When fans of Bee’s “Full Frontal” tune in to the TBS program Wednesday evening, they will see the comedian surrounded by nature, the latest effort by a member of the nation’s late-night cohort to keep their series in production at a time when the spread of coronavirus has made that exceedingly complex. “We shot the show in the forest behind my house, and it has been an interesting experience,” Bee says in an interview. She has already released a few videos.
The host says she is doing what she can to “keep it moving and trying to maintain some continuity” in a surreal moment. All the late-night hosts depend on a live, in-studio audience to provide real-time feedback as well as on-camera energy that boosts the shows when they are viewed at home. But that became impossible about two weeks ago, when producers and networks realized performing in front of a crowd would only put crew members and audiences in danger of getting sick.
Now, with jury-rigged productions that hinge on writers and producers working from home, and a little skill with smartphone cameras and uploading and downloading video, the hosts hope to keep viewers sheltering at home entertained.
“My video booth is my face between two parkas in a cedar closet,” says Bee. “We are all doing what we can.”
Much of the TV community that produces late-night TV is doing the same. Some, like Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, have tried mixing new lo-fi segments produced at home with clips from past shows. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” has launched a “social-distancing” edition that is airing in the show’s normal time slot. Others, like Jimmy Kimmel., David Spade and Seth Meyers, are working up segments and monologues for digital distribution. HBO’s John Oliver and Bill Maher and TBS’s Conan O’Brien will chart a return to their programs while remaining at home. Meanwhile, CBS’ James Corden will put on a primetime special, all from the confines of his home garage.
Bee knew a curve in the road was looming. Viewers who watched the March 11 broadcast of her program saw Bee hold forth with no live crowd , just a handful of friends and crew members in the seats of a stage she uses in a midtown Manhattan facility operated by ViacomCBS. The affair was low-key. Bee on occasion cracked up in the middle of one of her monologues.
She was the first host to go on without a live crowd and was followed quickly by Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. “It really felt like we were on the precipice of a big, big change, and we were,” Bee recalls.
Even those reduced levels proved untenable. CBS News staffers who work in the same facility – as well as another office building nearby that houses both “Full Frontal” staff and “60 Minutes” – tested positive for coronavirus.
Bee and her producers felt they had to take some precautions. “At the end of taping that last show, it felt like we might not be coming back to this building for a really long time, and it really felt like we might not be shooting from this building for a really long time,” she says. “We kind of gathered up some equipment and stuff and kind of absconded with it We just raided the office supplies. It just seemed like a reality that we might have to do something out here, because it’ s all unknown. It’s all uncharted territory. I’m thinking that maybe there’s a dimension of my personality that’s a doomsday prepper.”
The host can usually rely on as many as 70 staffers to help her tape her Wednesday program. And while they are helping from afar, she must depend on her family for the finishing touches. Jason Jones, her husband and an actor and producer, is directing her bucolic debut, and their kids are assisting with sound and other elements.
“It was really, truly, a family affair – that ultimately bored the children immensely,” says Bee. “They are not impressed by what I do, and they are extra not impressed when I do it in the forest.”
Tonight’s broadcast will include a segment that was taped prior to the coronavirus crisis as well as an interview with an emergency-room doctor from Massachusetts General Hospital that will try to increase awareness of the need for personal protective equipment for first responders and medical staffers on the front lines of dealing with coronavirus.
Working without a live crowd “does change the dynamics of how you perform something, for sure,” says Bee. “It felt weird at first” when she was doing her show in front of a handful of people two weeks ago. Now, she says, while performing in nature, “I just need one single red cardinal to find me really funny.”