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On March 11, two CBS employees tested positive for coronavirus. Just hours before, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, which films in CBS' New York City headquarters, became the first late-night talk show to go without a studio audience. As Bee delivered biting bits of satire while lamenting President Trump's handling of the pandemic and confirming that no, a global outbreak was not an excuse to be racist, executive producer Alison Camillo looked on, knowing that this was probably the last show they'd shoot in studio for the foreseeable future. She and the staff made a quick decision: Take as much equipment as you can and hope there'd be a way to get back on the air.
They did so, with every department working remotely and Bee shooting in the woods of upstate New York with her husband and three kids assisting. Like every industry, late-night finds itself in uncharted territory, but the way some shows are responding feels like a promising step forward for a genre of TV that tends to become stagnant. Hosts are reinventing their interviewing styles, writers are finding clever ways of making jokes land, and technology is being used in innovative ways to bridge the divide — between audience and show, but also between coworkers, department heads, and creatives locked down in their homes, trying to find a bit of humor in this unimaginable new normal. We chatted with Camillo about how Full Frontal is embracing the chaos and why we need late night now more than ever.
What's the vibe amongst the staff right now?
I think we're doing really well, all things considered. I'm so thrilled that we were able to get the show back on the air because I feel like it's good for our mental health. This is what we love to do, and so to not be able to do that would make it much more stressful.
Working remotely, how has that changed the writer's room. How are you crafting segments and jokes now?
It's a lot of Zoom calls. It's a lot of Slack. It's a lot of Google Hangouts. It's definitely more challenging. I think the good thing is that our writers are all wonderful, beautiful, talented introverts, and so a lot of the collaborating that we did before was on Slack, which is where they really shine. We miss those brainstorm meetings and our check-in meetings, where we can say, “Okay, this is how we're feeling, this is the story we want to cover, this is the angle we want to cover of the story,” but now we've moved a lot of that to Slack.
Has anyone accidentally Zoomed from the toilet yet?
Okay, maybe. It came up as a joke in our headline last night. I thought it was just a straight-up joke, and then our HR person posted something like, “Hey, just to let you know that if you go to the toilet and you're using Zoom, people can still see you,” and I was like, “So is this a thing that's...