Nell Scovell’s “Just The Funny Parts” is the best book I’ve read this year.
Scovell has been a TV writer for over 30 years, including “Sabrina The Teenage Witch,” which she created. She’s also worked on “The Simpsons,” “Newhart,” “Murphy Brown,” “Charmed,” “NCIS,” “Warehouse 13,” “Coach,” and a lot more. Those are just the shows that aired — she’s also written dozens of scripts that never made it to anyone’s television for one reason or another.
In addition to her TV work, Scovell also wrote for President Obama, SPY magazine, the Boston Globe sports department, and many other outlets. She also co-authored “Lean In” with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, a project that allowed her to both share stories from her own life and learn a few things about female empowerment.
Scovell’s name became known outside the TV community in November, 2009, when she wrote a piece for Vanity Fair about David Letterman’s admission that he’d slept with several of the women who worked for him. In it, she remembered the hostile, sexually charged atmosphere she’d encountered while on his writing staff in 2000 — one of very few women to ever be hired there. In fact, at the time she wrote “Letterman and Me,” of the 50 or so comedy writers working for Letterman, Jay Leno, and Conan O’Brien, there wasn’t a single woman among them. The producers of those shows claimed they would have hired more women (and people of color, who were also absent from those shows’ credits), but they didn’t apply — a lie that Scovell revealed through her own experiences and those of friends.
Throughout her memoir, Scovell remembers the bias she encountered as the lone woman on a writing staff on several shows. When one of the shows she worked on was cancelled, one of the male writers commented to her that she was lucky. She asked why, and he explained that all the other shows would want to have a woman on staff. Scovell rebuked him by saying, “One woman? And nine men? How am I lucky?” Her goal was not to be known as “a woman writer” but as “a woman and a writer.”
That’s why “Just The Funny Parts” is subtitled, “…And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club.” It is a great read, full of very funny stories about the people who populate Hollywood and the oddball creative choices they make. From her start in the late 1980s on the doomed Fox late-night show “The Wilton North Report,” to living in Tommy Smothers’ maid’s quarters, to losing out on an “X-Files” opportunity to Stephen King, to getting an opportunity to direct, to being the boss on “Sabrina,” to working with The Muppets, Scovell is a terrific and witty storyteller. It’s not often I laugh out loud while reading, but Scovell got me several times.
I breezed through the book in two days and have recommended that both my wife and daughter read it. I hope you will, too.