Diversity “has to be on your mind all the time and not in a lip service way, and then you have to fucking … hire people who are diverse.”
On a special episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka, the podcast team took to the stage with Samantha Bee and the Turner executive responsible for her show, “Full Frontal,” on TBS. They discussed Bee’s plans for more “pro-social” activities and strategies for hiring a diverse writer’s room, then took questions from the audience.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview here, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
If you like this, be sure to subscribe to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Peter Kafka: This is Recode Media with Peter Kafka, that’s me. I’m speaking to you right now from Vox Media headquarters. But this is a special episode which we recorded somewhere else in New York City at Joe’s Pub. It’s a live show we did with Sam Bee and Kevin Reilly from Turner networks — it’s awesome, you’ll enjoy it. Thanks to Ericsson, which sponsored this whole thing and thanks to you guys for showing up. We will send you there right now.
Hi, I’m Peter Kafka, I’m part of the Vox Media Podcast Network and I’m talking to you today from Joe’s Pub, which is super cool.
Because when you talk about doing a live podcast I was thinking we were going to do like a tiny little theater and maybe some beer in the back, we were talking about maybe going to a bar after the show. Here we are I saw there was lobster stuff being passed around, very cool. Thanks for coming, thanks for coming to see our awesome interviewees, normally I don’t really ramble on very long because why would I want to do that when I’ve asked guys like Sam Bee and Kevin Reilly from Turner. Let’s bring them up.
Should we dispense with some stuff? Should we talk about your birthday?
Kevin Reilly: Please.
Sam Bee: Oh it’s tomorrow.
Happy almost birthday, Sam Bee.
SB: Thank you so much thank you. Yay I’m 48.
That was a tough question.
SB: That was, yeah.
Yeah, it gets easy from here. You have a show tomorrow. It’s your first show in a couple weeks?
SB: Yes. Yeah.
You took a break.
SB: We won’t … Stupid sportball preempted us last week, so.
SB: So boo.
KR: Sports keeps TV alive and TV advertising …
KR: Advertising pays some of our salaries.
SB: We did not have a show last week but we have one tomorrow.
Your last show you did, you talk about Harvey Weinstein.
SB: We sure did.
I took some notes.
SB: That’s a continuing saga.
Yeah, I want to ask you about that.
SB: Oh you do, good, great.
You ended that clip by saying, “Women talk to each other, we talk to journalists, we talk to lawyers, it’s 2017, we don’t have to put up with this shit, we are coming for you.”
That was two weeks ago. When you said that, did you imagine that two weeks later there would have been a steady parade of men being kicked out of various organizations, barred from … By the way, this happened at Vox Media on Friday, one of our executives was fired for sexual harassment.
SB: Oh, I do … Listen, we remember being here a year ago with Roger Ailes, but this one does feel, it feels very comprehensive to me, I’ve been enjoying watching, the growth of like MeToo. I’m enjoying — not enjoying, sorry, that’s the wrong word to use. I’m appreciative that men are coming forward with their stories, it feels like the breadth of the story has changed a little bit.
Did you feel that something was different from the get-go, or is it as you’ve been watching it for the last two weeks?
SB: I’ve just been watching it unfold, and yeah.
What’s the energy behind it? Why do you think this is different than Roger Ailes or Bill O’Reilly or anyone else? Bill Cosby. You called Weinstein “White Bill Cosby.”
SB: Yeah, I don’t know ultimately what’s responsible for it, I think people are … I think women are fed up, I think people are fed up. I think that there have been so many emerging stories from the tech industry and we just keep hearing it, and keep hearing it, and keep hearing it, and it’s so pervasive and people are … It’s so tiresome and it’s very helpful to hear other people’s stories, actually. I think it’s only a good thing.
Have you gone back and said, “Oh, that syncs up with an experience I’ve had?” How much of this is resonant?
SB: Of course, I don’t know that … I did a casual survey of the people in my office and there’s not a single woman in my office who hasn’t had multiple people masturbate in front of them.
SB: Yeah, oh yeah.
I did not realize that was so commonplace.
SB: You know what? That is so commonplace. I’m trying to even reflect on … I can’t even remember the first.
Kevin, we’re going to get to you in a second.
KR: Just keep me out of this one. I’m good.
SB: I can’t even remember how old I was when the first gentleman masturbated in front of me without my … I was a kid, I mean, frankly.
That you didn’t ask for.
SB: That I didn’t ask for. “Oh hey can you help, I need directions over here.” “Oh okay. What’s going on behind your newspaper?” I mean, it’s such a typical story and actually I do find it fascinating. There are so many great men in my life who really have no idea of just the pervasiveness of this or just how familiar this is to every woman. Or the shoulder massage that you didn’t ask for that takes a turn, or you just didn’t want it and you said no, but there it was anyway, there were those hands.
The creepy shoulder massage I’ve heard of and they grow up in the leer and something in the back of the car, I’ve heard of those. The institutionalized thing that Weinstein had took me aback, and I do wonder if the fact that it’s so extreme with him, like, decades of this behavior …
SB: Of course.
