Samantha Bee is celebrating 200 episodes of her late-night political comedy series Full Frontal.
“Conan did 7,000 episodes of his show, but I feel like I’m gaining on him,” she jokes. “I really can’t believe it. I am really impressed with myself. It is a really great feeling. I would not have thought we would have got to 200 [episodes] so it feels like a really huge accomplishment. I was trying to impress my kids with it, saying ‘Check out your mom’, and they could not have been less interested.”
The weekly TBS show is heading to Washington, DC this week to celebrate and Bee has roped in celebrity guests including Busy Philipps to highlight the issue of reproductive rights. This comes as the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the precedent on abortion rights.
“The show has been so vocal on the subject of reproductive justice so it makes sense to talk about the Supreme Court. I thought it’d be a fun adventure to shoot it near the Supreme Court,” she adds.
It’s an important issue, but as with much of what the show covers, it’s done with some jokes thrown in. Bee and her team, which includes showrunner Alison Camillo, have built a reproductive justice escape room for the episode starring Philipps. “It’s so fun and ridiculous. It’s so stupid and so smart at the same time. That took a tremendous amount of planning and execution. It felt like the best possible metaphor. We knew that this case was going to be argued on December 1, we planned the show to be rooted in that subject. Whenever possible, we’re trying to think in advance of what makes sense for us.”
The show premiered on February 8, 2016, months before Donald Trump became President. “I can’t even remember what my headspace was, I feel like I was a completely different person six years ago. We’ve lived through an entire Donald Trump Presidency, been in a global pandemic, so much has happened in the world and somehow we made 200 episodes of TV on top of that.”
When Covid-19 hit last year, the show, like all of the late-night shows was forced to adapt and Bee filmed it from her house in the woods in upstate New York with the help of her husband Jason Jones and her children. While the light was free, there were plenty of challenges.
Earlier this year, she returned to the studio. “It’s been nice to be inside. You’re much more in control of the environment around you. We have fewer woodchippers and leaf blowers blowing my neighbors’ lawns in the studio, which is nice. We learned a lot of really valuable lessons by shooting outside, which is that you can literally make this show any place if people just stay quiet enough behind us.”
However, Bee and her team did not move back to the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in New York, but rather to their own studio in Norwalk, Connecticut. “We looked for a space that really accommodated us well. We found the perfect place. We were looking for a setting that we controlled ourselves. When we were shooting in New York, we shared a studio space with a lot of other television shows, so we only had that space for one day per week, which didn’t give us a ton of flexibility. It was a space large enough for a large studio audience and all of that became wildly impractical during Covid and we wanted to be able to control our protocols and know who exactly was in there so it made sense for us to take over an entire studio. I love it. In the end, there were a lot of reasons why that space is better for the show and for a quality of life.”
Quality of life is a big issue for Bee. She introduced a paid parental leave policy that with 20 weeks of fully-paid time off is thought to be one of the most generous in the industry. “I’d like to leave the world of television a little bit better than when I entered it,” she says.
Having Trump as President was also a “major blow to the issue of quality of life”, says Bee. “The news cycle, the pace was breakneck. It was very hard to even take a moment to take a breath and look at the bigger picture. Having him not on social media alone is an incredible gift, let alone that he vacated the Presidency. It has given us the chance to operate at the pace we want to operate at, which is more thoughtful and more fun.”
Unlike the nightly shows, Full Frontal takes a broader look at big issues. This season, she has explored issues in Rwanda, climate change and the story of NSA whistleblower Reality Winner. “It’s great for us to be able to sit back and retreat from the melee of having to have a really hot take in the moment. We really do appreciate the opportunity to sit back and look at the longer version of the story. I’m weirdly not a big hot take person. We spend a lot of time crafting a long term response and that’s where I like to live,” she says.
Bee has interviewed a number of top political figures including Stacey Abrams and now Vice President Kamala Harris. She has also helped organize campaigns such as the drive to help save the post office. “You start with the things you feel passionate about and lean into the absurdity, the outrage, your anger and somehow we do all that and add jokes to that because we’re all comedy people at heart. That’s how we best express that outrage. I don’t know why it works but it does,” she says.
The show was recently picked up for a seventh season, a decision that Brett Weitz, General Manager, TNT, TBS, and truTV, tells Deadline is the easiest call he makes every year. “For any performer to hit seven seasons of a show, to get to 200 episodes, to realize the war you have to be in and the battles you have to fight, the creative inspiration you wake up to every morning and Sam is a very early riser, is incredible,” he adds.
“We celebrate a new season but it doesn’t change our process because we’re continuous. We evolve slowly over time rather than coming back with a whole new look. It’s more about continuity,” says Bee.
Next year, the show will air on Thursdays rather than Wednesdays, a move that Weitz says is merely about scheduling, due to the fact that TBS will be airing a new hourlong wrestling series AEW: Dynamite to its slate. Weitz adds that it just gives Bee “some runway to the week”.
“It’s great, each move we make gives us a greater quality of life. I think moving to Thursday increases our quality of life so I’m fine with it. It structures our work week in a way that is more life friendly. It’s a brand new type of must see TV,” she adds.
Bee is one of the few women leading her own late-night show. It’s a recurring topic, although something that is improving with the likes of Amber Ruffin, Ziwe and Sam Jay getting their own shows recently.
This was highlighted by the fact that Full Frontal was knocked out of last year’s Emmy race by its network sibling Conan after the show’s FYC campaign joked about celebrating almost 25 years of male late-night host winners.
“It’s definitely getting better but I don’t think it’s as good as it could be by far,” she says. “I think there’s a better recognition that there isn’t just one voice or thought process in this space and the more voices we have the better is for all of us. I don’t think we’re ever going to stop asking this question, not in my lifetime.”
Weitz believes that Bee is only getting better as the show goes on. “I have front row seats to watching her create one of the greatest shows of all time,” he says. “It’s amazing to watch her evolution from the first sport coat that she put on to what will be the 200th sport coat that she’s put on. It’s a big closet and an incredible evolution. She’s got better and smarter and more dialed in to the culture. She’s got this incredible way of shining a light on stories before those stories become big stories and I absolutely loved watching her excel and grow.”
“I do have just an incredible closet of blazers and I love each and every one of them for different reasons. It’s a great shield against the world,” jokes Bee.
Next year, Bee expects to be talking a lot about the midterm elections. “That’s always a time where political comedy shows shine. That’s our world. None of us are particularly looking forward to it because I think it’s going to be a wild, hideous rollercoaster ride so we will see what the next year brings. Terrible for the world, great for political comedy.”
Bee and her husband Jason Jones previously produced comedy series The Detour for TBS and their production company Swimsuit Competition has a first-look deal with the network. The company is developing an adaptation of Laura Hankin’s A Special Place for Women with Paramount Television Studios. Bee says that they have a couple of other scripted projects in the works as well as more topical shows. “I like to get out of my own head every once in a while. I like doing something for someone else, that I’m not necessarily going to be in myself,” she says.
Full Frontal remains her focus and she is still enjoying it. “It’s the most fun job imaginable. It’s a gift, it’s the most wonderful present to be able to make this show with the staff that I have and the resources that we’ve been given to say what we want to say in this entirely insane world. I can’t imagine doing anything else and yet I can’t remember a single moment from the last six years,” she says. “I don’t know what other job I’m qualified to do at this point. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing creatively, that’s for certain.”