‘Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner’ back for round two
She vowed never to host it again. But times have certainly changed, and Samantha Bee is back for another go with the second “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” this Saturday, April 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TBS.
She thought the first of these events would be her last, but admitted, “The White House Correspondents’ Association has left me no choice — it is now up to comedy journalists to take care of real journalists. Even if those journalists insist on wearing corduroy.”
The gala event will feature Bee, plus celebrity guests and will bring together journalists, members of the media and all those who are committed to reaffirming the First Amendment.
We had a nice chat over some delicious hamberders with Jessica Pratt, “Full Frontal” marketing manager, and Kim Burdges, “Full Frontal” show producer who shared insight into the dinner’s second incarnation and what goes into preparing for such a wildly popular – and intensely polarizing – event.
Hi Jessica and Kim - what are your roles for Samantha Bee’s “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”
Kim Burdges: I’m the specials producer, so my focus is on these big events. I worked on the first “Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner” in 2017, and I'm overseeing all the production, and everything involved with this year's event.
Jessica Pratt: I work really closely with Kim on specials but more so from the marketing side and the TBS side – everything from coming up with the overall look for the campaign to working with Turner Media Group (TMG) and fulfilling media plans. And then at the actual event, it’s everything from helping with check-ins to the red carpet to putting up activations inside the venue for people to interact with while they’re there. I also work very closely with the “Full Frontal” social team for the event. For this we are doing a Twitter livestream, which will be fun.
"Sam felt really passionate that journalists have been beaten down enough, and we should throw a night to toast them"
This is the second time Samantha and the team are putting on this event. What made her want to give it a second go-round?
KB: As soon as Donald Trump got into office, he took this very hostile stance against journalists and free press, especially those covering his administration in the White House. So, for the first year, Sam felt really passionate that journalists have been beaten down enough, and we should throw a night to toast them, plus celebrate the fact that in this country, we have a free press. This year, she felt it was time again, because the real White House Correspondents' Association announced that after all of the backlash that they got for having a comedian host, which is the tradition, that they would go with an historian host this year.
Sam felt that not only is this an issue of protecting the free press from the President, but at the same time, even the White House Correspondents’ Association seemed to be cowering to him. So, if they're not going to uphold this tradition that has been around for decades – the one night where the President and press have to share a room and some laughs – then we will take it on.
How is this year’s event different than the first one?
KB: The first year we really took a lot of care to make sure that it was a very nonpartisan event. The focus was on the press and that we should celebrate all journalism – all reporters and free press in general. This year, I think we are also holding them all a little more accountable, too.
We are the biggest fans of investigative journalists and what they do, but there's also a lot of faults in the world of journalism that we want to highlight. So, with an election year on the horizon, Sam feels really passionate about empowering all of these journalists to keep the candidates honest, if possible.
JP: This year seems to have a different tone then the first year. The first year felt really presidential and very fancy and that came across in the event creative. This year, we’ve gone with a bit of a different tone and worked with our brand creative team to come up with a really fun, more aggressive look.
KB: The branding and creative was so important for the first “Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner,” and this year, it’s really exciting what Jessica and the rest of our marketing team has put together. They’ve really made this one look different and given it an edgier tone, which is getting everyone excited about it again.
Any valuable lessons learned from the first event that made preparing for this one easier?
KB: I would say making sure we have better food this time around. The first time we did this, we taped early in the afternoon, so we were hosting a dinner at 2 p.m., which was a little tricky. This year, we are actually taping the show at a more appropriate dinner time, so it will be a full three-course meal.
JP: It’s really nice that it's back at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall because we learned a lot of the ins and outs of that venue. A good portion of the team that worked on it the first year are back, which makes it easier because we know a lot of the rules and the workarounds to make sure everything is in good shape.
KB: That's a great point. The DAR Constitution Hall is a beautiful space, but it's also a historical landmark, and like any older building it definitely has its quirks. It took us a long time to learn those different ins and outs, so already knowing the space is very helpful from a production and creative standpoint.
Were there any challenges in planning and promoting such a polarizing event? We think it’s amazing and hysterical, but some people might not agree.
JP: No matter what we are doing with “Full Frontal,” we are always going to get hate viewers or people who are going to beat back at us. The first year, our tag line was something like “You're invited.” That was very inclusive to everyone. This year, we are leaning into the Trump roast and different things about the president, which will hopefully garner us more of a press push to get the event in front of more people.
Even on social, we are launching a hashtag to go along with the dinner. That hashtag roasts the president and we’re asking people at home to exercise their First Amendment rights and join in and actually roast the president. I think we're playing into that, and we’re playing into where maybe more of the haters are, which is a different approach for us.
KB: The first year we definitely wanted the focus just to be on the press, celebrating all the hard work they do and how important it is to have a free press. Now, we are really taking on the responsibilities of what the traditional dinner would do. Obviously, we are still celebrating the press, we're still doing this whole evening for them and all the proceeds from it go to protect journalists, but we're also holding more of the current administration accountable and having fun with their roles – much more than we did the first year.
Can you give us any sort of sneak peek into what we might expect at this year’s event? Oh, and how’s the food?
KB: I'll take this question, since the food is one of my favorite topics right now. The food is much better. We are actually moving up from just fancy finger food to a full three-course meal, which is exciting. There will also be an open bar and a VIP reception, which we always feel is important in comedy… keep the booze flowing, you know?
In terms of the show, I think that people are really going to enjoy it, and I think they are going to be surprised. We have a lot more celebrity cameos both on stage and taped, which will be exciting. Sam's ever the performer and she is really pushing herself and trying new things with the show, so we are really excited to see people’s reactions.
Don’t miss the second “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” Saturday, April 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TBS.