… gives cover as much as we’re going through and picking up people saying, “Oh, you did this too.” Is there a lot of milder but still very bad harassment, then, that will get almost a pass because it’s not Weinstein-level creepiness?
SB: Listen I don’t really get … I don’t give a pass to any of it. I also think in addition to this horrible … the awful stories about his sexual assaults, he was also a really shit person who was a fucking bully, who pushed people down the stairs 20 years ago. He was a bully and a menace, and a generally accepted awful human being who also made movies that people liked. All of his bad behavior was really excused for a really long time, so.
There were profiles that said this guy is an awful guy, but he’s very powerful but didn’t talk about the sex stuff. Those things go back to …
SB: It’s also not okay to be a shit person, it’s also not okay to be a workplace harasser on any level. You actually have to not do that anymore. We do not want that.
SB: Well I guess it used to be, it used to be the mark of someone who was … who had what it took to be the boss, but no longer is that the case. I’m a horrible bully at work but that’s different.
We talked about that backstage, you’re on a show.
SB: It’s just like a comedy bully and that’s just fun.
Kevin, you run a big media company, have you had to go back and do an audit personally but also through the company and saying, “All right, who’s done what? Who needs to step forward? Who’s been a sexual harasser? Who’s been just a plain ordinary asshole?”
KR: No. I can’t say we’re completely unassailable but I think the culture has been screwed in the right place from the get-go, to a certain extent these things do start at the top, and … I won’t mention any particulars but I’ve been involved in other cultures where you feel like, “You know, this is just not quite, it doesn’t smell quite right.”
You worked for Rupert Murdoch.
KR: I did for many years.
Among other people?
Okay, we’ll just nod your head.
KR: Yeah I won’t even comment on anything there other than to say that we’re charging ahead, we’re thriving, we’re winning, we’re taking the hill at all cost. On some level it’s enviable when you’re in business you say that’s amazing, we’re tucking in behind that. But then there’s other expressions of it where you go, “Well wait, we’re really going to … Does that sound right to everybody? Do we have any standards here?” Sometimes in the cost of winning and making money and succeeding everyone tucks and goes, “All right, I guess that’s what we do.”
Do you think there’s something about media, about entertainment that makes this stuff more pervasive or is it just as pervasive everywhere, it’s just being exposed here?
SB: Oh no, this is everywhere.
KR: There’s a lot of chum in the water, so to speak.
SB: Oh no, I’ve worked in a restaurant before.
KR: I don’t know about chum.
That’s coming up now, we just had a chef who’s been …
SB: Oh yeah.
I don’t know what the right word is. Who’s in trouble. Is there something about particular kinds of industries where women have particular vulnerable …
SB: It’s like industries where women and men combine.
Just those two?
SB: You know?
If we go through just industry by industry.
SB: Or sometimes like man and man or just woman and woman, where people are gathered in a group.
KR: We were just talking back stage about the Silicon Valley thing. I never heard we’re going to Mike Pence where we’re going to have multiple men in the room and make sure that one of the men doesn’t inappropriately do something that we could regret later.
When the story broke, other late-night comics didn’t touch it for a while. “Saturday Night Live” didn’t touch it at all.
SB: I actually felt like they did.
They I did.
SB: I think the story that they weren’t making jokes about it was not really accurate to my viewing, it seemed like they didn’t …
It seemed like you were loudest and earliest.
SB: We were, and we’re definitely not earliest because we didn’t have a show for many days, but we went in hard on it because that is our wheelhouse and we care a lot. There was plenty of terrain for us to cover. I don’t think anyone did the job that we did but I wouldn’t really have actually expected them to. I wonder if there were conversations at other shows where they were like, “Well why don’t we just see what …” Or, “You want to leave that to Wednesday show.”
Wait, so why is it your job as opposed to someone else’s job?
SB: Hey, wow, that’s my …
Spell it out for me because I’m slow.
SB: That’s my show, that’s our … It means a lot to us. That’s the type of story that we just glom on to, that we become possessed about, for sure.
Because it’s about gender?
SB: Because it’s affected all of our lives, it’s gender, it’s power, it’s … He masturbated into a potted plant, so even though he committed a crime, he also jerked off into a plant, which is helpful when you’re trying to frame a story about a rapist, if it has …
I want to make a potted plant joke but I know better than … First of all, you’re a professional comedian so you would do the potted plant jokes. You don’t feel like it’s a burden, that it’s, “Oh, this is a Sam Bee thing, we’re going to leave this for Sam Bee.”
SB: Oh my god no, I don’t know that those conversations really took place, I really don’t. No, we were … Listen, we don’t wish for the world to be this way, we’re not excited in a way that’s like, “Oh yes!” We’re just more, it’s an area that we can cover, and we can cover it well and so we do.
Do you think that the fact that you are a woman allows you, makes you better at assessing this, figuring out what the problem is?
KR: In a nutshell.
SB: Yeah I do. Of course.
SB: I’ve been felt up at the chowder station, man, I understand.
I talked to you a year ago, a year ago and change, spring of 2016 your show was starting up. Standard question whenever I talk to somebody in comedy back then was, “Wow, Donald Trump, that’s pretty crazy, huh?” Right.
