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Samantha Bee Plans Tweaks to ‘Full Frontal’

Samantha Bee has a few changes in store for “Full Frontal.”

During Wednesday night’s broadcast of the TBS satire program, Bee and a motley crew of characters will bid farewell- during a sketch – to the show’s set. The move could be the first of several refinements viewers will see when the program returns on September 12 after a late-summer hiatus. At TBS, the transformation is being billed as “Full Frontal 2.0,” and is being made to accommodate coverage of the 2018 midterm elections.  TBS declined to elaborate.

The redesign would come about two and a half years and 88 episodes into the show’s tenure, and suggests Bee and her producers are ready to shake things up as the nation shifts its focus to an event that could serve as a game-changer for national politics. Indeed, “Full Frontal” producers are also readying the launch of a mobile app called “This Is Not A Game: The Game,” a trivia game with catch phrases and “questions in the voice of the show,” said Bee, that will debut when the program returns in September. “It’s informational but extremely funny, and the goal really was to incentivize people to vote in the midterms.”

Bee’s program may air at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, but it is seen as part of TV’s late-night shows, where one longstanding element is routine. Viewers grow accustomed over the years to seeing the same flow, set pieces and characters. In 2018, however, there is more competition for the younger audience that gravitates to such stuff and new pressure to get them to watch regularly amid a growing range of  options.

The new tweaks will surface after a controversial May broadcast that resulted in “Full Frontal” losing some advertisers for a period of several weeks. During one “Full Frontal” segment meant to illustrate the shock and anger of seeing immigrant children separated from their parents, Bee used a charged epithet that refers to a part of the female anatomy to insult President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. The joke sparked backlash, and “Full Frontal” only recently returned to having a full slate of advertisers on board.

“It was very life-changing for me, for sure. I did not anticipate that level of backlash,” said Bee, who spoke recently to an audience after a taping of the broadcast that is slated to air this evening. “I knew that it would be affecting, definitely. I was mentally prepping for it. I did not understand that it would explode in the way that it did. It was not a great feeling, and it was rocky, I would say.”

Bee has long held the view that part of the program’s appeal is that it’s meant as a “catharsis” for her and her writers and producers, a show “we make for ourselves.” But the reaction to that segment has focused her attention on the broader audience for “Full Frontal,” she says. “I do have to be a little more thoughtful that the wider world is watching it, or listening to it,” she says. The controversy “did kind of change my perspective.”

She has the backing of the network, which recently came under the ownership of AT&T. “She went from talking about the news and reporting the news to becoming the news. And in a moment, all these friends and people who had been reporting the positive stuff about Sam quickly became foes,” noted Brett Weitz, TBS’ executive vice president of original programming, who also spoke after the taping. “And it was really interesting that one word, one moment, changed the dynamic, for the worst seven days of my career, and I think Sam would agree with that. But, she was right. I think the message she was talking about was on point, and about two weeks later, the rest of the country became infuriated. And that is what Sam has been so amazing at for these last three years. She’s been there before everybody else has.” He added: “What I saw was a woman who didn’t waver, who was incredibly determined to get her ‘Full Frontal’ family off the battlefield, to get us through the bulls–t and get us back on message.”

Since that time, “Full Frontal” has appeared to include more of the signature “field pieces” Bee has been doing since her days at Comedy Central’s “Daily Show.”  In one recent example, “Full Frontal” correspondents made humorous cameos during the book tour of Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary. In another, Bee rode in a car with Masha Gessen, the writer who has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a clear attempt to poke fun at Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” as well as James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.”

Bee is the only female host among the group to have a regularly-scheduled TV program, particularly after Viacom’s BET canceled Robin Thede’s well-received “The Rundown.” Hulu and Netflix stream similar series led by Sarah Silverman and Michelle Wolf.

“Full Frontal” has sparked critical acclaim since it launched in February of 2016.  By adding a few new modifications, Bee could start a new round of chatter about what she’s doing.

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