Samantha Bee Talks ‘Full Frontal’ 2.0, Jennifer Lawrence and Ideas for a Line of Blazers (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
When Full Frontal With Samantha Bee returns on Sept. 12, things will be noticeably different. Not only will fans see a new set and opening credits (designed by the production company Sarofsky, owned by Erin Sarofsky), but Bee will introduce a brand new app, This Is Not a Game: The Game, which is meant to incentivize consumer engagement in the 2018 midterm elections.
All of this is part of Full Frontal 2.0, which the host tells ET “represents a lot of possibility” for the series, which, in its first two seasons, has already hosted a Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner special, filmed episodes in Iraq and Puerto Rico, navigated the Ivanka Trump controversy and earned seven Emmy nominations in 2018, including one for Outstanding Variety Talk Series. Now, halfway through its third season, its pushing things further.
“It’s a way to reflect that we’re becoming very established. We’re occupying a little more territory, so we might as well own it a little bit,” says Bee, who likens the sleek, new design to the moment when Sandy gets made over at the end of Grease.
And the transformation is apparent. The previous set was a long, skinny platform with a pair of larger monitors behind it, which was dramatically destroyed in August before the show took a brief hiatus. Now, the stage literally takes up more space, with a wider area for more Music Man-like moments and plenty of space for Bee to move around in.
“I think what it really represents is we now have the opportunity to pursue these big ideas,” she adds.
One such idea is moving beyond TV and engaging consumers in the mobile space. Inspired by a segment the show did on gamification, Bee and the Full Frontal team -- led by senior field producer Razan Ghalayini and product manager Adam Werbach -- spent over a year exploring the answer to the question, “Could we gamify the midterm elections?” Bee says. The result is This Is Not a Game: The Game, which users can download right now and then compete for $5,000 in the app’s first gaming session following tonight’s episode. (And yes, the winners are free to do whatever they want with the money.)
Not only does the app encourage engagement through cash prizes and challenges meant to check things like users’ voter registration, but it introduces “comedy into this space” -- something the Full Frontal team says hasn’t been done before. The game itself mixes AP U.S. History-type questions with some political humor -- all in the voice of the show, which Ghalayini admittedly says was the hardest thing to perfect.
“It would be nice to imagine that people could -- unrelated to the show -- just play the game and actually enjoy it on its own merits,” Bee ultimately says of the app, which she hopes will be played by people who aren’t even regular viewers.
When it comes to the show itself, there will always be a necessary urgency to what Full Frontal covers -- especially as the November midterm elections near -- and it will continue to push beyond expectations, but the format is not expected to change. The team views going on location (especially the Emmy-nominated Puerto Rico special), as one-off ideas that feel inspired, not a drive to constantly take the show on the road.
It’s a similar take on celebrities who have appeared in segments in the past, like Terry Crews’ PSA on sexual assault or Padma Lakshmi speaking about undocumented workers in the food industry. If there’s a specific idea the writers can come up with -- “keeping it very tight,” the host says -- then they’re open to it. “We’re not in the business of making requests to famous people,” Bee clarifies, adding one caveat: “If Jennifer Lawrence wants to do something with the show, I 100 percent welcome that.”
To say where the show goes beyond the midterm elections or what kind of space it will occupy in the future is, perhaps, thinking too far ahead. But when asked if she thinks Full Frontal will ever become large enough for her to launch her own line of signature blazers, Bee laughs as she leans in close to say: “That’s my dream. I have so many ideas.”