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What led to TBS’ decision to pull the plug on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” after seven seasons?
An unlucky mix of low ratings, the shifting political climate post-Trump, a shakeup in comedy after the Warner Bros’ merger with Discovery — and lingering fallout from her Ivanka Trump incident of 2018.
The death of the show, which frequently took shots at the Trumps and the Supreme Court, was skewered by conservatives like Glenn Greenwald who dismissed “Full Frontal” as “a feminist legacy as trivial and inconsequential as it was failed and pointless.”
Well that’s unkind, but late night has arguably never been a welcoming environment for women: Joan Rivers, who became the first woman to host a late-night talk show in 1986, had a one-year run before seeing the show taken over by a man.
Bee did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment for this article.
A TBS spokeswoman attributed the cancellation to the network’s “new programming strategy.” But we know better.
Samantha Bee lost her champion during the regime change at Warner Bros. Discovery
Brett Weitz, General Manager of TNT, TBS and truTV, was among the execs who exited earlier this year following the great Warner Bros. Discovery merger reshuffle. His May departure meant that Bee’s biggest champion at the network was gone.
Weitz touted the show’s Season 7 renewal in September 2021, praising Bee for “shining a spotlight on important issues and people… and ask[ing] questions of authority and ourselves that need to be asked.” At the time, he added, “I’m thrilled she will continue to call TBS home.” As it turned out, both would be gone in less than a year.
TBS was already on a comedy-cancelling spree
Pre-merger, host Conan O’Brien’s nine-year-old show was cut to half an hour in 2019 and in November 2020, TBS announced that the show would end in June 2021. Post-merger, the axe has fallen for sitcom “Chad” after one season, and Damon Wayans’ “Kill The Orange-Faced Bear” scripted comedy series which had been ordered to series in November was canceled just before production was set to start.
Ratings for “Full Frontal” peaked with its fourth season, which aired from 2018-2019, with 4 million viewers per episode, TBS reported at the time. That built on the 2016-election-boosted Season 1 numbers of 3.3 million and Season 2’s 3.4 million. However, by 2020, the show had sunk back to 3.5 million, before falling to a series low of 2.9 million in 2021.
“Full Frontal,” which, like “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” ran only one episode per week, was originally on Monday, and then Wednesday, before being shifted to Thursday for its final season.
She was never forgiven for the “feckless c**t” remark about Ivanka Trump
On May 30, 2018, Bee called out Ivanka Trump for her hypocrisy in not denouncing her father’s border police of separating immigrant children from the parents. “Let me just say, one mother to another, do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless c**t!,” Bee fumed. Right-wing politicians and pundits were infuriated and two advertisers — Autotrader and State Farm Insurance — pulled their ads. Bee apologized a few days later.
Upon hearing of the show’s cancellation on Monday, Greenwald tweeted, “By far Sam Bee’s most notable moment in 7 years hosting that dreary, banal liberal show — arguably her only notable moment —was when she called Ivanka Trump the c-word.” (Greenwald seems to have a thing for Bee.)
Misogyny alert? Viewers don’t want to be “lectured” about politics by a woman
While Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and John Oliver get great mileage out of skewering politicians, Bee’s takes are often perceived as “lecturing,” says retired comedy writer Ned Rice, who worked in late night for several years as well as on two Joan Rivers shows.
“Even super pro-choice audiences don’t want to hear [jokes about abortion rights.] Nobody wants to be lectured at a comedy show. Like yeah, we’re on the same page. Tell me a joke,” he says.
A former late-night producer told TheWrap he thought Bee’s show was too dependent on tapping into anti-Trump outrage, especially by women, and that after Trump left office, she never found a new focus for her material.
However, Professor Denise Mann at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, found the cancellation “disturbing,” saying that “women get yanked from late night space where politics are debated, but remain ensconced in daytime’s domesticated space — a division of gendered social roles that dates to the Cold War era.” She pointed out, “Even Apple TV’s ‘Morning Show’ was grappling with this topic — the compliant female journalist vs. the difficult one trying to do her job.”
The support for political discourse seems to have changed at TBS, who raved in their 2021 press release about the Season 7 renewal, “[Full Frontal] remains a trailblazing force in late-night, continuing to use political satire to entertain, educate, and empower viewers while keeping the government in check.”
Late night has never welcomed women
Rivers had only a one-year run with “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” at Fox before the show was handed to Arsenio Hall in 1987.
Very few female late night hosts have gone beyond the one-year mark since then: Bee, Chelsea Handler — whose “Chelsea Lately” ran from 2007 to 2014 on E!, when Handler chose to walk away — and Lilly Singh, whose “A Little Late” show ended in 2021 after two seasons in the late late slot on NBC.
The only two women with a late night show right now are Amber Ruffin and Ziwe, who also made it past their first season: Both Ruffin’s Emmy-nominated Peacock show and Ziwe’s self-titled HBO entry wrapped their second seasons in June.
The show never came up with a viral hit segment like “Carpool Karaoke”
In an increasingly digital-driven industry, Bee could have used a viral hit like Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke,” which inspired a spinoff series on Apple TV+ in 2017. Another “Late Late Show” spinoff “Drop the Mic,” launched on TBS the same year.
“The Late Late Show” YouTube channel currently boasts 27.9 million subscribers, while the channel for “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” only has 1.07 million. “One million subs every seven years is not so good,” says Brian Frons, digital analyst and former president of ABC Daytime. “If you’re not getting a digital ‘pop,’ that’s becomes a problem.”
“‘Full Frontal’ never really caught on”
“I don’t think ‘Full Frontal’ ever really caught on, honestly” says Rice. “I never saw it in the press. I never saw Samantha quoted really anywhere, except for [the ‘feckless c***t’ incident]. I don’t think that show made much of an impact. And they certainly gave her a good several years to work to find an audience, but she never did.”