How Feminist Rage Moved Samantha Bee To The Top Of Late-Night TV

When Samantha Bee blazed her way into late-night TV, it was clear from the beginning that Full Frontal was a different show than the late-night norm. Unlike her fellow hosts, Bee did not sit behind a desk. She did not conduct any celebrity interviews, and there was no on-stage band with which to banter. It was just Bee, her blazer and, most importantly, her impatience and indignation on full display with no apologies.

After 12 years as a correspondent at The Daily Show, Bee finally had her own platform, and she wasn’t holding back. During the very first episode of her weekly late-night news show, she attacked the absurdity of a dress code proposed for female government employees in Kansas with venom and wit, pretending to throw up onstage after the Representative claimed he proposed the dress code “out of respect for the wives of the men in that room.”

At the time of Full Frontal’s premiere, Bee was the only woman with a late-night TV spot, joining the ranks of Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, Trevor Noah and John Oliver. (Her membership in this exclusive club was excluded from a Vanity Fair article about late-night TV, an omission she quickly addressed on Twitter.

Kicking off during a Presidential campaign fraught with sexism that saw the smartest girl in the room lose to a man viewed by many as unqualified, Full Frontal’s unapologetic feminism may have seemed off-putting to some, but the opposite has been proven: the show’s ratings have almost doubled during its first year on air, while it exposed and attacked sexist double standards everywhere.

The premiere episode of Full Frontal played to 2.2 million viewers simulcast over four networks: TBS TNT, Adult Swim, truTV and HLN. The show, which began with a 13-episode order, was quickly renewed for 26 more episodes less than two months after it first aired. By April 2016, the series was averaging 3.7 million viewers per episode through TBS’ linear, digital and mobile platforms and 29 million views had been logged on its YouTube channel. The ratings kept going up, and by November 2, 2016, Full Frontal’s ratings were beating The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – the very show many of her fans had hoped she would host following Jon Stewart’s departure.

As November 8, 2016, grew closer, Bee continued to provide a uniquely feminist response to the gender bias in politics, declaring the day before the election, “I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton either. I’m voting for Hillary… brilliant badass queen Beyonce Rodham.” The first episode after Donald Trump’s victory, wearing a blazer she said “sparkled ironically,” Bee didn’t try to mask her despair or hide her fury about the election. In the one year since the election, “The Morning After” has garnered more than 3 million views on YouTube.