After nearly five months, “Real Time With Bill Maher” is finally leaving quarantine at Maher’s home and moving back to the studio. Maher announced at the top of Friday’s episode of the HBO series that the show will tape from the studio beginning next week, Friday, Aug 28.
“I know why I’m happy here today,” Maher joked at the beginning of his monologue. “Because this is my last show here from my man cave. Going back to the studio next week. And not a moment too soon because it was hot. We got a heatwave here in California. In LA we’ve got these rolling blackouts. It’s a little different these rolling blackouts. In LA, that’s when you lose your electricity when you’re high on Molly.”
“Finally next week we are back in the studio. Yes, there’s a slightly greater risk of infection, but a much lower risk of stepping in dog s— after ‘New Rules,'” he said at the end of the monologue, referring to his quarantine tradition of walking away from the camera and into his yard after the segment ends.
Maher took the show out of the studio and began filming new episodes from his house on April 3, three weeks after the start of the national lockdowns caused by the declaration that COVID-19 is a pandemic. Since then, he’s recorded every new episode from his backyard, using stock footage of audiences laughing at his jokes taken from old movies and TV shows, and his conversations with guests have been conducted via Zoom.
Maher didn’t clarify how the return to the studio will work or whether it will involve in-person guests. But a possible example to follow is Stephen Colbert, who recently resumed filming “The Late Show” from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York, but continues to speak to most guests remotely.
Maher opening joke did, however, have an error that we should probably correct: Los Angeles has not experienced any of the rolling blackouts plaguing the rest of the state, even during the infamous period in 2000 and 2001 when the rest of the state routinely experienced them.
The reason: In 1996, then-Republican controlled California deregulated the state’s energy infrastructure, largely in response to heavy lobbying from Houston-based energy giant Enron, and most cities switched from publicly owned energy grids to private energy providers. This included the San Francisco Bay area, which was then just beginning to enter the peak of the first dot-com boom and bubble.
But as it turned out, Enron and other energy companies would buy electricity from California energy producers, then sell it back to those same providers at a huge markup. They could then artificially ration that energy to create “shortages,” which they blamed on Californians in a deliberate attempt to harm the state’s economy, while openly mocking the people they were hurting in internal communications that later became public, CBS News reported.
As part of this, these companies would jack up prices, or cut power off at peak times in ways that “rolled” through sections of the power grid one after another, while falsely claiming the blackouts were happening because the state’s energy consumption was simply too high for the available supply, according to The New York Times.
It later came out that Pete Wilson, the Republican governor who oversaw deregulation, took advantage of it to invest heavily in these companies and actively participated both in withholding and inflated price bidding in the state’s energy markets. And after Enron’s spectacular collapse at the end of 2001, it was proved that people at the company from top to bottom actively participated in the scam, including founder and CEO Ken Lay, who was eventually convicted on multiple counts of securities fraud.
But Los Angeles, unlike most other municipalities, never privatized its grid and the city’s publicly owned Department of Water and Power continued to reliably produce electricity during that crisis. And just like then, while California communities who still use private energy providers are being hit with rolling blackouts amid severe heatwaves, L.A., as the Los Angeles Times reported this week, “has been able to share excess power with the rest of the state.”
Of course, L.A. does occasionally experience non-artificial blackouts caused by problems like power lines going down, mechanical or electronic failure at distribution points, and other factors. But those random events are not in any way similar to rolling blackouts, which are intentionally created power outages typically done to avoid having to shut down an entire power grid.