thrones.[11] Each episode covers a small handful of shorter segments, and then one main segment—while the short segments almost always relate to recent news, the episode's main segment usually covers in length and detail a political issue (even if that issue did not see attention that specific week).

Oliver constantly injects humor into his presentation; perhaps his most common methods are hyperbolic/satirical analogies, and allusions to popular culture and celebrities. The show has a panel in the upper-left corner that is frequently showing a graphic for the subject at hand; oftentimes, a photo (some of which are graphics created by producers) will be shown on-screen to assist Oliver in cracking a joke or making an argument. A full-screen graphic will show and play a video clip (e.g. a news show or documentary's excerpt) when Oliver is citing it. He often coins a unique hashtag for use in social media related to his segment, some of which go viral.[12]

The show also will break up Oliver's talk by showing a video compilation of recent news clips (which are segued into by Oliver stating "And now, this") or a recurring segment. Oliver has also ended some segments uniquely (e.g. mock trailers for fictional TV shows that satirize the subject he criticized, a mock commercial for a business he addressed, etc).

The typical structure of the show is to open with a recap of the week's news stories (often 3), segue into a video compilation, and then move on to Oliver's main segment. Some of the episodes will follow up the main segment with another video compilation and/or another news story.


Season Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1 24 April 27, 2014 (2014-04-27) November 9, 2014 (2014-11-09)
2 35[6] February 8, 2015 (2015-02-08) N/A


John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight.

Oliver's debut show garnered 1.11 million viewers. The number of viewers online, through websites such as YouTube showing extended clips of different segments, have steadily climbed into multiple millions. The show's YouTube channel also features Web Exclusives which are occasionally posted when the main show is taking a week off. Across the TV airings, DVR, on-demand and HBO Go, Last Week Tonight averaged 4.1 million weekly viewers in the first season.[13]

Last Week Tonight has received widespread critical acclaim. Matthew Jacobs of The Huffington Post named Oliver's program as 2014's best television show writing, "the year's most surprising contribution to television is a show that bucked conventional formats, left us buzzing and paved the way for a burgeoning dynasty. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is 2014's crowning achievement."[14]

Hank Stuever of The Washington Post compared Oliver's program with The Daily Show several times in his review of Oliver's debut:
"another scathing, stick-it-to-'em critique of American mass media and politics shellacked in satire and delivered by a funny if almost off-puttingly incredulous man with a British accent... Exactly like The Daily Show, the goal is to make elected and appointed officials, as well as just about any corporate enterprise, look foolish and inept while slyly culling together television news clips that make the media look equally inept at covering such evident truths."[15]

James Poniewozik of Time similarly compared Last Week with The Daily Show, but also wrote that the "full half-hour gives Oliver the room to do more", and praised Oliver's "sharper tone and his globalist, English-outsider perspective", as well as his "genuine passion over his subjects". Poniewozik wrote that Oliver's debut was "a funny, confident start".[16]

The Entertainment Weekly review began by ringing the same changes: "The fear with Last Week Tonight is that it's The Daily Show except once a week — a staggered timeline that would rob the basic news-punning format of its intrinsic topical punch... The first episode of his HBO series didn't stray far from the [Jon] Stewart mothership, stylistically..." However, the reviewer, Darren Franich, liked that Oliver has "a half-hour of television that is simultaneously tighter and more ambitious, that the extra production time leads to sharper gags but also the ability to present more context" and thought that the debut had "plenty of funny throwaway lines". Franich appreciated Oliver's coverage of the 2014 India Election, which the American press was largely ignoring,[17] and, like Poniewozik, praised Oliver's "passion". Franich concluded that Last Week Tonight "suggested the sharpest possible version of its inspiration" and that it "should feel like an experiment" but "felt almost fully formed".[18]

The reviewer for Slate was ambivalent, writing that the show is "obviously a work in progress" and that one segment "felt like misplaced overkill", but also that it is "good use of a weekly show, and it was funny to boot".[19] Gawker's Jordan Sargent claimed Last Week Tonight was "the new Daily Show",[20] while simultaneously criticizing the Daily Show for abandoning those "who have moved on from caring about Fox [News] and Republicans".