SB: Oh my god.
Everyone said, “Yeah, yeah.”
SB: “What’s with this guy?”
Exactly, that was my opener.
SB: Remember when we had so much fun and Ben Carson couldn’t find his way around backstage. Remember those days? It feels like 100,000 years ago. I am turning 312 tomorrow on my birthday.
I want to ask about Trump fatigue. Do you feel like there’s a limit to what you can do?
SB: Did you feel my deep sigh of …? Yes.
There was a lot of energy around it after the election, and then in the inauguration and then every news sites that … We’re not normally covering politics, we covered technology, we didn’t do a lot of politics. We’re all doing a lot of Trump stuff, a lot of politics stuff, a big audience for it, and there’s been a debate I guess for a while with a lot of …
SB: Well there’s a lot to talk about, there’s a lot to go around.
There is a lot to talk about. There is a question about whether the audience now is as energized by that, wants as much or if they’re now burnt out.
SB: I don’t know what they’re … What else is there to talk about? Quite frankly, I just don’t know what else is happening that we could be talking about. This is what we should be talking about, this is what we should be talking about. Whether people want to listen to …
KR: Are you beginning to hate yourself when clicking a little bit, though? I do find myself looking at this story and going, “I got to do it.” But I’m beginning to think twice. I’m going, “I really don’t want … All right I have to.” You do, you do, we need to talk about it.
He got in a Twitter fight with Bob Corker and called him “Little Bob Corker.”
That seems like the kind of thing six months ago we would have gone nuts for, now we shrug and go, “Oh that’s just the president of the United States. That’s what he does.”
SB: Yes, that’s our leader, correct.
Do you have to assess, “Oh, normally this would be something we cover but now that’s in Trump World that doesn’t register as a story”?
SB: It all registers for us. We do, we do have this, but it’s just not enough for us to do a story, but it’s not enough for us to do a story about, but that … Our social media handles the smaller things as they emerge, for sure. He went on a tweetstorm today and we all thought that he was trapped on his toilet and that someone should come and get him, because obviously he was left alone and Hope Hicks couldn’t get to him so maybe he was locked in or couldn’t find his way out.
I’m not convinced that he’s actually doing the tweeting. I think he’s yelling at someone to pick up the phone and type.
SB: He definitely yells, he said that ages ago, that he would yell at these girls who would write down his tweets. But I think he does sometimes. I don’t really know, I don’t know him.
SB: You know him, you’ve met him, what do you think? Does he do his own tweeting?
KR: Yes, 100 percent he does.
SB: He definitely did covfefe.
KR: Yes, that he did.
SB: That was definitely him, so.
Remember covfefe? It was last spring.
SB: Remember covfefe, how fun that was? Remember when we were young?
Kevin, is there a part of you that says, sort of Les Moonves-style, “This is bad for the country but it’s great for business. It’s fortuitous that I launched a satirical political show starring Sam Bee and we’ve got Donald Trump”?
KR: Certainly at the early stages, I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t say this is a nice alignment of a little moment in time. Now it’s … I think we’ll be just fine without it. I’d prefer that we right the ship and get on with our lives.
SB: I know, I think we’ve all discovered that we actually are citizens of this country at the same time and we do not prefer this style of leadership.
KR: There is going to be some fallout.
How does the show track with what you guys thought the show would be when you started talking? I assume 2015, right, if you launched in 2016.
SB: Well of course I thought the world would be different, not that the world would be perfect now by any means, I thought we would have plenty to talk about on the show if Hillary Clinton was our president. I thought that we would be able to have a greater breadth of stories, I did not think that we would be demonically possessed with this one thing that keeps happening. But this is the world that we live in now. I can’t remember your question.
KR: But I had no idea that …
SB: I got really — I went down the sidetrack. I got so … I went so internal on that.
It’s late, we are late.
SB: I just had like an inner … You just reminded me of what we could have had and then what we lost.
Take a moment.
SB: And then I needed …
KR: Excuse me.
KR: I had no idea that she would have at it the way that she did. You see talent — obviously she logged a few hours on “The Daily Show,” we could see the work is great, she knew her way around a piece, how to walk the line between the issue and comedy, but now it’s your show.
I have been with unfortunately many, many talented people who in that moment where you talk about it and they are not quite sure. I will say, early stages, Sam is a shy person, we talked about it, I was like, “So tell me about the show you would like.” “It’s … I think it’s going to be good,” and I’m like, “Oh boy.” I’m mildly panicking, but I’m not kidding, the first night we went to the show, she stepped up, literally let it rip, like, peeled my face back, and we’re just like, “Okay, I think we’ll just do that.”
SB: Yeah, we had a lot of conversations because I am really shy conversationally, actually, and I definitely … We had a lot of conversations that were just like, “Well … Trust me? No, I think it will be good, yeah.”
KR: You know what the hard part is? You always want to trust talent, that’s the best thing. First of all, you have to, and secondly it’s a lot easier when they just do it. But I’ve had people go like, “Yeah, trust me,” and you get up there you go, “Great, great,” and as soon as you’re backstage you’re like, “This is a disaster. The wheels have come off, what are we doing?”
