For a book that explores the difficulties of making it as a writer while female in the 1990s, with all the boys club exclusion and outright sexual harassment that implies, this was a surprisingly fun read.
The cover of the book says it all; if you watched broadcast tv in the late 1990s to early aughts, odds are you’ve watched something Scovell wrote. Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Letterman, NCIS, and one of the better Simpsons episodes in the series’ golden years. And I had no idea who she was before I bought the book.
Granted, some of this is because her heyday was just before the cult of the showrunner – prior to 2010 or so, I think I could name maybe five behind the scenes personalities on any TV series since the inception of the medium, and usually because they were prolific (Aaron Spelling, Norman Lear) or changed television drastically in some way (Chris carter, Joss Whedon). But it’s still impressive that I had no idea that someone responsible for so much entertainment I’ve personally enjoyed was completely unknown to me.
There’s one pretty obvious reason. “As a female writer, the odds of writing an episode for The X-Files was slightly worse than surviving The Hunger Games,” Scovell writes. “This is not an exaggeration. During the show’s initial run, only seven of two hundred (3.5%) episodes were written by women. Meanwhile, one out of 24 survived the hunger games (4.2%). Katniss had it easy.”
Scovell writes about not just her successes despite a deck stacked against her, but also about lucky breaks, and ways she erred herself. In discussing her time as showrunner on Sabrina, she laments that she didn’t hire enough minority writers, and that she could easily have found black, Hispanic, and Asian writers suited to the show had she looked harder.
The book is more entertaining than perhaps I’m making it sound – most of Scovell’s credits are for comedy, after all, so it’s a breezy read – but it was refreshing to read about the industry sexism in the context of a woman’s success despite it.