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Q&A with Rebecca Stay: Showrunner/Creator Sheryl J. Anderson

Updated: Nov 9, 2023

Sheryl J. Anderson is the Showrunner on the hit Netflix series, Sweet Magnolias, which is releasing season 3 this month. The streamer categorizes the beloved show as "Heartfelt, emotional, and feel good." It's the type of show we all seem to be craving these days.

Sheryl is one classy dame and I've had the good fortune to develop with her. She's all the things you hope for: collaborative, warm, smart, creative, and respectful. Below are my five favorite take-aways from a recent Q&A with her:

“Hire the best people, then get out of their way.”

I love this. The best people are most likely smarter than you in their given department and that's what you want.

When executives or producers give notes, Sheryl says, “There is often a note behind the note."

This is spot on. There's sometimes subtext to the note... Moreover, the note giver may be fearful of being too honest about what's not working. Or, they may be bumping on a certain area, but you might come to find that it's not in that exact location they're attempting to pinpoint. It could be in a scene earlier or later that's not working, but when fixed, turns out it will help massage the moment they've tagged.

On Staffing: Sheryl says, “I look at the writer as a whole, because they are going to be responsible for an entire draft.”

There was a time, especially in comedy, where you'd have different types of writers peppering the room with various strengths, i.e., one writer might be good with jokes, another's strength is with story, or some writer's are better with character. Today, you really do have to have the whole package.

When it comes to the material, she says, “You have to stand up for your work – and for yourself.”

YES! If you're adamant about keeping a storyline intact or are dead set on your character's arcs in a season (re: tv), you need to articulate why you're so passionate about keeping it as is or why you're opposed to making changes.

That said, I'd also add pick and choose your battles. This is a collaborative sport, my lovely writers. Everyone is invested in making the best possible show. If you show you are a collaborative writer, executives (both studios and networks) will want to work with you again. Wait until you have much success and then you can be more prickly about what notes you want to take and those you don't.

And possibly my favorite take-away is in regard to pitching a tv show: Sheryl says, “The goal is to have the buyer lean in because their appetite is whetted, not push back from the table because they're full and don't want anymore.”

Oh, how I'm still learning this lesson, even after all of these years! My tendency is to cover everything when in fact you want the buyers to be excited to hear more. Don't spoon feed them everything. A pitch is a tease... but I say this with the caveat that you should be prepared and confident that you know your show and can answer questions as it pertains to the overall world and character arcs... where the character conflicts will come from. And theme... why is your show relevant right now... why you and why now. That is pitching 101.

Rebecca Stay

Rebecca Stay is a veteran Development Executive and Script Consultant who is also a Dramatic Lab Westport Advisor.

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