Just days after announcing that the show had been canceled, Busy Philipps opened up to her “Busy Tonight” audience about her decision to have an abortion and a Georgia law challenging the ability of women to make that same choice. The moment went viral, and the response has, she said, been largely positive.
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the response in the last 24 hours, and certainly online, by the support, because I was ready for all the other stuff,” Philipps said. “And certainly, there have been some people that have, whatever, called me names on Instagram. But it really doesn’t even affect me — it’s so interesting. But the support has been overwhelmingly positive.”
In her first interview since announcing Sunday on social media that her late-night talk show had been canceled by cable channel E!, Philipps spoke with Variety‘s “TV Take” podcast about her hopes for finding a new home for “Busy Tonight.” She also discussed her decision, long in the works, to speak out on the show about women’s reproductive health.
Tearing up during the interview, Philipps talked about her own reaction to the Georgia law, which will bar a woman from having an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. As Philipps pointed out, many women do not even know that they’re pregnant until well after they’ve been so for more than six weeks.
“When that Senate passed the bill four weeks ago, I said to Caissie, my showrunner, ‘I want to do an opening monologue about it,'” Philipps told Variety. “The timing was weird, though, because the governor hadn’t signed it into bill yet. Now Georgia just became the sixth state to pass such a law.”
After Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed the bill into law on Tuesday, Philipps decided it was time to address the issue. On her show that evening, Philipps told viewers that many of them may not think that they know a woman who has had an abortion. “Well,” she said. “You know me.” Video of the segment spread quickly online the following day. Speaking to Variety, Philipps said “Busy Tonight” executive producer Tina Fey has encouraged her to seize the momentum from the moment and extend the conversation about abortion to social media.
“Tina Fey actually texted me this morning and she was like, ‘You should start a hashtag thing,'” Philipps told Variety. “She’s so funny. She is not on social media in that way. She’s like, ‘You should do like a hashtag thing where you say #YouKnowMe.'” She added, “I don’t know. Maybe I will. I don’t know.”
Philipps talked about how, on the show, she transitioned from talking about the Georgia bill and her abortion to the fashion at the Met Gala — a transition that, she said, speaks to the nature of her and “Busy Tonight.”
“I think that there is value to caring about things that range from women’s reproductive rights to avocado face masks,” she said. “You know what I mean? I think that a bitch contains multitudes.”
Philipps also told Variety that she was in Dallas for a meeting with executives from the arts-and-crafts chain Michaels (she’s the company’s spokesperson) when she found out that “Busy Tonight” had been canceled.
“I landed in Dallas and got a text from my manager saying, ‘Let me know when you’re in the car,’ which was strange because it was a Friday night,” she said. “I didn’t know what it was going to be and then she said, ‘I’m sorry Bus, there’s no good way to tell you this. But they’re not going to continue with the show.’ And I was devastated and also just I felt a little bit like the rug had been pulled out from underneath me.”
After getting word of the cancellation, Philipps said she made a round of phone calls, speaking with showrunner Caissie St. Onge, executive producers Fey and Eric Gurian, her husband and her daughters. Then, she said, “I ordered a tequila when I got to the hotel and I shot a music video in my room. And then I went to bed and woke up the next morning and worked all day and the day after that.”
Rooted in Philipps’ success connecting with fans through Instagram, “Busy Tonight” is a rare late-night show aimed at a female audience. When she went about working with Fey and her production company Little Stranger to create the talker, Philipps recognized the void in a daypart still dominated by men wearing suits.
“You know, people talk about looking for white spaces in the market,” she said. “And then you’re like, ‘Oh, wait. Maybe the white space is this for a reason — because they don’t give it a chance. They pull the plug.”
Philipps is keen to shop the show to a new network or platform, but, she noted, “I’m not overly hugely optimistic, because I just know the reality of all of this stuff, but I think that there’s something, maybe, somewhere.” On linear television, “Busy Tonight” failed to establish itself as a ratings success, despite garnering positive media coverage and strong digital engagement. A streaming service could prove an ideal second home for the program. But, Philipps said, “Some of the bigger streaming services feel as though they took a swing at a topical talk show and it didn’t work out for them, and so they’re a little bit gun shy about it. And so that’s frustrating, because I think again, the swings that they were taking were very similar swings to other cable networks and other shows that were on. And I think that our show is just wholly different. For me and our team, I guess it’s been more about trying to be thoughtful in terms of what makes the most sense, and where our audience is going to be able to find us. And how they want to watch us.”
She does, however, feel that the program can be valuable to the right platform in the current marketplace.
“Every person that I called weeks ago had the same sentiment, which is what you’re doing is unique,” Philipps said. “There is a glut of these other kinds of shows. You’re providing something to an audience that is not served, or is incredibly under-served, and it’s really f—ing good. And it’s only just started to hit its stride, which makes sense, because it’s our five-month mark at this time, like a month ago. You should try to move it. You should try to move it somewhere else.”