Helen Vivian Scovell
November 8, 1960
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
|Occupation||Journalist, writer, producer|
Thomas Jonah Tisch
(m. 1985; div. 1986)
Nell Scovell (born Helen Vivian Scovell; November 8, 1960) is a television and magazine writer, and producer. She is the creator of the television series Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which aired on ABC and The WB from 1996 until 2003.
Nell Scovell, the middle of five children, grew up in a Jewish family outside of Newton, Massachusetts. Her father, Melvin E. Scovell, is chairman of the board of Scovell & Schwager, a health-care management company in Boston. In high school at Newton South High School, she was the manager of the boys' track team. Scovell attended Harvard University, where she spent her time reporting and editing sports stories for The Harvard Crimson. In her senior year at Harvard, she wrote for the sports desk of the Boston Globe. She graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1982.
After graduation, she moved to New York and was the first staff writer hired by Spy magazine in 1986.Tina Brown recruited her to work at Vanity Fair, where she contributed quirky visual features about money and culture. Scovell later ran into an old Spy editor, who recommended she write for television.
As a television writer, Scovell wrote the season two episode of The Simpsons, "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish", she also wrote the upcoming season 32 episode, "Sorry Not Sorry". She was one of the first women to write an episode of The Simpsons. Other TV writing credits include The Wilton North Report, Coach, Monk, Murphy Brown, Charmed, Newhart, The Critic, NCIS, and many others. She also wrote the season two episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, "Urges".
Outside of television, Scovell is a former contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and has written for Vogue, Rolling Stone, Self, Tatler, and The New York Times Magazine. She currently blogs for Vanity Fair's web site.
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 1993, after working there for less than a year.
In 2009, after Letterman admitted to having sexual relationships with his female staffers, she published an essay in Vanity Fair calling his show a "hostile work environment" for women. She noted that Letterman's shows had hired only seven female writers in 27 years. Male writers had spent a combined total of 378 years on staff, and women had spent 17. Scovell alleged that late-night TV executives excused gender disparities in their writers rooms by claiming that women don't apply for writing jobs. Women did apply in lower numbers than men, she acknowledged, but that was partly because "the shows often rely on current (white male) writers to recommend their funny (white male) friends to be future (white male) writers." She recommended targeted outreach to talented bloggers, improv performers, and stand-ups.
Spinning off her piece, the New York Times reported that three of the top late-night television shows -- The Jay Leno Show, Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien -- had no female writers (a fact which Scovell initially mentioned in her essay), in spite of the fact that women make a larger proportion of late-night audiences than men. The Times interviewed comedy writer Merrill Markoe, who mentioned an "odd shift toward more boys' humor in the '90s" that might have kept women from landing late-night jobs. Scovell tried to change comedy's gender disparity by encouraging women to apply for jobs and matching them with executives and head writers. When Jimmy Kimmel began his show on ABC, she wrote a letter to ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney about the need for more women in late night. She was contacted by Molly McNearney, the head writer for the show, and passed along the names of two writers -- Bess Kalb and Joelle Boucai -- who were hired.
In 2019, Scovell wrote a followup article for Vanity Fair about how she had met with Letterman to discuss the original piece, which he admitted he had not read but that Scovell "assigned" to him for the later meeting "as homework." Scovell indicates Letterman was contrite, quoting him as saying "I'm sorry I was that way and I was happy to have read the piece because it wasn't angering. I felt horrible because who wants to be the guy that makes people unhappy to work where they're working?" She also indicated that since 2009 "the number of female writers and writers of color in late night has improved, in part because you can't go lower than zero," citing Full Frontal with Samantha Bee as the only late night show that had "gender parity" in the writers' room. She summarizes her discussion with Letterman with the observation "We need more dialogue so men can understand the difference between criticism and condemnation. And we need more dialogue so women can voice discomfort without fear of retaliation." 
In 2018, Scovell's bookJust the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys' Club was published with a foreword by Sheryl Sandberg.