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EXCLUSIVE: The Necessary Urgency of ‘Full Frontal With Samantha Bee’

by Stacy Lambe 11:20 AM PDT, April 28, 2017
Photo: TBS

When Full Frontal With Samantha Bee first launched on TBS in February 2016, it was heralded for the fact that a woman was finally entering the late-night fray, cracking the glass ceiling sealed shut by the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and John Oliver. It was a fact that the host even seemed to lament, considering she spent 12 years on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart before landing a production deal with TBS, which also airs The Detour, a scripted comedy she co-created and executive produces with husband Jason Jones. But Full Frontal quickly proved it was more than just a late-night show hosted by a woman -- it had a whole different point of view.

“We always wanted to do the show from a really authentic place deep down inside our bellies, and we are 100 percent doing that,” Bee told Rolling Stone a month into the series, as it was very much defining its tone -- a mix of anger and urgency that, in the wake of the presidential election, feels all the more necessary -- andfinding its audience, which saw a steady climb over the course of season one.

And when it came to the show’s voice, which it clearly found in the days leading up the election, co-producer and correspondent Allana Harkin says it was something that never had to be discussed. “We know what we’re going to do; we’ve known from the beginning,” she tells ET, adding that Bee came with a well-established brand.

“She has this great voice and great take and great energy that she was able to bring [t the show],” says senior field producer and correspondent Mike Rubens. “I really feel like that made [Full Frontal] stand out.”

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By the time the show returned for season two on Jan. 11, ahead of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, its audience had doubled in size from the year before. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Full Frontal now reaches 4.3 million viewers an episode. And as the person in charge of warming up the studio audience each week, Harkin can attest to how much that has changed since the beginning. Comprised of mostly women, she says those audience members who did show up were there to be part of the ride that Bee was on. Now, she says it’s split 50-50 between men and women, and that the entire audience is much more engaged in the issues at hand.

“When you come to Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, you’re part of the resistance,” Harkin jokes, but that’s partly what watching the show feels like these days. Bee and her team of on-air correspondents -- Harkin, Rubens, show writer Ashley Nicole Black and Amy Hoggart -- challenge the status quo. If the current political climate is The Hunger Games, Bee is late-night’s very own Katniss, becoming one of Trump’s insightful and visceral critics.

“What’s happened since the election -- of course, when we debuted, you hope your show is necessary, you hope people are engaged and you hope they want to watch it, but now, it really feels extremely necessary,” Harkins says. “Sometimes it feels a little desperate -- not that we're desperate -- but it’s like, ‘OK, people are coming to us and we all want to feel like there's community here.’”

That community has been likened to a feminist church by executive producer and showrunner Jo Miller. It’s a sentiment Black can appreciate, especially following the election. “[It’s] like, ‘Hey, we all are feeling these feelings and we’re going to have a moment of solidarity at this point in the week,’” she says of what Full Frontal has become for some viewers.

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But for Black, it’s about still finding humor even in the darkest of stories, which has included rape kits, military sexual assault and Syrian refugees. “I just want to make people laugh,” she says, adding that if the show can offer a half-hour of escape, all the better.

Perhaps the most defining moment for Full Frontal will come when it airs the Not White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, April 29. (The show is being taped earlier, in the late afternoon at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.) First announced in January, Bee said she never imagined getting invited to host the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which typically features a lighthearted roasting of the current president in front of a crowd of journalists and their celebrity guests. “We were talking out loud about whether we thought the White House Correspondents’ Dinner would change during a Trump presidency, or if it would even exist,” Bee told The New York Times. “And then we thought, ‘Why don’t we just do one, just to do it in the way that we would want it done if we were hosting it?’”

Black also sees it as a moment for Full Frontal do something different, likening it to when the show covered the national party conventions and the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. “This opens up so much possibility of things that we can’t normally do in our format,” she says, “and that's just really exciting.”

And in the months since that first conversation, the team has been busy preparing for the event, which will include a mix of new and familiar elements like Trump jokes and field pieces, as well as the possible return of Jones, who serves as executive producer on the show but has not reprised his on-camera persona since leaving The Daily Show. “I’m looking to do something,” he told ET in February, while speaking to the importance of the alternative gala, which will benefit the Committee to Project Journalists.

“We’re going through a period where great journalism is being passed off as fake news,” Jones said, referring to the legitimate media outlets President Donald Trump often dismisses in the press. “[To] fund great investigative journalism is important to the both of us. This is our tiny way to give back.” 

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