Is ‘Janice From Accounting’ Back? John Oliver on 11 Things You Need To Know About the Return of ‘Last Week Tonight’
John Oliver’s Internet browsing history is a mess.
Oliver admits he’s visited some bizarre–and completely Not Safe For Work–websites in the name of research for his HBO series Last Week Tonight. Early on, that got him into a bit of trouble.
Last Week Tonight‘s production offices are in the same building as CBS News (on the floor below 60 Minutes)–and that company’s strict Internet filter was preventing Oliver and team from checking out some of those more salacious sites.
“We had to get the CBS News block lifted within the first two weeks we were there,” he says. “There have to be different rules on this floor than there are on Morley Safer’s computer!”
As a valentine to its fans, Last Week Tonight is back tonight at 11/10c with its 60th episode. Oliver recently sat down with reporters to give an update on how the show is going. Here are a few things we learned:
- Last Week Tonight will continue to mostly avoid the presidential election horse race.
The show, which paid scant attention to the presidential campaign last year, will now touch on it—without focusing on the bulk of daily political headlines.
“We’ll definitely look at the election this year but we’ll do more stuff that has to do with the process,” Oliver says, arguing that the campaign will already be heavily covered by others. “We’ll do our version of looking at what happens.”
For example, Last Week Tonight won’t ignore the Donald Trump phenomenon–but it will be “less what he is saying than what is happening.”
- Oliver doesn’t think Last Week Tonight is replacing actual investigative journalism.
The stories his show covers are being tackled by journalists, but those reports aren’t getting wide attention, Oliver says.
“It’s all being covered, it’s just not being listened to,” he says. “We use clips of stories that are being covered by Frontline or local news. They’re just often not being watched in great numbers. There is reporting going on out there.”
- When Last Week Tonight began, the show crashed stories on a weekly basis. Now, the show sometimes works months on a story before pulling the trigger.
Oliver’s sitdown with Edward Snowden, for example, took a long time to pull off. “It is not easy, just in terms of production alone, what it takes to get me into a room in Moscow and him in that same room– and have none of us murdered,” he says.
The show’s take on TV evangelists took months to produce “because we got ourselves in this chaotic correspondence with this pastor. We let that one play out really long term. That was fun.”
Of course, some stories eventually fall apart. That’s why the show also has an arsenal of “parachute stories” to plug in at the last minute, in case an episode goes south. “It’s always going to be controlled drowning,” Oliver says. “You’re never done with tinkering with the machine that builds all this stuff.”
- HBO told Oliver and his team to do whatever they want—and Oliver says it’s no lie.
“You get told that all the time, and you know it’s mostly not true,” he says. “I presumed HBO was overstating it. And then it just happened. They let us do anything. With Snowden, we couldn’t tell them beforehand.”
Even after the Snowden interview was locked and ready to air, HBO respected Oliver’s wishes to not promote the episode, in order to keep it a surprise. “I appreciate HBO allowed us to do that,” he says.
- Yes, Oliver was “terrified” that he might not pull off the top-secret Snowden chat.
“You know you’re not supposed to meet fugitives,” he says. “It was a panicky 36 hours. We did split the tapes between us on the way back.”
- Despite the attention he got for the Snowden interview, Oliver isn’t interested in other “big gets.”
“El Chapo had already been given an offer he couldn’t refuse–full edit on the story!” he quips, referring to Sean Penn’s Rolling Stone sitdown with the Mexican cartel leader. “I understand [Snowden] was a ‘big get’ because we went to Moscow. But he does Reddit AMAs. We understand it’s a long way from any exclusive. It was not a huge ‘get’ as much as it was easier to do what we wanted to do in the same room instead of over Skype.”
- Last Week Tonight will continue to keep its episode topics secret.
“I like the idea of it being a surprise,” Oliver says. “You don’t know what we’re going to talk about each week. And also, it’s hard to talk about any particular story because they do collapse.”
- Oliver’s references to “Janice from accounting, who does not give a f—,” may or may not return.
“Occasionally we have jokes get out of hand,” Oliver says of the running gag about a fed-up office worker. “My instinct is we’re done with Janice from accounting stories, but I thought that after the first Janice from accounting story!”
- Oliver admits his fake “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption Church” got out of hand.
“We asked for money because we could, and we said if you give us money you will get riches in return, which again is something you’re allowed to say, consequence-free,” he says. “We had to hire 5 permanent interns to go through boxes of donations and assorted pornographic ephemera.”
That included five vials of human sperm (some fake, some not), plus $70,000 in singles (which was donated to Doctors without Borders), and other gifts.
“We have a whole storage room with boxes upon boxes of paintings, plastic planes, it was amazing,” he says. “It both restored my faith in human nature and ruined it forever.”
- Oliver’s TV diet includes Sportscenter, Frontline and Project Runway.
“I think [Project Runway co-host] Tim Gunn is one of the nicest men on television,” he says. “I know nothing about fashion, but what I like is everyone on that show works very hard.”
- Oliver would prefer you stop saying his on-air arguments have “disemboweled” others.
“It’s why I tend to avoid any evisceration, disemboweling,” he says. “I cant control how the show is repackaged. But we’re not looking for the level of disembowelment as a defining characteristic of our week’s work.”