John Oliver set to return to HBO — his secrecy policy will, too

John Oliver

NEW YORK — HBO's John Oliver says he likes the idea of keeping as much as possible about his show a secret until it airs each week, a philosophy that he took to the extreme last spring when he traveled to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden.

Oliver, who begins a new round of his "Last Week Tonight" comedy show on Feb. 14, did not tell his network until he had returned that he had spoken to Snowden, the fugitive who leaked NSA documents to journalists in 2013 and faces prison time if he returns to the United States.

Oliver pleaded with HBO not to tell anyone that he had interviewed Snowden, in part because it would spoil a segment in which he makes viewers wonder if Snowden would even show up. He even asked the studio audience at the episode's taping to keep quiet about it online.

"I really appreciated the fact that HBO would let us do it that way," Oliver said, "because we thought it was the best way to actually present it, even though commercially it was the worst way you could present it."

Oliver said HBO has kept its promise not to interfere creatively in the making of "Last Week Tonight."

With his philosophy in mind, Oliver was not revealing much on Wednesday about the topics that "Last Week Tonight" will cover in the upcoming months. It's difficult to reveal much because some stories may fall through, he said.

Each week's show has a centerpiece story that is discussed in a mixture of comedy and reporting.

He will, however, end a moratorium about discussion of the presidential campaign. The show wants to look almost forensically at how the process of democracy works, rather than be caught in daily stories about what candidates are saying, segments that Oliver said can be handled better comically elsewhere.

"Otherwise, you get lost in the general campaign ephemera where nothing really significant happens of any consequence," he said.

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