1:41pm PT by Hilary Lewis
Samantha Bee Talks Bringing a "Forceful," Female Point of View to Late-Night Comedy with 'Full Frontal'
The tagline seen on billboards and other ads for Samantha Bee's new TBS series Full Frontal is, "Watch or you're sexist." But the runner-up, Bee revealed at a Tuesday-night press event for the weekly late-night comedy show, was even more female-centric: "Comedy with wings."
Indeed, Bee seems to be embracing her role as the only woman hosting a late-night program right now. And judging from test-show clips screened for the media, there's a strong feminist perspective woven through the show's mix of silliness and sophisticated satire.
Full Frontal, which airs Monday nights at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT beginning Feb. 8, features both topical segments and more in-depth field pieces, with Bee and her team aspiring to do one of the latter for each episode. In one of the test-show topical segments, Bee took on CNN's late-January Democratic town hall, joking that when Hillary Clinton was asked how she ended up in such a close race with Bernie Sanders, what Clinton "wanted to say" was, "Turns out the old witch I promised Chelsea to wasn't as powerful as I thought. I guess maybe I just underestimated the bone-deep sexism of the American people."
Bee also devoted a few minutes to skewering a Kansas state senator who wrote up a dress code for the state capitol targeted only at women: "Senator Holmes, your broke-ass state has the highest food tax in the country, and you had to close schools early last year due to lack of funds. But you know what? Great idea. Spend your legislative session worrying about our cleavage that you can't stop looking at."
The field report segment shown to the press was part of Bee and executive producer Miles Kahn's trip to Jordan, where they tried to learn more about Syrian refugees and whether they, as some have claimed, pose a threat to the U.S.
After a clip of Republican candidate Ben Carson comparing the refugees to rabid dogs, Bee jokingly introduced the segment thusly, "Who are these junkyard people? And will they really bite us? I got all my shots and went to find out."
As she met various refugees and learned about the detailed vetting process, Bee's interviews seemed to disprove many politicians' panic-inducing generalizations.
The field report had a strong Daily Show look and feel to it, which wasn't surprising, given that both Bee and Kahn are alums of the Comedy Central late-night show. But Bee explained that her show would have a distinct perspective.
"I do think we'll have a pretty forceful point of view, in a different direction. I'm certainly exploring my own interests in a way that – I was never prevented from exploring my own point of view — but ultimately The Daily Show was filtered through somebody else's worldview. Mine is just inherently different. I'm steeped in my womanness, quite frankly," she said during a Q&A session, explaining that Full Frontal would try to present views that aren't being explored in comedic coverage of news stories that might not even seem inherently funny, like the Zika virus. "I think if we chose to take that on, we would drill down in a way that no other show would," said Bee. "So I think we will find as we work our way through the process that is where our show's going to live, and I think it will be unique."
Bee also offered a specific example of a type of story that she felt she's able to do differently on her own show than if she'd done it for The Daily Show.
"We're going to do a piece about the TRAP [Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers] law in Texas, and I feel like that's a piece that would have been more difficult to do on The Daily Show," said Bee. "It would have had to go through more filters than it will have to go through on this show. It's going to be a great piece for us, and we're really excited about it and we're really happy about the stuff that we shot, and what we think will make this a unique piece for our show is that it's … very visceral and we will allow it to be so."
Executive producer Jo Miller, who also used to work at The Daily Show, told The Hollywood Reporter that it's not so much that they feel a responsibility to tackle issues that are important to women, but those are topics they want to explore.
"These are things that we're interested in and that resonate with us and we really want to explore them," she said. "And Sam Bee has the opportunity to speak with authority on them and speak in a way that resonates with the audience, which we've seen in the test shows when we do take on things that are universal experiences that men don't even know about ... the reaction from the female audience is catharsis."
Miller went on to explain how during a discussion about sexual harassment in the workplace for an upcoming piece, the men in the room were shocked that that was going on and thought the topic was too depressing for the show, but Bee and Miller said it seemed pretty commonplace.
"Sam was saying, 'Yeah, when I read about this I thought, "Uh-huh, yeah, this is my experience. This is every workplace"' … and it seems to come as a surprise to the men," said Miller. "And Sam and I are just like, 'This is just called working. We can talk about it. It's not the most horrible thing — it's a universal experience of women.' It's kind of interesting when you break things like that in the room and you see the different perspectives of men and women."
Bee and Miller have also embraced diversity behind the camera, actively working to put together a writing staff that is reportedly 50 percent female and 30 percent nonwhite. In addition to using a blind submission process and providing guidelines so that everyone's submissions looked the same format-wise to prevent those with less TV experience from being at a disadvantage, Miller recruited different types of people.
"She did an incredible job of reaching out into all different communities of people. It's such an active process," Bee explained. "It's not just opening your application process, it's also like calling everybody you know and going, 'Do you know any great writers who aspire to this but don't have access to this world? Hey, who do you know who's not in the world of late-night who you think would be well-suited for this, who you think would be interested in this but are too shy to ask?' It was such a process of reaching into communities and literally pulling applications out of people. We have a very diverse workplace in general, and I think we are reaping the benefits of that in more ways than are even calculable."
Bee told THR that there aren't really guidelines for what makes something a Full Frontal story. "There are some stories that we think are really interesting, that we know we want to make a story out of, we just don't know how to tell that story yet, we don't have the framework yet. We just know that it's a topic that is of concern to us and we think it can be done comedically, we just don't know how," she said. "Or it's a story that's so interesting that it comes at us from an interesting story point of view. There's different ways to kind of process this. Sometimes it's as simple as trying to talk it out with a group of people at one of our creative meetings to know that there's nothing in the story, that there's no comedic take possible for the story yet. If it's been done by someone else, that's good to know. If someone else has done the story, then we kind of drop it automatically anyway."
In fact, when putting together their weekly show, the Full Frontal team might have to stay away from viral phenomena, Kahn explained, but they could approach those in a different way.
"It's tough because we're in this world now where a video goes viral for 24 hours and then dies," he said. "That stuff is fun for us for our social media department, which we have invested a lot of time and resources into and hired really fun people for that because we do want to be in that conversation for that 24-hour quick-news period … I think for stuff like election stuff … if that happens in the week before we're about to do a show, that might be fodder for taking apart something in the election cycle.
"I don't know if it's always going to be a full act of comedy," he continued. "That may be geared more toward what The Daily Show does and then maybe we have to pivot to something that's a bit meatier in a different department — try to find a story that you haven't heard. So a little bit of topicality, but then you still want to make sure our focus overall is on stories that are underreported, interesting little news things that you may not have heard of. Everyone's kind of covering the debates so we don't want to pick over things that everyone else is picking over, but sometimes I guess we're going to be forced to, just from the nature of they want to know what Sam has to say about it. So we're going to try to answer that as well."
With less than a week to go before their first show aired, Bee made it clear that she and her team are largely focused on simply producing a funny show, but she does hope to ultimately add other correspondents and personalities, saying she "always thought about [Full Frontal] as a place where we could develop new talent."
For his part, Kahn told THR that he hopes to "elevate" field reports and take them "to a more challenging level."
And while he noted someone would surely tell them what the show's ratings are, he's not paying attention to the numbers.
"TBS wants what we want, which is a show that is really funny and great," said Kahn. "I don't think we're going to worry about numbers so much right now and try to make a good show."