Nell Scovell

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Nell Scovell
Helen Vivian Scovell[1]

(1960-11-08) November 8, 1960 (age 58)
Alma materHarvard University
OccupationJournalist, writer, producer
Years active1986–present
Thomas Jonah Tisch
(m. 1985; div. 1986)

Colin Summers
(m. 1993)

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.

Early life and education[edit]

Nell Scovell, the middle of five children, grew up outside of Newton, Massachusetts.[2][3] Her father, Melvin E. Scovell, is chairman of the board of Scovell & Schwager, a health-care management company in Boston.[1] 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.[2] 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.[2] Tina Brown recruited her to work at Vanity Fair, contributing quirky visual features about money and culture. Scovell later ran into an old Spy editor, who recommended she write for television.[2]

Scovell wrote a spec script for It's Garry Shandling's Show, which they bought, and after serving as story editor for the final season of Newhart, she worked on Late Night with David Letterman.[2]

As a television writer, Scovell wrote the season two episode of The Simpsons, "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish". She was one of the first few women to write an episode of The Simpsons.[4] 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".

Scovell has directed two made-for-television movies: Hayley Wagner, Star for Showtime, and It Was One of Us for Lifetime.

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.

Letterman and gender inequality in comedy[edit]

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,[5] she published an essay in Vanity Fair calling his show a "hostile work environment" for women.[6] She noted that Letterman's shows had hired only seven female writers in 27 years. While male writers had spent a combined total of 378 years on staff, women had racked up only 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[7] 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.[8]


Scovell co-wrote Sheryl Sandberg's 2013 book Lean In.[9]

In 2018, Scovell's book[10] Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking into the Hollywood Boys’ Club was published with a foreword by Sheryl Sandberg.

Personal life[edit]

Briefly married to Tom Tisch,[1] Scovell is currently married to Colin Summers, an architect. They have two sons.[11]

Comedian/magician Penn Jillette called her "one of the funniest people alive" in an interview with The A.V. Club.[12]


  1. ^ a b c "Nell Scovell, Writer, Marries Thomas Jonah Tisch". The New York Times. June 17, 1985. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e Bennett, Laura (December 4, 2013). "From Vanity Fair to Letterman to Lean In: The Long, Strange Journey of Nell Scovell". New York Magazine. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  3. ^ Le, D. Dona (November 2013). "Nell Scovell '82". Harvardwood. Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  4. ^ "From Vanity Fair to Letterman to Lean In: The Long, Strange Journey of Nell Scovell". Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  5. ^ News, A. B. C. (2 October 2009). "'Terrible Things': Letterman Confesses to Sex With Staffers; Target of Extortionist". ABC News. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  6. ^ a b Scovell, Nell. "Letterman and Me". Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  7. ^ a b Carter, Bill (11 November 2009). "Among Late-Night Writers, Few Women in the Room". Retrieved 11 April 2018 – via
  8. ^ Zinoman, Jason (7 March 2018). "Nell Scovell Speaks Truth to the Funny Men in Power". Retrieved 11 April 2018 – via
  9. ^ "Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' offers a feminist view from the top".
  10. ^ "Nell Scovell—Just the Funny Parts".
  11. ^ "The Long, Strange Journey of Nell Scovell". New York Magazine. December 4, 2013. Retrieved December 9, 2016.
  12. ^ "Interview, Penn and Teller Part 2".

External links[edit]