Nell Scovell: 'Ten Years Ago, I Called Out David Letterman. This Month, We Sat Down to Talk'

The Frame


Welcome to the frame John Horn ten years ago. TV writer Nelson Avella took a pretty big risk. She published an article calling out her former boss. Late night King David Letterman for running writer's room and a show that favored men scovill has since co authored. Sheryl Sandberg's two thousand thirteen book. Lean in and last year she published a memoir. You're just the funny parts and a few hard truths about sneaking into Hollywood boys club for her latest piece. In Vanity Fair Scoville met with Letterman to finally talk about gender discrimination at late night. Scoville join me in studio and described what it was like to write for Letterman in one thousand nine hundred ninety. Yeah so this was a dream. I'm job for me I had already worked in Los Angeles. I actually worked on the last season of newhart. And I'd written a Simpson's episode road and I finally. After years of sending material to the Letterman people got a call asking me to come in and meet with Dave and like a lot of late night shows not a lot of women in the writer's room. Now there's only been one before I got hired it was Merrill Marco who was a genius and the first head writer on that show and also Dave's girlfriend at the time so I guess I was the first female hired who was in a relationship with Dave so many years after you leave the show in two thousand and nine something compels you to write about your experiences sir. Right Dave was the victim of a blackmail attempt. He was having an affair with one of his assistants Whose boyfriend found her diary and the scheme was that he threatened to write a screenplay about the affair? If Dave didn't give him two million dollars at the same time Nancy Franklin writes a piece in the New Yorker that points out that there were zero female writers on Letterman Leno and Conan. And I have to say Dave's announcement was not surprise. Is anyone who worked on the show knew about his extracurricular activities. But the fact that I'd been gone for twenty years and they'd move backwards awkward as far as gender in the writer's room that was stunning to me and I literally lost sleep so on a fast forward word to a decision you make and certainly there's another party to this conversation which is going back today. Insane I want to have a conversation about about the fact that you didn't respond to what I wrote. And how did that come about because there seems to be an important condition and that is that it's on the record as we approached October twenty nineteen. I knew it was the ten year anniversary of this article I had written for Vanity Fair and then I just got this crazy idea which is With Dave sit down and talk to me and I knew he hadn't read the article because in this weird coincidence he and I ended up working together in twenty fourteen on the Kennedy Center Honors and I actually had a chance to ask him. Did you ever read that article. And he said to my face no. I don't worry about that stuff. Don't worry about that stuff it meaning inning. He didn't wear. He doesn't worry about what people write about him. Is that what it means. Already doesn't worry about how he behaved and how he treats women he claims it is the former when you sat down with David. I'm curious what was the most striking thing that he had to say. Well first of all it was pretty extraordinary that he agreed to sit down with me. If you do any reading about apologies and someone wronged you find out that as the person who has been wronged you lose status status and so the second Dave agreed will sit at a table and talk. He really did offer me the status right. We were equals at that table and I would love to see more powerful white men doing that sort of thing which is being open to that discussion so the point was not just for me to get what turned out to be an apology from Dave but also to you try to model behavior that I would like to see more. We're talking with TV writer and author Nelson cavill you mentioned in your Vanity Fair Peas. How male all writers rooms have been for people like Jay Leno and he has no regret and no apology? No it's all about the material. Just if you give me material than I will hire you. Just come up to me in a comedy club. He says you know Jay Leno went off. The air was zero female writers and that's he should be ashamed that for the rest of his life. What would you say are the things that make you optimistic about how conversations are changing not just in and around this issue but in the workplace about a show runners interest in hiring a room that looks like the country not like the country club? I do think we've made some improvement and I think it certainly helps to have people like Kenya barriers and Shonda rhimes who have been so successful and even giverny They're all doing amazing work. And I think it's Shonda who made an amazing observation. which is if you walk outside? You see people of all colors. There's US see people from all walks of life that's normalcy so we actually shouldn't call it. Diversity what we want is normalcy. You know in Nineteen nineteen ninety. I went to the EMMYS for the first time Letterman had been nominated and I was in the audience when they announced the nominees for the five best comedies comedies and it was Murphy Brown Golden Girls Designing women wonder years and cheers three and a half of those shows were created by women. Diane English one for Murphy Brown and I sat there in nineteen ninety and thought we we solve this. We proved it. You're if such a dreamer now I just want to get back to where we were in. Nineteen Ninety nells. cavill is a TV writer. She's the author of the memoir. Just the funny parts in a few hard truths about sneaking into the Hollywood boys club. Now thanks much for coming in. Thank

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