John Oliver is still surprised that Dustin Hoffman didn’t know what was coming. Oliver interviewed Hoffman as part of a panel in December celebrating the 20th anniversary of Barry Levinson’s “Wag the Dog,” and the HBO host thought the topic of the movie itself made the question relevant.
“It just felt it would have been weird not to bring it up because it was ‘Wag the Dog,'” Oliver told reporters on Monday at a press event to help kick off Season 5 of his late night series “Last Week Tonight.” “It’s a great story about burying sexual harassment and the power that comes with that. Yeah. So.”
Hoffman has been accused of sexual harassment by television producer and writer Wendy Riss Gatsiounis (“Reign,” “Genius”) and Anna Graham Hunter, who alleges Hoffman groped her and made inappropriate comments to her when she was a 17-year-old intern on the set of the 1985 TV movie “Death Of A Salesman.”
“This is something we’re going to have to talk about because…it’s hanging in the air,” Oliver said to Hoffman during the event. The comedian said he was actually surprised that Hoffman even attended the panel, since he had avoided interviews at another event the previous week after the allegations had emerged.
“It felt like he should have been aware that he was going to have to answer this the next time he wants to do anything and then,” Oliver said. “If he honestly thought I wasn’t going to bring it up that I don’t know how little he would have to think of me to think that I wouldn’t bring that up. That’s pretty insulting.”
Oliver still dismissed the common perception that he has crossed the line from comedian to journalist, even though “Last Week Tonight” regularly does deep dives into news, politics, policy, and social issues.
In the case of Hoffman, Oliver noted that he was simply the first person that the star was interviewed by after the news broke. “[His first interviewer] was going to have to ask him the first questions about it. So unfortunately that was me… the first person he spoke to was going to have to, I think, [handle] that moment.”
Oliver added that the only reason he pressed Hoffman and that the conversation kept going was “that his responses were pretty bad. I wanted to try and get him to a point of self-reflection, to try and get something out of the conversation at all. But that didn’t happen. I don’t think there was anything particularly remarkable about what I was asking him.”
But, again, Oliver reiterated that he’s not a journalist, although there are people on “Last Week Tonight” who are. Of course, Oliver consumes plenty of journalism and knows what it is — and what it is not.
“As you well know journalism is not cable news,” he said. “If it was, we’d all be fucked. Just because cable news is the loudest, it doesn’t mean it’s the only voice. Yet there’s lot of good stuff going on.”
As for whether Oliver will develop a companion series to air after “Last Week Tonight” or when it’s on hiatus, the host said he wouldn’t have the time to oversee a second show.
“We are maxed out in terms of the way that we can make this particular show if we’re going to do more of it,” he said. “It’s really a year-round operation. We’ve gone away, but we actually don’t stop. We’ve been in the office the whole time. It is hard to overstate just how all-consuming this show is, so there’s no there’s no space for us to juggle another ball because we drop all of them.”
As for this season of “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver continued his strategy of not revealing topics and stories examined beforehand, noting that, on the surface, the show’s deep dives might not sound interesting, until you’re actually watching those pieces. (Case in point: Without understanding beforehand the importance of the story, would anyone seek out a 20-minute story on Sinclair Broadcasting?)
But the “Last Week Tonight” team has been working on multiple packages for months during the hiatus, and Oliver said it’s important to point out that the show hasn’t been completely consumed by all things Trump. From the beginning of the Trump candidacy, “Last Week Tonight” has been conscious of not relying too much on that “low-hanging fruit… you can end up eating too much of that.”
Most of “Last Week Tonight’s” Trump coverage takes place at the top of the episode, as Oliver recaps the headlines of the week.
“So much of it is such a fire hose of bullshit,” Oliver said. “You don’t want to narrate things that he said and just chronologically repeat what he said… we did not want to do more on the Trump day-to-day stuff. Other things are happening in the world. It’s hard to remember that because he’s so all-consuming.
“We’d have something prepared about a story internationally and then he would respond to Charlottesville the way he did, and you can’t let that go,” Oliver said.
The host quipped that the news now happens so fast that “the bones” on events that happen on Monday or Tuesday are picked clean by the time he hits the air on Sunday nights. It’s not until after “Late Night with Seth Meyers” rolls credits on Friday night that “Last Week Tonight” is the next show up to comment on news that happens over the weekend. “It’s an immensely depressing relay baton,” he quipped.
Does Oliver have hope for the future, given the current cycle of headlines? “I feel some hope but … too much optimism is not always a great idea. Especially now. I would not assume that everything is going to be OK, unless you actively take steps to make it that way.”
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” which has already been renewed through 2020, returns for its its fifth season on Sunday, Feb. 18 at 11 p.m. ET.