Former Female Staffer Alleges Sexism at 'Letterman' Office
It's common knowledge that the comedy writing business is still a boys' club, but a woman's uphill climb in the writers' room is more steep than you might realize. A new article in Vanity Fair, written by former 'Letterman' staffer Nell Scovell, points out: "At this moment, there are more females serving on the United States Supreme Court than there are writing for 'Late Show with David Letterman,' 'The Jay Leno Show,' and 'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.' Out of the 50 or so comedy writers working on these programs, exactly zero are women."
Though many have dismissed Letterman's conduct - namely, his admitted workplace affair with another former staffer - to be largely harmless on a professional level, Scovell remembers a sexually-charged environment further marred by discrimination and demeaning situations.
Scovell writes, "Was I aware of rumors that Dave was having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Was I aware that other high-level male employees were having sexual relationships with female staffers? Yes. Did these female staffers have access to information and wield power disproportionate to their job titles? Yes. ... Did I believe these female staffers were benefiting professionally from their personal relationships? Yes. Did that make me feel demeaned? Completely. Did I say anything at the time? Sadly, no."
Scovell was the second female hired to write for David Letterman in his tenure as a late-night talk show host. The writer points out that, as of today, Letterman has employed only seven women in 27 years on the air - Scovell compares the 17 cumulative years of Letterman's female writing staff to a collective 378 years men have spent writing jokes for Dave.
Why speak up now, nearly two decades after leaving the show for pastures with fewer sexual politics? "People who have no knowledge of the situation are voicing opinions, so why not me?" Scovell writes.
She adds, "Letterman himself opened this up to a public discussion ... I'd like to pivot the discussion away from the bedroom and toward the writers' room, because it pains me that almost 20 years later, the situation for female writers in late-night-TV hasn't improved."
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