By the way, people who are really good at doing what you do don’t always get it right. Stephen Colbert fumbled around for a while and had to bring in help to get to where he’s at now. It worked for you out of the gate.
SB: I think that when we created the show, the one thing that we always wanted to do was just literally kick the door in with the show and we never wavered from that, and I think that we still do that.
KR: I agree.
SB: That’s how we started, that’s how we’ll finish, we’ll just barnstorm.
Well, do you ever regret saying, “Oh boy, weekly show, we really should have done a daily show. We should have … We could have?” No.
SB: Never. That’s the best decision I ever made, because I want to live. I also have a life outside of television, and I need to live that life in order to be able to do television.
So you’re saying this is easy to do, what you’re doing?
SB: Pardon? Yeah, effortless.
KR: When we first started it was sort of like, okay, it wasn’t really defined. Do you want five days? Hour show? Half-hour show?
SB: I can’t believe you trusted me, honestly.
KR: I know, really. You are just …
SB: I can just keep remembering some conversations that we had.
KR: Unassuming Canadian demeanor, you just walked right into it like, “All right, I guess.”
Do you go through the, “This story is not going to make it to next week, we can’t do anything with this”?
SB: I think it happens, but actually one of the good things about having a show once weekly is that you don’t get into, like, hot-take territory all that much. You actually have a chance to sit back and reflect. You have a chance to just analyze the material in a different way, and see it through different sets of filters. So sometimes a take will go away or sometimes a story does leave, but that’s for the right reasons and then something else always emerges, because that’s our world.
What your deadline? What’s your “Oh we can’t get this in because we’ve already locked …” It’s Tuesday night, you’re taping, tomorrow something spectacularly bad happens, could you get it in?
SB: Well, we tape it on Wednesdays at six o’clock so I would say like, Wednesday at three o’clock. It’s not like you would want to renovate the entire show at that level but you can include to some degree to a late date. When James Comey got fired that was a crisis for all shows, definitely.
That would stop the presses.
SB: That would stop the presses for sure. It was a Tuesday at five o’clock or six o’clock in the afternoon or something like that, and we were so excited. The show was really ready to rehearse the next day. It was like, “Go home early, guys, this was amazing. Our process is really starting to work.” Then James Comey got fired and it was like, all hands on deck. People worked all night, it was a mess. I was doing “Colbert” that night and it was the same for them, they were like, “What the fuck.” Like you’re rehearsing on the stage and everyone is like, “Auuggh!” It was a full-scale panic, for sure.
Also, it turns out, terrible for the country.
SB: We do not … What? We do not wish for those things to happen, obviously. Do not wish for those things to happen.
We’re going to take a quick break now.
Now we’re back at Joe’s Pub with Sam Bee and Kevin Reilly.
You have a television show, it’s on television. It’s on a cable television.
SB: It is.
I can watch, I think, almost all of it for free or at least a lot of it for free on YouTube and other places.
KR: You can.
How do you think about making a television show in an era where a decreasing number of people are watching TV, and probably I would guess your core audience is not watching very much TV. They’re probably going to … Do you think about reaching them on the internet versus a conventional television?
SB: Sorry, I never think about the audience, that’s Kevin’s job. I don’t care.
No, I actually love our audience. I think our audience is really committed, but I don’t think about those things at all. I know how I consume television products and I need to be able to … I like to be able to just access it any which way. Sorry if that’s not okay, but that’s how I do it, so.
KR: Look, the truth is … No, by the way, I agree, I agree. I don’t want you thinking about that. If we were hobbling along and she hadn’t had this explosive growth and gone to actually be the No. 1 talk show in that young audience, it would be hard to say we’re just leeching this audience away on YouTube — which we are. But the truth is, that audience is never coming over to linear, they don’t want to see it.
So you believe that someone who’s watching Sam on YouTube is not going to go, “Oh, I should check this out on Turner?”
KR: Look, you have a shot, you hope, but statistically you don’t really see it. That audience lives in that world and for the larger brand — because we are thinking about this as we go forward, we hopefully are going to do this for many years — we’re beginning to talk about how to broaden this business in a more digital way anyway. And so I think that audience is good for the overall platform, if you will, of Sam.
Sam, I saw your eye twitching when he said …
“Broaden the platform.”
SB: No, because from good stuff, from actual excitement. It’s very freeing to actually … I’m not trying to suck up to you, Kevin, but it actually is freeing to not be tethered to those metrics and things like that, because then I can have ideas that are very unusual. I have a bunch of ideas swirling around in my head right now that I think are really interesting that almost no one would ever agree to if they were thinking clearly, but they are bigger ideas, they’re risky and strange and I kind of …
Want to share one?
SB: No, not at all, no I’m not going to share that at all.
KR: My hope is, I want to get her out of that box of TV. “Full Frontal” is a show on TBS, it’s fantastic, she takes it [seriously], she has — smartly — said, “I don’t want to divert my attention to anything else till this thing is really humming.” We’re — how many shows in are you at this point? I’ve even lost track.
