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How Late Night TV Hosts Are Staying on Air While Working From Home Like the Rest of Us
“We’re all super workaholics,” says “Full Frontal” executive producer Allison Camillo
After the coronavirus pandemic brought the entertainment industry to its knees this month, there’s been at least one segment that’s found a way to keep its lights on. Even if those lights are at home.
“We’re all super workaholics. And it was very hard to think about not doing the show,” “Full Frontal” executive producer Allison Camillo told TheWrap. The Samantha Bee-led TBS series returns on Wednesday night after only missing a week, filming from the woods outside of Bee’s home in upstate New York. “This is what we love to do. We just want to put a show on the air. We’re so lucky to have this platform to speak from. We just want to be able to put our two cents in.”
It all started last week when CBS put out a 10-minute video on its YouTube channels of “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert mimicking his typical opening monologue, but from his bathtub.
Every show is taking its own tactic, with some like Colbert, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel and NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers filming short segments from their home and putting them online (NBC airs Fallon’s self-isolation bits as part of its on-air TV re-runs). Along with “Full Frontal,” Colbert, TBS’ “Conan,” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” and “Real Time” will all return to full versions of their shows by the end of next week. And “Late Late Show” host James Corden will emcee a TV special for CBS that will air in prime time on Monday.
Bravo was planning on doing a shot-at-home version of “Watch What Happens Live,” but shortly after announcing its plans, host Andy Cohen ended up testing positive for the virus and is now recuperating in his Manhattan home instead of filming new episodes.
Jen Flanz, showrunner for “The Daily Show,” explained its decision to carry on outside of the studio was “half selfish” and “half altruistic.”
“We really wanted to help our team keep their sanity through this and give the staff some semblance of normalcy,” she told TheWrap. “And after we tested a few short social clips and saw the positive response, we could tell that our audience was cooped up and ready for comedy.”
Camillo said her team started talking early last week about potentially continuing doing the show in some fashion. “Is it even technically possible?” she said. Shortly before the last pre-shutdown “Full Frontal” episode, which aired on March 11, the staff found out two people had tested positive for COVID-19 in their building.
“We immediately sent home as many people as we possibly could. We taped the show super fast. We edited it, got it out the door,” Camillo said. “We knew that we most likely would get shut down. So everybody went home with all of their work equipment.”
It also helped that Bee’s husband, comic actor Jason Jones, has a lot of experience both in front of and behind the camera: Jones, along with Bee, is a former “Daily Show” correspondent and starred in TBS’ comedy “The Detour.” Jones is shooting the whole episode on an iPhone.
“The combination of kind of everybody having their equipment, plus Sam and Jason, who have so much experience shooting things on their own, has allowed us to be able to do it,” Camillo said, adding that they’ve been able to keep pretty much their entire staff employed and working remotely on the new episodes.
“Everybody’s sort of shifted around,” she said, crediting teleconferencing and other tools to maintain communication. “Lots of Zoom meetings and we’re on Slack all day long, and we’re on the phone with each other all day long.”
Flanz said that the communication aspect has been the hardest challenge to weather. “The philosophy is always, ‘The more people who know, the better’ — which is proving to be the real challenge here.”
She said they’re on no fewer than seven different communication devices.
“The pressure of making sure you don’t leave your live in-studio audience sitting there for too long has now transferred into the pressure of making sure that the show is fed out on time to air,” she said.
For decades, late-night TV was the place for many viewers to unwind with celebrity interviews and (sometimes) humorous one-liners about the days’ current events. But since the 2016 presidential election, many late-night hosts took on a more politically charged tone, which has led to strong ratings; the 2016 election night is widely seen as the beginning Colbert’s rise out of David Letterman’s shadow.
But the current pandemic and ensuing global economic crisis has forced viewers out of their comfort zones and the shows that are still on are now considering how they can get viewers to forget their troubles for a half hour or hour.
“People do need to laugh. They do need that distraction. There’s parts of it that are super sharp, probably even more cutting than normal, just because we’re also really angry,” Camillo said. “That was kind of the balance we were trying to strike. Is to make people laugh, but then also say, ‘Hey, we get your anger. We get your frustration. We’re feeling it too.’”