When Jon Stewart announced he was stepping down from "The Daily Show," many prospective successor names were thrown around -- one of the most obvious being Samantha Bee, the show's most senior correspondent. Turns out, despite various rumors at the time, nobody actually asked if she was interested in taking over the job. Her husband, Jason Jones, summed up this unbelievable revelation: "The fact that she wasn't approached was a little shocking, to say the least," he told the New York Times.
But maybe this is all for the best. As the debut of her show "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee" approaches -- it debuts Monday, February 8th at 10:30 on TBS -- Bee will get a fresh shot at making her name in the late-night world, and it will be free of all the baggage that would have come with trying to follow in Stewart's footsteps. She can start anew with her own hand-picked writing staff (more on that in a minute) and her own vision.
Given promos like this one, I'm optimistic.
Putting aside the slightly problematic show title -- I worry about what online searches are going to spit out if I leave off her name -- Bee could be the exact right person to finally break up the ridiculously longstanding boys club that is late night. It's gone along being so male for so long that it's felt hopeless to even talk about -- especially after the last round of host replacements (Ferguson, Letterman, Stewart) in which nary a chair ended up with a woman's butt in it.
Bee's reaction to the September Vanity Fair cover on late night hosts, which neglected to include her or Chelsea Handler, epitomized her cheerily combative attitude toward institutionalized misogyny: The Canadian comic photoshopped herself into the picture as a centaur with laser eyes.
And yes, I know that technically "Chelsea Lately" was in the mix with the rest of them for a while -- but what I want is a female-hosted show that's ready to do real social media battle with the likes of Kimmel, Fallon and even my beloved John Oliver. I want someone who's savvy enough about media-stickiness that she can generate show content that will regularly get everyone talking. And I want a female host who's going to do slightly more substantive things than play beer pong with celebrities.
Judging from the clips being released online ramping up to the show, that seems highly likely. In one take on the Iowa caucuses, she calls Ted Cruz a "whiny little turd" with a "screechy weasel voice." In another, she goes after the candidates' pandering to the anti-abortion evangelical demographic in Iowa.
Her team, which clearly can't get enough of Cruz, also released a series of "CruzCuts" in which Bee is heard directing the candidate in re-edited versions of his own promo ads.
Bee will also evidently be bringing her correspondent chops with her to "Full Frontal," as is evident in a couple of advance clips focused on women and the military (which I am hoping are part of a bigger feature). In the first, she gets into a discussion about the inherent sexism in the structure of the VA hospital network. As her interviewee reveals to her, "cervical cancers and mammograms are not something you'd find in the coding system."
In the second, she talks to a female veteran with an amputated foot who says she received a male prosthetic. "You went to the VA thinking your problem was a missing foot, when really your problem was a missing penis," Bee says.
I don't want to overstate how high John Oliver has set the bar here, but it does look like Bee is going for a similar style, taking journalistic aim at stories we wouldn't necessarily know about and making them into instantly outrage-inducing clips. It also looks like she'll be making a priority of women's issues, but not at the exclusion of covering headlines (see: the interminable election). I'm very, very curious to see her coverage of the Bernie versus Hillary situation.
Bee has made a point of hiring a diverse staff; hers is equally divided between women and men, with longtime "Daily Show" writer Jo Miller accompanying her to TBS as executive producer. Interestingly, Bee held a blind hiring process in which candidates' names and backgrounds were removed. Miller and Miles Kahn, another "Daily Show" writer who made the move, told the New York Times that "they had encountered diversity issues at Comedy Central." Bee should know; she was often the lone female face on any given episode of "The Daily Show."
With the "Full Frontal" promos, I also like how uncoy she's being about the issue of being female. As a recent profile in New York magazine noted, "the big bus ads for Full Frontal declare ‘Watch or you're sexist.' And she kind of means it. ‘There are plenty of people who won't tune in because a woman's voice bothers their eardrums,' says Bee. ‘Their ear canals can't handle the sound of my shrill voice talking at them about a subject. I guess I just don't really care about those people.'" She's also rolled out a pretty great "rape threat line" in advance of the inevitable trolling that will ensue.
Of course, none of these catchy clips guarantee the actual show will be a hit, or that it will attract the audience it will need to succeed. But for many of us who've been off late-night (with the exception of Sundays on HBO) for quite a while, Bee holds the promise of adding a long-overdue new perspective to what has long been an infuriatingly monolithic institution.