SB: I don’t know.
KR: Neither have I.
SB: I actually don’t know.
KR: I think at this point, having taken home an Emmy for this past season, and I think now we’re starting to … Finally she came to me and said, “I’m beginning to widen the scope. Let’s talk about some of these other things.” That’s really exciting to me.
SB: It’s good to … Because I think that whatever growth we have, it’s very important to me to keep all eyes on the show, to keep really a true focus on the point of view of the show. And so when ideas emerge, they emerge very organically from within our unit, from within our staff and within my brain, like they come from a place of true interest and passion, they don’t … Like, it’s almost impossible to put stuff on us. I don’t really work that way and I don’t really want to work that way.
So you’re always thinking about, “We’re going to make the television show.” Any ideas about what’s going to happen …
SB: We’re going to make a television show, but then there are other things that don’t maybe lend themselves to a television show, or maybe they lend themselves to a television show that’s in a different way, that’s a special or something like that. Those are exciting opportunities, I think, those things get me.
When you meet a fan …
SB: Those things cause me to masturbate in potted plants.
That’s the line I was hoping to get tonight.
SB: All over New York City.
So thank you.
KR: By the way, a little tip for your listeners. I would say to anybody in the “digital space” who thinks they would be a really qualified partner …
Oh, I thought this was going to be a potted plant joke.
KR: And is passionate to come in and maybe help, we are beginning to look for somebody to come in and work with Sam in this area to figure out a different expression. There’s a great gig there for someone, we’re start to look for it, so that’s it.
So we’re not talking about potted plants?
KR: We’re not.
But working with Sam.
SB: No but we can …
KR: No. But there’s another thing we’re looking for.
Production. When you meet a fan, can you tell whether they’re watching you on television or if they’ve watched the YouTube clip, do they tell you that?
SB: No. I don’t care.
KR: The clips are the show.
SB: No. They don’t … I make them pass my TBS app test. Do you? Where do you? Where are you getting your? No. I love … I don’t know. New York fans are the best anyway, they are awesome.
KR: I agree.
SB: They just are so …
KR: These fans are the best.
SB: Yeah. Oh look.
Thank you for the shameless pandering. The last time we talked I didn’t get the sense that you love Twitter and Facebook, at least not as a work tool. But it seems like you guys have done some really funny stuff there as well.
SB: Yeah. I do like it. I don’t really personally use Twitter. Sorry, that’s not true. I get a lot of … My Twitter feed is very useful, I’m on Twitter a lot just for my own personal information. I don’t personally tweet that much anymore, because I just don’t have time and everything I have in my brain I like to put it into the show as opposed to spreading it all out. I never of course check my mentions, which is unfortunate.
Because there’s all sort of terrible …
SB: Oh my God. I don’t have to explain, it’s a nightmare. I don’t tap into that at all. That is a little bit sad because that was kind of fun. Watching the show, you could feel, when I was on social media more personally, I could feel those areas of growth, where the audience would really respond to something and it was fun having that direct relationship with people. Then really, on the night of the election, my social media feeds just took a horrible turn.
Trump broke Twitter for you?
SB: He completely broke it for me and it broke me as a person.
KR: That was hard for you, wasn’t it? We didn’t really talk about that.
SB: Oh my God, it was an unbelievable torrent of just hatred came at me in one night, and I really felt like there is danger in the air in a way that I hadn’t really experienced before. Over time I just stopped checking with it at all, which is sad because I miss that kind of engagement with people, but I just cannot, I cannot participate in it or it was killing, it killed me.
If Jack Dorsey popped up and said onstage, “We’re fixing it for you, it’s fixed tomorrow, we’re taking hate and trolls away.”
SB: Well, I don’t know, yeah, I doubt it, I don’t know. I don’t think it really helps to know all that much, if people hate the show or love the show, it doesn’t help me that much.
When you guys are in the writer’s room, do you think, “That’s actually not a sketch, that’s not a monologue, that’s a Twitter joke. Let’s do that on Twitter.” Or maybe that’s a Facebook post.
SB: For sure. The way that we put the show together is really collaborative, it’s a very collaborative group of people. Stories emerge that’re better for digital, something emerges that’s better for field, something is better for studio, that’s how we do things.
Kevin, you know better than to sort of say, “Hey Sam, you should make some more digital content because we could monetize that content and on and on.”?
SB: There very good, they’re very cool about it, actually.
KR: By the way, she’s the last one you can force a business construct on.
SB: I know.
KR: Because, yeah.
SB: I’m terrible.
KR: You suck.
SB: I really suck.
KR: Why am I even here with you?
SB: I don’t know.
KR: No. But that doesn’t make any sense to her, it doesn’t resonate that way, but once she starts getting ideas and connecting with those and getting excited about them, the rest will follow. We felt more broadly from the get-go, we make a great television show, hopefully that’s the first part of other things to come.
I’ve had your boss on.
KR: Which one, the new one?
A bunch of your bosses on. Well, not that guy yet.
KR: The new one to come.
