Wednesday, Oct. 3, television writer, director and producer Nell Scovell hosted a Question and Answer luncheon for College of William and Mary students and faculty members at Blow Memorial Hall.
Scovell was invited by gender, sexuality and women’s studies director Elizabeth Losh. Losh met Scovell through their undergraduate network at Harvard University.
Losh explained that she believed Scovell would be the perfect guest for the College community.
“A lot of our students have been talking about the #MeToo movement, and she has just published an opinion piece in The New York Times about #MeToo,” Losh said. “And because she is in journalism and entertainment and entrepreneurship working on ‘Lean In,’ she seemed like a perfect match for the interdisciplinary interests of our students.”
Scovell also has a special personal connection to the College: her parents met here and were married at the Sir Christopher Wren Building Chapel.
Attendees were seated in a semicircle around Scovell and asked her questions about a variety of topics, ranging from her writing inspirations, television writing experiences, advice for new writers and the #MeToo movement.
Students expressed contentment for the free-flowing and open format of Scovell’s talk.
“I was expecting a lecture where she was just talking at us and afterwards we would have a short Q&A, but it was really great to just have this circle where we could just ask her questions,” graduate student and blogger Raveynn Stringfield Ph.D. ‘21said.
The first thing asked was what the common thread throughout her many careers has been. Scovell said it has been her curiosity and willingness to accept whatever challenges presented themselves.
Scovell began her career as a journalist in New York and did not begin writing for television until her friend and former editor suggested she try it.
“I went on staff at ‘Newhart’, which is a sitcom, and I hadn’t watched that many sitcoms before,” Scovell said. “I had only written two scripts at that point, but I asked questions. … I learned to say ‘yes’ to everything, ‘cause you never know where something will lead.”
Her TV writing credits include “Late Night with David Letterman,” “It’s Gary Shandling’s Show,” “The Simpsons,” “Newhart,” “The Wilton North Report,” “Coach,” “Monk,” “Murphy Brown,” “Charmed” and “NCIS”. She is also known for being the story editor of the last season of “Newhart,” considered one of the most memorable final seasons in television history.
Scovell’s more recent work includes co-writing the best-selling feminist book “Lean In” with Sheryl Sandberg. Scovell recounted how she felt after listening to Sandberg’s Ted Talk “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders” in 2010.
“In those 12 minutes, I learned more about myself than I had in years of therapy,” Scovell said.
On a more serious note, she shared an anecdote about how she behaved in a very shy and subservient manner during her first TV writing job.
“Our culture forced me into that position,” Scovell said. “It really wasn’t a choice.”
Scovell believes that this is an opportunity for men to ally with women and invite them to the table.
During the lunch, Scovell got a chance to read a part of her own memoir published this year, “Just the Funny Parts: … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club,” in which she describes pitching ideas to Larry David for his show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” one of which became an actual episode of the show.
Scovell said that she felt compelled to write “Just the Funny Parts” after seeing women in the entertainment industry like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Mindy Kaling write memoirs. She explained that she wanted to show how someone could get into comedy behind the scenes.
“One of the reasons I wanted to write my book … is that not everyone wants to be on camera,” Scovell said.
A student asked Scovell what her favorite thing that she had ever written was. Scovell responded with a screenplay she had written that had never been produced.
“I wrote a screenplay called ‘Fred and Freida,’ which was a bit like ‘The Princess Bride,’ where these characters live in a village where all the men look the same and all the women look the same, so you judge people for who they are, not what they look like,” Scovell said.
The lunch ended around 2 p.m., and as some guests filed out, others got the opportunity to stand by and speak to Scovell one on one. Overall, attendees seemed greatly satisfied by the opportunity to hear and speak to Scovell on an intimate level.
“I didn’t know how conversational it would be, and I thought it was really interesting how we had questions about both feminism and current events as well as questions about writing and writing careers,” Marriya Schwarz ’20 said.
Attendees also expressed happiness that they could apply the things they learned from Scovell in their own lives.
Stringfield, who wishes to be a professional writer, shared the most helpful piece of advice she took from Scovell’s talk.
“In order to be a good writer you have to write a lot and you need to put yourself out there to be judged,” Stringfield said. “Seeing that it [success] can happen as long as you’re persistent and keep doing things that scare you.”