How Samatha Bee’s New Late-Night Show is Tackling Gender Diversity Behind the Scenes

Reprinted with permission from Women and Hollywood

Samantha Bee and her team for her new talk show, Full Frontal, are putting their money where their mouths are. “The talent is out there, so late-night shows need to stop saying, ‘Diversity is a priority’ and instead make it a reality,” Nell Scovell, a former writer for David Letterman, told The New York Times in a profile of Bee. And Bee is doing just that—making gender diversity a reality behind the scenes of her upcoming TBS series.

In addition to having a female showrunner in Jo Miller, who Bee picked up from the The Daily Show, the Full Frontal producers instituted a blind submissions process to hire new writers. They didn’t want to be influenced by the names and backgrounds of their potential creative team, but to focus their energies on the material itself.

Miller also assembled an application packet for prospective writers, a guide of sorts. The packet offered direction about what their submissions should look like and include, touching on subjects such as formatting and lingo, in order to prevent writers from being held back due to simple inexperience rather than a lack of talent.

“If you’re outside looking in, you can’t crack the code of how it’s made,” said Miller. “You have to crack the code for them. Then you’re just reading the jokes and the content.”

The Times also reports that Miles Kahn, the series’ field producer, “made concerted efforts to find new contributors who might not think of themselves as late-night comedians.” Kahn explained that he sought out recommendations for up-and comers from “interesting people who, frankly, weren’t white guys.”

Kahn, bless him, continued, “I didn’t want just my viewpoint. I can’t have just my viewpoint. My viewpoint’s well represented.” If only more producers felt this way.

According to Bee, the Full Frontal writing staff is 50-50 female and male. (The article doesn’t break down the writers’ racial backgrounds.)

Many speculated that Bee may be named the successor to Jon Stewart and take over The Daily Show. She was, after all, the series’ longest-serving correspondent. But she was never offered the gig. The new host, Trevor Noah, had appeared on the show a total of three times. Bee had worked on the The Daily Show for close to 12 years.

“The fact that she wasn’t approached was a little shocking, to say the least,” commented Jason Jones, a producer on Full Frontal and Bee’s husband. So she left the show in April and decided to move to TBS to try her hand at starting something new. On the bright side, Jones added, “I think she is much happier where she ended up.”

Bee offered more insight into how her Vanity Fair snub affected her. A refresher: Back in September, Vanity Fair published a story about late-night television, complete with a portrait of 10 hosts—all male. Bee and Chelsea Handler, who has an upcoming Netflix show, were omitted. Bee retaliated by tweeting a hilarious altered version of the cover where she’s included—as a centaur emitting laser beams from her eyes.

“Someone had just tweeted [the cover photo] to me,” Bee recounted. “They were like, ‘Where are you in this picture?’ And I clicked on it, and I was like”—Bee curses—”‘I can’t, with this.’ My heart started to speed up.”

Jones described Bee as wandering off for “about 20 minutes” then returning, clearly still angry. He recalled, “I went, ‘Are you done?’ She went, ‘No, I’m not done.’”

Bee already had the centaur version of herself saved as an image on her phone—Kahn had created it. She contacted him and asked him to add it to the cover image.

“I just tweeted it,” she explained. “I was like, ‘Thanks for never putting me in your magazine before.’ Whatever.”

The image was widely shared and received a lot of positive attention, which Bee said “lifted [her] spirits so much, to feel like there’s a whole community of people who would like to do things differently.” She added, “It struck a nerve, and I was really happy that it did.”

Check out the full profile on Bee, which includes interesting insight into how Daily Show interns’ perceived futures in the industry are broken down along gender lines, over at The New York Times.

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee will premiere on TBS February 8.

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