Bill Maher to Launch Podcast Network, Hires Ex-ESPN Anchor Sage Steele as First Host

HBO Real Time host Bill Maher is launching a podcast network.

The Club Random Studios network (the name is derived from Maher’s Club Random podcast), will seek to host podcasts built on an idea of “freedom of expression,” the late night host tells The Hollywood Reporter.

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“I am looking for people who are not talking-point people. I’m looking for people who don’t, before they speak, say, ‘What’s the right answer here?'” Maher added.

The first podcast on the network, which Maher is backing alongside co-creators Chris Case and Chuck LaBella, will be hosted by Sage Steele, the former ESPN SportsCenter anchor who parted ways with the channel last year after settling a free speech lawsuit. Steele filed the suit alleging retaliation after she made controversial comments about the COVID-19 vaccine mandates on a podcast hosted by Jay Cutler.

“She’s the perfect choice to be our first new host because, like me, she pissed off Disney. There’s a certain poetic symmetry to that,” Maher says of Steele’s show, which launches today (Maher, of course, tussled with Disney after ABC canceled his show Politically Incorrect in 2002).

Steele tells THR that she is planning her program around “conversations, not interviews,” and will host athletes, executives, actors, comedians, politicians and other guests. UFC chief Dana White, comedians Howie Mandel and Adam Corolla, and California Senate candidate Steve Garvey are among the initial guests.

“What I’ve always tried to dig out during my career is the ‘why’ behind people and get that human interest story,” Steele says, adding that her own personal experience is informing her.

“You realize that by sharing your story, others can benefit as well,” Steele adds. “I’ve gotten thousands of emails over the last couple of years since I kind of became controversial and started getting canceled, from people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you for sharing,’ ‘Oh my gosh, I’m afraid too,’ and ‘Oh my gosh, please don’t be quiet, you’re speaking for me.’ So that’s where this came from. I’ve always had that curiosity, but now I know firsthand what it’s like when you open up and are vulnerable and share.”

Maher says that he and his co-founders intend to give Steele and other hosts resources and let them pursue their own ideas.

“These are not rookies, these are grown-ass adult, mature, fun, unafraid people,” Maher says. “So I don’t worry about them, and I certainly wouldn’t dream of micromanagement. I mean, they are their own people. And that’s what we want.”

Adds Steele, “It’s not even about me or Bill, this is about the big picture, and what I believe and Bill believes is missing in this country, which is true conversation and listening. I mean, since my controversies began — and long before that, actually — people who know me knew my biggest priority is diversity of thought, and if we don’t have that we have nothing.

“Bill, by saying, ‘You’re gonna be my first hire for my new podcast network,’ he is living that, he’s practicing what he preaches because you look at just the basic issues, right? He thinks marriage is a joke, and kids are annoying. And he’s an atheist. I was married for 20 years. I have three kids and I am a strong Christian Catholic,” Steele continues. “We could not be more different in many, many, many important ways. But we also think the same on some of the core issues that are dividing this country right now, like the craziness at the border with immigration laws, with what happened with the vaccine mandates — not the vaccine, the vaccine mandates — with the transgender sports issue. We’re on the same page with that, and we were able to find that out through that conversation on his podcast last fall.”

Maher launched his Club Random podcast two years ago, taking a more casual and longform approach to interviews, with guests hanging out and chatting in a more casual setting than on Real Time.

“I’m high when I do the whole thing. It just seemed like a good idea,” Maher quips about the podcast.

“I mean, my real job is at HBO … it’s different, I’m talking to senators and governors, and I can’t be high and forgetting what I was saying and talking about sex all the time,” Maher adds. “But the podcast is me after hours, it’s Real Time after dark.”

Now, he is betting that he can take that ethos and give other hosts a chance to build podcasts of their own.

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