Before I saw this title, Just the Funny Parts . . . And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club, I had no idea who Nell Scovell was. But, I’ve certainly watched most of the shows she’s written for.
Just the Funny Parts is a juicy and scathingly funny insider look at how pop culture gets made. For more than thirty years, writer, producer and director Nell Scovell worked behind the scenes of iconic TV shows, including The Simpsons, Late Night with David Letterman, Murphy Brown, NCIS, The Muppets, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch,, which she created and executive produced.
In 2009, Scovell gave up her behind-the-scenes status when the David Letterman sex scandal broke. Only the second woman ever to write for his show, Scovell used the moment to publicly call out the lack of gender diversity in late-night TV writers’ rooms. “One of the boys” came out hard for “all of the girls.” Her criticisms fueled a cultural debate. Two years later, Scovell was collaborating with Sheryl Sandberg on speeches and later on Lean In, which resulted in a worldwide movement.
Now Scovell is opening up with this fun, honest, and often shocking account. Scovell knows what it’s like to put words in the mouths of President Barack Obama, Mark Harmon, Candice Bergen, Bob Newhart, Conan O’Brien, Alyssa Milano, and Kermit the Frog, among many others. Through her eyes, you’ll sit in the Simpson writers’ room… stand on the Oscar red carpet… pin a tail on Miss Piggy…bond with Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy… and experience a Stephen King-like encounter with Stephen King.
Just the Funny Parts is a fast-paced account of a nerdy girl from New England who fought her way to the top of the highly-competitive, male-dominated entertainment field. The book delivers invaluable insights into the creative process and tricks for navigating a difficult workplace. It’s part memoir, part how-to, and part survival story. Or, as Scovell puts it, “It’s like Unbroken, but funnier and with slightly less torture.”
Although Just the Funny Parts has some of the jokes Scovell wrote for many successful shows, it’s also entertaining and enlightening to read some of the just as clever lines that didn’t make the cut. There were often a variety of reasons; but for those who write – or want to write – professionally, it’s important to remember that having one’s work accepted is generally arbitrary and not related to talent or worth.
Just the Funny Parts is also not a lurid tell-all of show-biz scandal or a heart-wrenching tale of how a neglected child went into comedy as a result of needing desperately to make her mother laugh as so many comedians are. Nope. Nell is about as normal as a person can be who was born the third of five kids in 1960. She had happily married and successful parents and loving siblings who proved their adoration through “merciless teasing.” My experience has proven that if you can survive the ruthlessness of your brothers and sisters, you can survive anything.
Scovell did not come out of the womb wanting to write for television. She ended up there after a variety of starts and stops including covering sports for The Harvard Crimson as a freshman there.
This is all to say, Scovell has an encouraging story to tell. First, one doesn’t have to have a professional life carefully mapped. Be open to new challenges. It may seem a long way from being a sports reporter to the following credits, but being open to writing on spec or braving something new lead Scovell to:
She wrote a spec script for The Garry Shandling Show, which they bought; she was the story editor for the final season of Newhart,
Scovell was the second female writer ever hired for Late Night with David Letterman and the only woman on the Letterman writing staff at the time. She left the show in 1983, after working there for less than a year.
Scovell wrote the season two episode of The Simpsons, “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish.” She was one of the first women to write an episode of The Simpsons. She is the creator of the television series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which aired on ABC and The WB from 1996 until 2003
Thank goodness, Scovell is not ready to retire. Someone who loves to create and write as she does, will persevere. She’s of an age now, not young, but not ready to throw in the towel. The final section of the Just the Funny Parts provides insight into taking a deep breath and diving in. As she wrote, “Each experience is unique, shaped by personalities, emotions, timing and, for all we know, the stars. There’s no code to crack. There’s no paradigm to follow.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t gamble. If you don’t try, you can’t win.
Trust me, Scovell says it much better.
Happy Reading! Susan C.
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