For nearly five seasons, Samantha Bee has been filming her late-night staple Full Frontal in front of a live studio audience. But she is getting used to her new set—the great outdoors.
The comedian, who like other late-night hosts was forced into a remote setup at the beginning of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, has pivoted from a well-lit studio to her home in upstate New York, where Bee films weekly shows in the backyard with help from her husband, comedian Jason Jones, and the recording capabilities of an iPhone 11. And while other shows, including Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show and Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, are returning to studios to film with safety precautions in place, Full Frontal has no plans to return to its usual set anytime soon.
“I actually love shooting in the forest,” Bee said at a virtual panel for CTAM’s virtual press tour, a partial replacement for the annual Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that was canceled this year due to the pandemic. “It’s fun for me. I like shooting with my husband. He’s a really great collaborator back there. I think we’ll continue to probably shoot some stuff in the forest, even when we don’t absolutely need to.”
It’s been a sharp turn for Full Frontal, which in previous seasons featured regular field work, and it’s especially noticeable in an election year—the first since 2004 that Bee hasn’t been at political conventions.
“What I really do miss is the amount of footage we would get,” Bee said. “I do miss talking to people on the streets. Those man-on-the-street moments, catching people at the convention—I miss that so deeply. I love that content. That is so exciting. It’s always been so good for our show. It’s good for our audience. Our audience loves it. So I really, really, deeply miss that.”
With that said, the show has made do. The outdoor setting has brought a decidedly woodsy feel to Bee’s award-winning show, with her linear segments backdropped by luscious deciduous greenery and online segments like Beeing at Home With Samantha Bee featuring Bee chopping wood and conducting outdoor workouts amid the trees. The screen that appears at Bee’s right during her stand-up segments is now, appropriately, framed with rough-hewn lumber.
The decision about the show’s remote backdrop, Bee said, was at first a purely practical one.
“Honestly, it was just because we knew that we were going to need as much light as possible,” Bee explained. “That’s really the key. Lighting is everything. I have this little ring light here, and it’s really not bad, but I don’t think anybody really wants to watch the entire show from the guest bedroom in my house that my dad sleeps in.”
Remote production has presented some logistical changes for the show, including requiring an extra day to get new footage in before making the final cut of the episode to account for uploading time.
“It’s like having an extra job, because we’re all working twice as hard to get the show on the air,” said Alison Camillo, Full Frontal’s producer. “But it’s been great. We all love the show so much, and it’s a true labor of love, and I feel it’s been the most lovely distraction from a pandemic ever, just to be able to get the show on the air.”
There are other challenges. The buzzing of wood chippers and the chirping of cicadas—“it’s like having an audience,” Camillo jokes—have both complicated shoots and disrupted footage. The CTAM panel itself had to be rescheduled because of a storm that felled several trees, knocking out power to Bee’s home for seven days and destroying a backyard shed.
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