But I’ve had John Martin on … Turner’s a big successful property, or it was a big successful property when you came on to it. Didn’t have a lot of brand value. Even though you were making a lot of money, people couldn’t probably identify most of the shows that were on, there were a lot of repeats. Does the fact that you’re going through this overhaul give you more flexibility to say, “We’re not so worried about whether someone’s watching on TV versus digital?”
KR: To a certain extent, yes.
Like if you were a more established network, would that be a bit more pressure?
KR: We’re not really going to turn that tide, so I like to turn in to it, which is we are going to maintain these networks and we want the show — again, if this show were just sitting up here doing 100,000 views, it’d be tough. But as long as we maintain a certain modicum of success and it’s something we’re proud of, there’s going to be other ancillary values that come out of this and I want to be ahead of that.
SB: You’re going to love “Full Frontal on Ice.” Oh my god. It’s going to be so bad.
KR: By the way, you do know me. The answer is yes. I’m not going to forget that now.
SB: Hey. Mental note: Learn to skate.
KR: Yeah, that would be even more fun.
Listen, the events business is very big, people love a live experience.
Anything that you’ve wanted to do that you couldn’t do either for budget reasons or for content reasons yet?
SB: No, not really. We do … The travel pieces get expensive, but I’ve never been, nobody’s …
No one says no.
SB: No one really says no. Because the one thing that I do find myself doing is, anytime I take a trip I’m trying to always get content where I go to just justify life. But, yeah, no, I haven’t really been limited. When we started with our, “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” TBS got behind that idea fast. You guys were on that idea super fast.
KR: The same way …
You counter-programmed the correspondents’ dinner, which was a dud to begin with.
SB: Yeah. Which was just a … It was amazing an accomplishment. I’m so proud of how we pulled that off, I thought it was great, it was such a fun side project, so bratty. What a bunch of jerks. But we did this fun thing and I thought it was great.
We’re going to let you guys ask questions in a minute. I wanted to ask you about one other thing. Again, the last time we talked, we talked about the fact that, you’ve intentionally said we want a diverse staff. And we don’t just want to say that, we’re actually going to go out and recruit and we’re not just going to say that we’re recruiting, we’re actually doing it and it’s very tactical and hands on.
SB: Well it makes things better, it makes your world better, it makes the show better. It’s not like we’re sitting around patting ourselves on the back all the time, it just …
Why does it make it better?
SB: Because if you get … Because people have different points of view and it just makes the show a … It just gives the show a richer texture. We’re lucky to have a diverse staff, every place should aspire to …
But not lucky. You work at it. Could you talk about how you work at it, what you do? Because everyone says, everyone will at least pay lip service to the idea that they would like diversity, but they don’t seem to work as hard at it as you do. Can you talk about what you actually do?
SB: Well, when it comes together to putting together your writing room, you definitely read scripts blind, but that’s an established practice across all the late-night shows.
Everyone says that and they end up with a room full of Harvard guys.
KR: No, I’m curious, Sam. Because we used to see at “The Daily Show,” Jon used to make a fun joke about it, there’d be 30 white guys from Harvard behind him. What do you feel is the difference at your show?
SB: Well, I feel like the difference is that our stated goal is to have a diverse writing room and that encourages people who wouldn’t necessarily think that they should write a script, to write that script or to try, or to make an inquiry. And certainly we make inquiries of people, we ask people, “Do your friends [write], do you know someone?” We make connections that way.
So making that your stated goal is very effective in getting people to reach out to you. It’s something we think about all the time, it’s baked into our system now. When we’re growing the field department, we’re like, “Oh let’s find a woman producer.” Like, we can [say], “Let’s start asking around if anybody knows any great women, let’s ask around, see if anybody knows, like, an older great producer woman,” someone who’s not 22, like someone who’s in the second stage of their career or something like that.
You have to think about it. You have to ask people, you have to do outreach in that way as well. You can’t just say, “I wish we had a diverse writing room,” and then just let the regular old resumes roll in.
You will hear well-meaning people — at least they think they’re well meaning people — say, “Well, the pipeline is not there.” Or Jeff Bezos said apparently recently — because among his top people, there’s only one woman — said, “The problem is that everyone loves working at Amazon and so we just don’t have turnover, so we’d like to change this one day, but the people who are working for me now aren’t going to leave. So we’re not going to diversify anytime soon.”
SB: That sounds like such fucking horseshit to me, like it doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t work in that world, so maybe I don’t know … I really don’t know, I really just don’t know anything about that world. That sounds like a bunch of crap to me. I just know that you, first of all, have to ensure that you don’t have a … you can’t by reputation have a hostile workplace, that’s probably pretty helpful.
It has to be on your mind all the time and not in a lip service way, and then you have to fucking, like, hire someone, then you have to, like, hire people who are diverse. You also have to — you can’t just accept resumes, you have to take a chance. Sometimes you have to take a chance on someone, sometimes the perfect candidate comes and they’re just amazing and they check all your boxes, and that’s great, too. I don’t know, it’s just …
KR: It’s a self-perpetuating thing that comes from the culture. If you start — whether you’re ticking a box or …
SB: I don’t want to say that we’ve solved the issue. I don’t think that we’ve solved every problem in this field, I don’t think that we have the most diverse workplace that we possibly could, I just … It’s something that we think about and we act on that.
