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

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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.”

MORE: Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, the Queen and King of TBS

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.

MORE: Meet Milck, the Songwriter Who Unintentionally Penned the Anthem of the Women’s March

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 TheNew 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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