It’s not clear if it’s an actual consensus or a wishful meme being pushed by people who badly want a woman to achieve full membership in one of the last and tightest boys’ clubs. But Samantha Bee has been knocking hard on the glass ceiling of late-night cable satirists.
Bee’s 30-minute weekly show, “Full Frontal” (Mondays on TBS), has been riding and putting spurs to the anti-Trump zeitgeist since it premiered in February, The Donald being mother’s milk for any satirist worthy of the term. But it was the Republican National Convention in Cleveland where Bee pulled ahead of the pack.
Her appeal may have a lot to do with her gender and the intensity of indignation she brings to volleys of ridicule against a career misogynist, but whatever the reason, it is very funny. Here’s her latest, in the wake of Trump’s you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me attack on the Gold Star Khan family.
No doubt, veteran late-night hands are urging her to slow down her delivery a bit and let the jokes breathe, but right now the shtick is working, so why mess with it? Bee’s boss, Kevin Reilly, president of TBS and TNT, told reporters Sunday in Los Angeles that he is following her lead in terms of the amount of airtime she’s comfortable with. Said Reilly, “We try to take our lead from the talent itself. I’d give her as many hours as she’d like. It’s always a good problem to have to hear people saying they want to see more.”
Nightly talk shows are an incredible grind for performers and staff, and this election will be over in less than 100 days. But Bee, tapping the audience that propelled Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert into national figures, seems uniquely positioned to claim a spot for herself as the first woman satirist to join TV’s league of impertinent boys.
Speaking of Reilly, he also made news by reiterating his vow to do something about the ad glut on his networks. He’s already cut back on the commercial load, adding 10 entire minutes for shows like “Animal Kingdom” and “Good Behavior” and intends, he says, to expand that to other programming.
“That’s a huge statement and has led the industry,” he said. “It’s being emulated by some other competitors on a one-off basis. If we get the results that we’re beginning to see, we’ll look at doing it on TBS. (But) if we’re the only two networks doing it, it’s not going to change the industry and we’ll have to go back, but the data points in the right direction.”
With most ad-supported, scripted programming clocking in at barely 42 minutes out of an hour and 22 out of a half hour, a course correction on ad glut is long overdue. The American audience has lived with DVR time-shifting long enough now that only the most hopelessly techno-inept are incapable of blowing past the entirety of commercial breaks. (Crank that I am, I can’t remember the last time I watched any network or cable drama or comedy in real time.)
The trick is persuading advertisers to pay more to be the only, or among the very few, running in much-condensed commercial breaks. But even then, the guess here is that networks (many burdened with debt from multiple leveraged buyouts) have so badly overplayed their hand, larding more and more commercials into more and longer ad breaks that viewers who have acclimated to the world of DVRs and ad-skipping will never return to the days when their’s were captive eyeballs. But it’s worth a try.
Finally, speaking of Jon Stewart, more details of his deal with HBO, announced not long after he signed off from “The Daily Show” emerged this week. The best part? Up first is an “animated parody of a cable news network” with assist from an animation house that can produce graphics quickly enough for Stewart and team to stay topical.
The Variety story by Daniel Holloway says “HBO programming president Casey Bloys discussed the multi-platform project that Stewart is working on for the premium cable channel. ‘The idea is it will be an animated parody of a cable news network with an Onion-like portal,’ Bloys said. The project will be structured to allow Stewart to release multiple pieces of short-form content — video and text — through HBO’s digital platforms, but will also include a linear-television element, likely in the form of a halfhour series. ‘He is establishing an animation studio,’ Bloys said of Stewart. He added that he is hoping that Stewart could begin releasing content as soon as September or October, though possibly not until later in the fall. Having an animation studio at his disposal will allow Stewart ‘to comment in real time with what’s happening during the day’s news events,’ Bloys said. ‘It will be simple animation … but it does allow him to respond fairly quickly to what’s going on in the day’s news.’”
Imagine Stewart’s fly-on-the-wall view from inside Fox News not just every day of the Trump campaign but in the wake of Roger Ailes’ over-the-top creepy sexual harassment problems and you’ve got something close to satirical nirvana. Labor Day is too long to wait.