Former Letterman Writer Explains How a ‘Hostile Work Environment’ Drove Her to Quit Her Dream Job

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It's been a few weeks since David Letterman last referenced the workplace sex scandal/extortion attempt that's been dominating the conversation about late-night television for the entire month of October. The show went on a scheduled, weeklong hiatus last week, and one would have to assume that Dave and the rest of his staffers hoped that being out of sight for that time would also help keep his embarrassing revelations out of mind. Well, hate to break it to you, Dave, but that does not seem to be the case. Hot on the heels of New York's insider account of the days immediately following his extortion crisis comes Vanity Fair's first-person account from a prominent television writer named Nell Scovell of what it was like to work as a member of Letterman's writing staff. Scovell, who went on to create Sabrina, the Teenage Witch after her short time on the program, is one of only seven women who have ever been hired as a Late Show or Late Night writer. And, to hear her tell it, the environment behind the scenes of Late Night with David Letterman — this was before he left NBC for the warm embrace of CBS — was not only sexually charged, but also quite hostile to women.

Scovell had been working as a writer on shows like Newhart and The Simpsons when she was hired to be a Late Night writer in 1990. By her own admission, she only lasted five months or so on the job before resigning owing to the stressful and unfair workplace conditions. What follows is her explanation of some of the things that made her leave a position she describes as her "dream job":


Without naming names or digging up decades-old dirt, let’s address the pertinent questions. Did Dave hit on me? No. Did he pay me enough extra attention that it was noted by another writer? Yes. 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 that create a hostile work environment? 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 then goes to great lengths to convince the reader (and perhaps herself) that she doesn't hold any grudges against Dave; she explicitly states that she "doesn't want Dave to go down." As she explains, her real agenda in penning this piece is to shed light on some of the unfair hiring practices of the three most popular nighttime talk shows (The Jay Leno Show, the Tonight Show, and the Late Show); in her opening paragraph, she points out that there are more women on the Supreme Court than there are female writers on these three shows. However, it is important to note that she conveniently neglects to mention that Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon, and Jimmy Kimmel all employ female writers on their staffs, but our intention here is not to call out Scovell for ignoring some relevant facts so she could shape her piece to suit her end goals (after all, we do that very same thing in just about every post that we write here on Vulture). After all, we certainly concur with her broader thesis that these shows would likely benefit if they were to break up their respective Old Boys' Clubs.

That said, now that Scovell has come out with her account of her difficult time working there, we're very interested to see if another party will go to the media with their impression of Scovell's time on the show. Scovell may claim that she does not hold a grudge against Letterman, but if word of this piece ever makes its way back to Dave, we're not necessarily sure that he'll feel the same way.

Letterman and Me [VF]