After Transforming Late Night, Samantha Bee Prepares for Her Greatest Challenge: Covering President Trump

Adweek’s creator of the year drove TBS’ bold transformation

Samantha Bee admits that she was "terrified" as 2016 began. After all, she and husband Jason Jones had left Comedy Central's The Daily Show, where they'd worked as correspondents for more than a decade, to create not one but two gambles for TBS, which could make or break the network's ambitious original content overhaul: a new comedy series starring Jones called The Detour and Bee's own late-night show, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.

Turns out she had nothing to fear: Both programs became breakout hits and established Bee as the face of the new, edgier and funnier TBS—and an instantly indispensable late-night voice. Full Frontal averages 3.3 million multiplatform viewers per episode, while The Detour brought in a weekly audience of 4.4 million (Season 2 debuts early 2017). "We didn't know what to expect, but we've been so fortunate to have so much creative freedom and so much material to work with," she says. "We've had the greatest year: It's been so much fun, so much stress, so much pressure and so much excitement. It's been everything."

Despite all that she accomplished this year on Full Frontal—traveling to Jordan, Germany and Russia for compelling field segments, seamlessly adding in correspondents like Ashley Nicole Black and Allana Harkin ("It's taken a lot of pressure off. To not have to produce a piece with me in it every week is fantastically freeing," she says) and sitting down with President Obama in October—Bee doesn't feel as if she's mastered her show yet. "Fear keeps me working hard," she says, laughing. "Especially when you're presenting something, you always have to have fear as part of the cocktail of your day."

That certainly was the case on election night, as news of Donald Trump's surprise victory sunk in, and she and her shell-shocked team rallied together to produce a new show the next night, finding humor at a time when much of the country was in no mood for comedy. "It's a real testament to everybody that we were able to stay up all night, push through whatever personal feelings we were having, and remake a show in the way that we didn't think we were going to need to," says Bee. "There was always a world in which Hillary Clinton was going to lose, and we would have to rejigger the show; we just didn't think it was going to happen. We pulled it together quickly and I think with integrity and with humor, and it was helpful to all of us to turn something around really fast, but still have it be really carefully built and thoughtful."

Bee pushes back against the notion that given Trump's potentially misogynistic reign as president, she and her show will be more important than ever. "We don't see it that way. I feel like if we thought that way, the show would become really dreadfully unfunny in general," she says, laughing.

And while Bee produced two episodes of Full Frontal during election week (on her usual Monday and a special post-election show on Wednesday), she's adamant that her show is at its best when it airs just once a week, even as some fans continue to push for a nightly format. "I don't want to do that. That seems awful," she says. "If I had to do it every day, we would all go crazy. It's more fun for us to be able to sit back, pull ourselves out of the cycle of hot takes and be a little more analytical."

She has no regrets about departing The Daily Show with Jones to take their wild leap with TBS. "It was time for us to leave," she says. "Having a job for 12 years was just an unbelievable gift, and we were able to do so much with it. But when it was over, it was really over for us. Neither of us have looked back."

Besides, there's no time, given that she and Jones are executive producing two shows; he focuses on The Detour, while she devotes most of her time to Full Frontal. "The best use of our time, with respect to each other's projects, is for each of us to be the eagle eye overseeing the other person's project," she says. "And it's great to have that bird's-eye view. We are excellent at providing that to each other."

Now that the election is over, Bee has to determine what Full Frontal looks like in a world with President Trump. For starters, it will air on a different night: The show moves to Wednesdays beginning Jan. 11. Beyond that, "I think we're all resetting a little bit," says Bee, who was in the middle of a two-week hiatus over Thanksgiving, "for us to all reflect on what it means. There's a difference when you cover presidential candidates versus a sitting president, so what does that mean for us? There's a lot that we want to explore and obviously things have arisen that we hadn't thought of before, because our country feels different now. It's something we have to think about, and we of course accept the challenge, and have really interesting things coming up for the show."

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This story first appeared in the November 28, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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