A number of commentators from mainstream media outlets, including New York Times,[21] The Huffington Post,[22] Time Magazine[23] and Associated Press[24] have described Oliver's style of reporting as journalism or even investigative journalism. Oliver himself disagrees, stating that "it’s not journalism, it’s comedy—it’s comedy first, and it’s comedy second."[25]

Awards and nominations

Year Ceremony Category Result
2015 Writers Guild of America Awards 2014[26] Comedy/Variety (Including Talk) – Series Won
Producers Guild of America Awards 2014[27] Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television Nominated
Dorian Awards[28] TV Current Affairs Show of the Year Nominated
Peabody Award[29] Won
26th GLAAD Media Awards[30] Outstanding Talk Show Episode Won
5th Critics' Choice Television Awards[31] Best Talk Show Nominated
31st Television Critics Association Awards[32] Outstanding Achievement in News and Information Won
67th Primetime Emmy Awards[33] Outstanding Variety Talk Series Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series Nominated
Outstanding Interactive Program Won
Outstanding Picture Editing For Variety Programming Nominated

International reaction

A segment on the then Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott received widespread attention in Australia across the mainstream media and was trending on social media.[34][35][36]

According to a document obtained by Vice, the military government of Thailand listed Oliver as "undermining the royal institution" for calling Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn a "buffoon" and an "idiot".[37][38]

The show also made international headlines following Oliver's interview with Edward Snowden, which included a graphic, in-depth conversation about the amount of power the United States government has at its disposal in terms of intelligence, both domestic and foreign. Oliver also confronted Snowden about the lack of knowledge of the American people about his work and why they may be hesitant to analyze it for themselves rather than accept preconceived notions of him being a whistleblower. Notably, he tried to help Snowden in creating public awareness for the fundamentality of the surveillance problem in putting forward the question "Can they see my dick?"[39][40]

In a segment about public defenders and how some offices are extremely underfunded, the New Orleans Public Defense office's crowdfunding efforts to improve their conditions were featured. In the following days since the show aired, thousands of dollars have been donated to the office by the show's fans, helping them raise their goal just four days after the show aired.[41]

Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption

In 2015, Oliver hired lawyers to set up a church, Doctors Without Borders.[44][45] Oliver announced the formation of his church on the episode of the show that aired on August 16, 2015.[46]

Matt Wilstein, writing for [42] Steve Thorngate, writing in The Christian Century, suggested that the question of the religious exemption from taxation was more difficult and nuanced than Oliver portrayed, and not a simple matter of government regulation, describing Oliver's pivot to IRS policy as "unhelpful". However, Thorngate agreed that Oliver's exposure and criticism of "manipulative sleazeballs" who "fleece the faithful" is "spot-on".[47] Leonardo Blair, writing for Christian Post, described Oliver's segment as a "brutal takedown" of televangelists and churches which preach "the prosperity gospel", a message that dupes people into thinking that cash donations will solve medical or financial problems, while in fact the donations go to the personal aggrandizement of televangelists who buy expensive jets or large mansions.[48]

A week later, on the following episode, Oliver devoted a short segment to the donations the church had received, which included money from around the world. Oliver said he had received "thousands of envelopes with thousands of dollars" from donors. Displayed were several US Post Office containers full of mail. Oliver told viewers that the more money they sent in, the more "blessings" would be returned to them, adding that "that is still something I’m — amazingly — legally allowed to say".[49]

Oliver announced that the Church will be shutting down during his show on September 13, 2015. All previous monetary donations have been forwarded to Doctors Without Borders.[50]

Days of Our Lives tribute for Syrian refugee

Episode 28 of Season 2, which first aired on September 27, 2015, featured a tribute to the Days of Our Lives soap opera that was filmed in response to a television interview with Noujain Mustaffa.[51] Mustaffa was, at the time, a 16-years disabled refugee of the Syrian Civil War from Kobanî, Syria who fled to Greece[52] after the siege of Kobanî.

In that interview,[52] Mustaffa explained that watching Days of Our Lives helped improve her English language skills. She added further that her favorite characters on that program were Sami Brady and EJ Dimera, played by the actors Alison Sweeney and James Scott, respectively. She expressed her disappointment in EJ being killed off the show. In response to this interview, Last Week Tonight produced and filmed a faux scene[53] in an alternative story line of Days of Our Lives where EJ is reunited with Sami after being resurrected from the dead.

Although the tone of the scene was generally tongue-in-cheek, its dialogue also referenced the plight of the refugees fleeing Syria for Europe in hazardous conditions. It then provided a critique of their treatment by certain European governments. That scene concluded with a tribute to Noujain Mustaffa by EJ declaring she was among "amazing people coming through that border".

International broadcast

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is seen in Canada on HBO Canada in simulcast with its U.S. airing on HBO. It airs in Australia on The Comedy Channel hours after the U.S. airing[54] with the second season debuting on February 9, 2015.[55] It airs in New Zealand on SoHo.[56] In the United Kingdom, it is broadcast on Mondays (originally Tuesdays) on the satellite-only channel Sky Atlantic.[57] In Belgium, it is broadcast on Thursdays by the Telenet cable-only channel PRIME Series.[58] It airs in South Africa on premium channel M-Net.[59] In Portugal it airs on RTP3.[60]

See also


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External links

  • Official website
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver at the Internet Movie Database
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver at
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Facebook
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver's channel on YouTube
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Twitter
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