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Madison Avenue Seems Wary of Samantha Bee’s ‘Full Frontal,’ Despite Apology

Samantha Bee served up plenty of jokes on Wednesday night. Many advertisers weren’t there to help her.

The first broadcast of Bee’s TBS series “Full Frontal” after she sparked a controversy last week contained far fewer national commercials than it normally does, a signal that Madison Avenue  find the comedienne too hot to support a week after she used a charged epithet that refers to a part of the female anatomy to insult President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.  The Time Warner-owned cable network filled the commercial breaks of her program largely with promos for other programs on TBS and TNT, such as “Drop The Mic,” “Claws,” and “Conan.” Only a small handful of national ads for PlayStation; the Warner Brothers movie “Ocean’s 8”; the Epix cable series “Deep State”; and the latest entry in the Univeral Pictures “Jurassic World”series accompanied this week’s broadcast of the program.

In contrast, the first commercial break alone in last week’s “Full Frontal” broadcast contained commercials from Orkin, Yum Brands’ Taco Bell, Apple, Nestle’s Haagen Dazs, and Suntory Holdings’ Jim Beam.

Bee and TBS issued apologies last week for her use of the word, and she opened this week’s program with more of the same, adding some of her humor into the mix. “I crossed the line. I regret it and I do apologize for that,” Bee said, noting: “The problem is, that many of women have heard that word at the worst moments in their lives. A lot of women don’t want to reclaim that word. They want it gone and I don’t blame them. I don’t want to inflict more pain on them.”

She added: ” I want this show to be challenging and I want it to be honest and’I never intended to hurt anyone – except Ted Cruz.” During the show, she introduced a group of four men who she said would monitor standards on the program. They proceeded to interrupt her during the show’s first segment. “Full Frontal” made other sly references to the controversy, including bleeping out words in the show’s introduction and a farewell from Bee that told viewers she would “See you next….Wednesday.”

In an era riven by debates over politics and cultural issues, advertisers run greater risk of offending some part of their consumer base by aligning themselves with “hot potato” programming. More sponsors are opting to simply sit things out until controversies cool – if they ever do. Laura Ingraham’s Fox News Channel program “The Ingraham Angle” appeared this week to have gained back some but not all of its advertiser support, months after its host came under fire for insulting one of the survivors of a horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Twitter in March. Marketers also shied away from a June broadcast last year of NBC’s “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” that contained an interview with online provocateur Alex Jones.

State Farm, a large TV advertiser, said last week it was taking a break from supporting Bee’s program. TBS executives have said they intend to stand by the series, which has been a critical and commercial success since it launched in February of 2016. Bee has used the word on the program before, but this week’s utterance, while bleeped out by the network, came within hours of ABC’s decision to cancel the hit sitcom “Roseanne” in the wake of its star posting a racist insult on Twitter.

Bee’s staff has given TBS new reason to consult its standards and practices guidelines. The Turner cable network has never been known for airing edgy material. Indeed, the most shocking thing that may have run on its air in decades past was the sight of professional wrestler Ric Flair’s bare torso during airings of “World Championship Wrestling.” Bee and her producers have kicked things up a notch. In interviews, the comedienne has joked that she could one day write a book about the exchanges between her producers and network executives over bits of language and graphics used in her program’s set pieces.

That envelope pushing has been part of the series’ appeal. “We do a show to please ourselves,” Bee told Variety in 2016. “This gives us an opportunity to say the things we want in the exact way we want to say them.” She added:  “I like a firm hand to take me somewhere. I think that’s what we do with the show — provide a firm hand. You might not like where it takes you, and that’s OK, too.” At the time, she said she hoped viewers “walk away with comedy first, and then the catharsis after.”

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