A writers’ room is a place where you need to feel safe — safe to throw out your most off the wall ideas, or reveal some past heartache you think could relate to a character’s struggles. To get the best ideas and best work out of the team, it needs to be a place where everyone can be their most vulnerable, at least that’s the kind of environment Wynonna Earp writer Shelley Scarrow has seen produce her best work. Currently writing on Season 4 of Wynonna, she has also written on shows such as Lost Girl and Being Erica.
Scarrow shared her experience writing in different rooms across Canadian television as part of our Women Behind Canadian TV series, and discusses how that ability to show vulnerability needs to extend from writing rooms into more female characters on screen. She talks about the challenge of writing for kids that she faced on shows like Ride, Degrassi: The Next Generation and Mysticons, and why it produces some of the best writing out there. As with the rest of our series, we asked Scarrow for her thoughts on diversity in the industry, and while there’s many improvements to be seen, there’s still more work to be done.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The TV Junkies: Can you first just share a little bit about your background and how you got into television writing?
Shelley Scarrow: I have always been a words and stories person, but coming from a more blue-collar background, I didn’t consider writing as a “proper job” and so my career path was kind of curvy. I worked in theatre first, where I was a Development Assistant at a large-ish Broadway producer. That’s where I really saw and fell in love with the writing process for the first time. After that company crashed and burned, I found that there was more work in television and my development résumé led to a ‘D-Girl’ job with a producer. But I felt more and more like I wanted to be the person writing the thing instead of reading and giving notes on the thing. It was a nagging feeling that wouldn’t go away, so I went into my boss (Linda Schuyler) and tried to quit. She didn’t want to let me go and asked me what I wanted to do instead. Having just worked on the development of the Degrassi reboot, I blurted out that I wanted to write for it. So she gave me that first shot and I’ll always be grateful.
TTVJ: You’ve worked on many shows (Lost Girl, Degrassi, Being Erica) that were quite popular in Canadian TV and you’ve worked in many different genres. What’s been the general makeup of the writings rooms over the course of your career?
SS: It’s been mainly small rooms, because – Canada — and budgets. I think the biggest room I’ve worked in has been maybe eight people, and the smallest was three (for an 18-episode season of TV!) Looking back over the eighteen years I’ve been doing this, there have been increasingly larger ratios of women-to-men in the rooms.