It seems like it’s almost a second job, though, maybe not a full-time job.
SB: No, not at all.
But it’s a lot of extra work on top of doing what you’re already doing.
SB: No. I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s any kind of labor, it’s just your follow-up question is like, “Oh, maybe we need to add someone to our research team. Could we see if someone knows a great woman? Could we see if someone knows a great person of color?” Who’s out there? Who’s out there who’s already got a job who we can take from their job and bring into our place. You just have to ask the follow-up questions and then hopefully it bears fruit. It just bears fruit if you’re thinking about it a lot. It’s not my mantra in the morning, but if an opportunity emerges, then great. I fixed everything.
That’s a pretty good way to leave this right? Good job.
SB: I fixed the whole world.
I have more questions but I want to give you guys a shot to ask them. There are at least three microphones wandering around. I guess we should bring the lights up so you guys can see them.
SB: What do you do if no one has questions?
I’m sure …
SB: We’re just saying.
While Kara Swisher is in the audience, I’m sure she will yell something at you. Can you guys bring the lights up? Find a mic and ask a question.
Speaker 1: Hi, thank you. It was reported today on Twitter that the president for lunch had rice and two pieces of cherry pie.
SB: Is that true?
Speaker 1: Yes. I know you said you don’t like hot takes, but I’m wondering if you could give your hottest take on the president’s dietary restrictions.
SB: My hottest take?
KR: Keep eating that cherry pie.
SB: My hottest take is scurvy.
SB: That’s not a good … That doesn’t bode well for your afternoon meetings.
KR: Right, just crashing.
SB: Oh my god, he definitely slept through the rest of the day. Not that it mattered anyway.
I was going to make a Taco Bell joke. Taco bull joke. A question back here?
Speaker 2: I feel bad bringing a serious question in after that-
SB: And my answer to you is also scurvy.
Speaker 2: Okay!
I think it’s interesting when we talk about Harvey Weinstein and what’s happened also with the news coming out of the venture capital community and some of similar behavior, but also women supporting other women or looking the other way. Wondering if you have a point of view on that aspect of this as well.
SB: I guess … specifically women who’ve worked with Harvey Weinstein and looked the other way?
Female: Not necessarily Harvey but sort of across … When you have women who … There have been a lot of women who have said things in the past and been dismissed by colleagues, by organizations, by lawyers. I wonder sometimes if we’ve not done a good enough job backing each other up.
SB: That’s interesting, that is such a serious question.
Speaker 1: Sorry.
SB: No. It’s fine, of course. But there are other issues at play. People need to work, or they don’t have agency. Nnot everybody has agency to be able to take a stand at work and quit their job and be like, “Take this job and shove it, my friend got harassed!” I get it, I wish that there were … Hopefully, you will hope, you always want to imagine a world in which we all have each other’s backs and these things don’t happen and these stories come out and then the world is different.
It takes a long time to change the culture. I have two daughters and a son and I am excited. It’s a weird thing to say, but I’m actually excited for them because I feel like we have, we are growing, I feel like we are evolving. It’s slow. These stories come out and then they kind of get tucked away again. Roger Ailes largely went away and was out of the public consciousness. It’s hard to keep the conversation going, it’s hard to keep people’s outrage going. It’s good in this last couple of weeks that more and more stories are coming out and that’s keeping the ball rolling and I think that’s really helpful.
I’m happy — for my daughters, at least — that incrementally I feel like they’ll have a better life and a better understanding of their own power than I did, even. When I was growing up, it was all, people were supposed to convince you to have sex with them. And I think that maybe is not true for my kids. I hope. My children are never going to have sex so that’s different for them. I’m pretty sure I told them they’re not allowed, so we should be good.
I hope that we get better and better. Maybe we are. Do you think we are? I’m praying that we are. We need to be better. We need to better, we need to have men come forward, too, and saying, “Hey, man, that’s not funny, that’s not cool what you’re doing.” [SIgh]
Should we leave it there?
SB: This exhausting.
It was upbeat until the end, then we deflated.
SB: I know. We should have like one more question.
Someone kind of [inaudible 00:41:01] question here.
SB: But even that was a great question, I’m not discouraging your question.
Involving scurvy or potted plants? Whatever question you want.
SB: I’m with you, sister.
I love your T-shirt.
Speaker 3: I thought you would.
SB: First of all, you’re wearing a “Nasty woman” T-shirt, so you came prepared.
Speaker 3: And this is kind of a question for Kevin and you. I love the fact that you support so many of these causes, unfortunately there’s just so much in the world.
SB: So many. Yeah.
Speaker 3: So my question is how does … I appreciate what you do with Omaze and all that, and I support it. How much does Turner then support with Sam does? How tied in are you [Kevin] with the efforts that she puts forth on her show for helping …
KR: Financially? You mean writing a check?
Speaker 3: Exactly, that’s it.
KR: Or just creating a structure or allowing her to do it?
Speaker 3: No, but just generally as a corporation, what influence does she have on what you do?
