WASHINGTON, D.C. – Samantha Bee was ready to make one thing clear: She appreciated journalists trying to find the truth and has little time for those trying to obscure it.
In a taped segment before the no-holds-barred comedienne launched her “Not The White House Correspondents Dinner” Saturday at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., an audience of about 2500 watched a sharp parody of a White House press conference – with Allison Janney, who played the press secretary C.J. Cregg on the drama “The West Wing,” reprising her role. When one reporter asked if Bee was a witch, Janney annihilated him with laser vision.
After she took the stage, Bee promised to treat reporters well. “At a later date, I will get Mexico to pay for your drinks,” she promised a crowd of reporters from organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists, The New York Times and CNN. She praised reporters “for continuing ‘to fact check the President as if one day he might be embarrassed.”
‘We are living in a golden age of journalism,” Bee told the crowd, many of them also preparing to make the rounds of the ceremony she meant to spoof, the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “but that’s largely due to a golden president who likes golden showers.”
Bee’s move illustrates how TV’s late-night crowd is testing ambitious maneuvers to stand apart from a colorful pack. With TV viewers growing ever more fragmented thanks to the rise of streaming video and mobile devices, hosts like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers are devising new methods to snare viewer attention.
These days, the late-night hosts do things Jack Pasr could only hallucinate. Stephen Colbert inserts new segments into repeats. Seth Meyers’ “Late Night” makes available the show’s signature segment, “A Closer Look,” on social media hours before a new episode airs.
Others have mounted efforts similar to Bee’s in the past. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert in 2010 organized “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” a Washington, D.C. event meant to spoof a Glenn Beck rally, that lured fans of both his “Daily Show” and Colbert’s “Colbert Report.”
The idea for the event originated after Donald Trump was elected as U.S. President. Bee and Jo Miller, the show’s executive producer. Bee and others were trying to come up with something they thought would be fun to counter the results. “We are trying to have some joy, trying to capture something for ourselves,” said Bee earlier this year.
Bee and her producers also used the event to take aim at media excess, hurling verbal fire at CNN and Fox News Channel. Bee took CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker to task for what she said were programs that turned news into sports shows. She urged Zucker to let anchors like Anderson Cooper do harder-hitting work. “Please, Jeff, set them free!” she said.
Bee also took aim at former Fox News chief Roger Ailes and the network’s recently departed anchor, Bill O’Reilly – as well as the network’s popularity with President Trump. “Ring-a-ding-ding: A white guy in his 70s from Queens watches Fox News!,” said Bee. “Stop the presses!”
Will Ferrell tickled the audience when he appeared on stage doing his popular impression of President George W. Bush, crowing that Trump’s election meant he’d no longer go down in history as the worst person to hold the office. “History has been kinder to me than you thought,” he cracked.
A series of taped bits peppered the show, with Bee playing the comic host at various White House Correspondents’ Dinners across the decades.
By the end of the show’s Bee’s intent was clear. She put a spotlight on the need for a free press on a night when it can be obscured. And by making fun of the media at the same time, she called upon them to either keep doing their jobs – or do their work better.