Nine years ago, in 2009, Nell Scovell wrote an excoriating takedown of the lack of women writers in late night, particularly on the shows helmed by David Letterman.
This week on his Netflix series, David Letterman finally responded to the controversy saying, he feels bad about it.
But even after 9 years — he still doesn’t get it.
You may remember that back then David Letterman made headlines because of an attempt to blackmail him over affairs he had with staffers. Letterman admitted freely to having those affairs, and Hollywood rushed to be supportive. And when show EP Rob Burnett put out a statement that the work environment on Letterman’s shows was entirely merit-based, former “Late Night” writer Nell Scovell felt compelled to speak up about the sexism and gender inequity she experienced. She wrote an article for Vanity Fair. Among other accusations, she pointed at that both Letterman’s Late Night and Late Shows combined had only hired seven female writers, to over 100 men.
Letterman, himself, never addressed her allegations, until now.
On his Netflix interview series “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction,” Letterman was speaking with guest Tina Fey about her career, when he brought up the topic of Women in Comedy.
“When I had a television show…people would always say to me, ‘Well, why don’t you have women writers, ” he told Fey. “And the best I could come up was, ‘I don’t know.” According to Dave, there was never any specific policy in place against hiring women to write for his shows, but he said it never occurred to him that women would want to write for his show. Let’s consider that. It never occurred to him that women would want to write for a popular late-night show that could have helped launch their careers. What!?
It gets worse.
“I always thought, well jeez, if I was a woman I’m not sure if I would want to write on my little nickel-and-dime, dog-and-pony show anyway, because we were on at 12:30,” he said.
Which is worse? Not allowing women to write for your show, or never even considering that women might have wanted to write for your groundbreaking comedy show?
That “nickel and dime, dog and pony show” was one of the most desirable jobs in comedy, and presumably, it occurred to Letterman that men would want to work on his show, so why wouldn’t women? When Scovell first applied for the job in 1988, it was her dream job and when she got the call to come to New York, she left a much higher paying prime time gig to take it. Steve O’Donnell, Chris Elliot, Spike Feresten, Adam Resnick and Jim Downey all wrote for Late Night and have had long careers. Many of the men who wrote for Late Night would later describe it as a dream job, or the best job of their life. So Letterman’s attempt at a comedic deflection came across as missing the point.
“Yeah, we do want to write on it,” Fey obviously responded to Dave’s point. The crowd agreed, with loud applause.
“That is my ignorance,” Letterman said, adding “and I feel bad for that.”
Dave, you still don’t get it. And maybe you just don’t care.