The variety series Emmy race hasn’t always been a boys’ club. But Samantha Bee is bringing balance back to a category that had become way too male-dominated.
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” is the first female-fronted series to be nominated in the relatively new Outstanding Variety Talk Series category, which was created in 2015. That’s when the TV Academy split the Outstanding Variety Series category into two: variety talk and variety sketch series.
The first year out, “Inside Amy Schumer” won the variety sketch Emmy, becoming the first female-fronted variety show to win a series Emmy since Tracey Ullman’s “Tracey Takes On” in 1997. But that was also the first time a variety show starring a woman had even been nominated in the variety series field since “Tracey Takes On” in 1999.
That’s right – a 15-year drought. “Portlandia,” which stars Carrie Brownstein, was also nominated in 2015, so clearly the category split had an immediate impact on representation.
On the talk side, it was a longer time coming. As far as we can tell, there has never been a talk show hosted by a woman nominated in a variety series category. Part of that stems from the simple fact that there just haven’t been many late night entrants over the years, and the most notable ones (“The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers,” among them) didn’t last long.
That’s not to say women haven’t been represented in the category – to say so would be to minimize the huge impact women have had in the space.
“‘The Daily Show’ was created by two women,'” “Full Frontal” executive producer Jo Miller pointed out. And that show, created by Madeleine Smithberg and Lizz Winstead, remains the most-honored variety series of all time at the Emmys, with ten consecutive wins between 2003 and 2012.
Other frequently nominated shows include “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” executive produced by Jill Leiderman, and “Late Show with David Letterman,” executive produced by Barbara Gaines, Maria Pope and Jude Brennan.
But make no mistake, the “Full Frontal” nomination is historic – and about time. Not bad for a show still just in its second season. “We’re New York-centered, so we have zero insight into the psychology of Emmy voters, who are mostly in Los Angeles,” Miller said. “Our numbers tell us that our online videos get shared widely the next day, so we’re part of the conversation in that way.”
Other nominations for “Full Frontal” included outstanding interactive program – and Miller points out that that show’s digital team is made up of an all-female staff.
“Full Frontal” managed to double dip, as its “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Presents Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner” was nominated for outstanding variety special. The special was produced by Kristen Everman and Kim Burdges:
And also, “we wouldn’t have gotten nominated without our research team, which is all women. It was a day of girly joy,” Miller quipped. “I think the boys were pretty girly about it too.”
With nominations for both the series and the special, Miller said “Full Frontal” will indeed take the show on the road again – although won’t produce another “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
“We did that, but there will be things in other places,” she said. “This whole city smells like baked dog piss right now, so that does inspire us to hit the road.”