KR: Well, I think we give you pretty free rein.
SB: Yeah, really free rein.
KR: And in fact we want to create even more of it on structure in a way, that’s one of the things we’ve talked about going forward is how do we create this ongoing apparatus, where that outreach is just there?
What does that mean?
KR: To be seen.
Like is that a Turner thing or a Sam thing?
KR: Meaning she’s got a lot of pro-social, she’s got a lot of incoming people and you want to do more. You’ve helped, but there are certain things you want to focus and be able to turn it on and say, “Okay, we can plug into this.”
SB: For sure. I also think the next chapter of my life is probably more of a — Sorry, not that I won’t be doing TV forever.
KR: Were we talking about that? Is there something that I should know?
SB: But is more of a public service type of experience, so I always feel bad for these guys because of course you can buy “Full Frontal” t-shirts and all this stuff, but every 10 days I’m like, “Hey, can we do a great t-shirt and not get any money from it?” “I have this great idea, let’s have a charity t-shirt.”
Speaker 3: But some of them are.
SB: Yeah, some of them, for sure. But I feel like we have a platform and while we have it we should use it for good. You always want to get the line correct between satire and pure activism because it’s a very fine line, especially with our show. We’re always on the precipice, but as long as we have this we have to use it. And I think there’s actually more that we can do, and really exciting ideas that are here, that I’m not going to tell you, but I am very hopeful about stuff we can do in the future.
KR: You’ll do them before you leave though, right?
SB: I totally will.
KR: All right, good. Thank you.
Yeah, while you’re footing the bill, I think this is the idea, right?
Okay, good. Sam, Kevin, you’ve been great.
SB: Thank you.
KR: Thank you.
Kara Swisher: Peter, wait. I’ve got a question.
Wait, I’m sorry who’s yelling? Is that Kara?
KS: Yeah, hi.
Sorry, Kara gets the last one.
SB: Wait, where are you?
KS: Yeah, I’m his boss, so. [applause]
I thought we were partners. I’ve been demoted onstage.
KS: I’m everybody’s boss here. So, quick question, this is for both, because you were talking about what you’re going to do next and — not that you’re not going to do this for a while — but you’re about to get owned by the phone company, essentially.
KR: That’s right.
KS: You too, Sam.
SB: I know. I heard that.
KS: I don’t want to ask if you’re going to get better rates or anything else, but what does that mean for you guys? Comcast owns us, essentially, they’ve invested in our company.
They’re minority investors of Vox Media.
KS: Minority investors in Vox Media. We’re not influenced in any way.
KR: Got the plug out of the way. Good.
KS: Cable companies, phone companies, Amazon, the e-commerce companies, Google — how do you look at what you would do … how do you think about the future with these owners, or you don’t think of them at all? I’d like each of you talk about that, that this consolidation is going on. It’s very different owners than before. The Rupert Murdoch era is over in many ways, thanks be to God. How do you look at that? How do you look at that concept of being owned by the phone company or blank company or whatever?
KR: The tools needed to compete today and where we’re going in the next era here are in place at AT&T. When I woke up and saw that was the … I came to Time Warner, I’ve been there three years, I knew the day I signed it was a matter of when not if we would sell. I was excited to see that it was AT&T because of mobility, and because of the data, and because of the connection to consumers.
Now we have a, I think, a really unique one-time … or should this merger — I guess I’m not officially allowed to even acknowledge that it could happen — but should this happen, there’s a really unique opportunity to reshuffle these assets into, I think, stitched together, what a new media company looks like, with some of the traditional pieces. I, for one, I’m not a believer that, now that the Facebooks and Googles and everyone is entering the content fray, that it’s a foregone conclusion that they’re just going to get it right and be amazing at it. It’s really hard.
Netflix made a lot of amazing decisions along the way in a moment in time which we also gave them a huge assist in building their business. I think there’s going to be a lot of misfires and a lot of fumbling. They’ll have a lot of cash to waste and I believe they will. So I think this gives us the chance to compete. I’m genuinely excited about it and I wish we could get on with it already.
Sam, are you genuinely excited about working for AT&T?
SB: And I never think about it.
KR: And she shouldn’t.
SB: And I don’t. I actually am really thankful that these guys don’t make me think about it. It’s just not part of my day-to-day conversation at all. I don’t know really why we’ve been allowed to get away with the things that we’ve gotten away with.
KR: But to answer your question, we’ve been thinking more broadly about what, when Sam’s talent takes us into different places, where we want that to go. Pro social? Great, let’s do it, let’s figure out what that means, how do we take her voice and extend it beyond the one day a week? When she’s ready, when she has an idea, I’d like to have some of the resources to do that.
SB: I’ll sing them.
Things are going to look great.
SB: You guys are going to love it.
KR: Let’s do it.
I’m not even going to ask for royalty on that one. That’s free to you.
SB: Thank you.
But Kara, can we end this interview?
KS: You can do whatever you want. Not really.
KR: Thank you Kara.
Okay, thank you.
KR: Thank you, guys.
SB: Thank you.
Kevin, you guys are great.
SB: This is so fun, thank you, thanks so much.
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