Did you ever wonder how important a writers’ room is for the success of a TV series? Well, it was everything in the case of Showtime’s smash hit new drama series “Yellowjackets.” So says Ashley Lyle — who created, wrote and executive produced the show with her husband Bart Nickerson — during a recent Variety Zoom chat. “I think there was a really strong awareness on all of our parts that we this really unique opportunity with this show. We were creating something entirely new from scratch.”
“Yellowjackets,” which premiered last fall to strong reviews, revolves around the members of a girls’ 1996 high school soccer team who are forced to survive 19 months in the wilderness after their plane crashes. The series, a tasty, scary and often bloody cross between “Lord of the Flies” and “Mean Girls,” focuses on the teenagers as well as the troubled women they have become in 2021.
The series was renewed for a second season in December and became Showtime’s second-most streamed series behind the “Dexter” reboot. The show, which stars Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, Tawney Cypress and Juliette Lewis as the survivors and Sophie Nelisse, Sammi Hanratty, Sophie Thatcher and Jasmine Savoy Brown as their 1996 counterparts, is nominated for two WGA Awards, as well as two Critics Choice Awards.
“Yellowjackets” may be described as psychological thriller, but it’s really a seamless blend of genres including comedy, horror, coming-of-age and character drama. “To some extent [the writers’ room] decided I think as a group to swing for the fences,” said Lyle. “We would sometimes say ‘If we’re going to go down, we’re go down swinging.”’
That fearless attitude of Lyle, Nickerson and the rest of the scribes allowed them to make a show for themselves. “As a collective group of writers, we were just leaning into the type of story that entertains us most and what we want to see on television,” said Lyle. “We were very lucky that we had really supportive creative partners in the network and they kind of let us do our thing.”
One of the most important parts of the writers’ room is the beginning stage when they are mapping out the entire season. “Because until you know where you’re going, it’s really difficult to break individual episodes,” noted Lyle “So, there were these touch points, sort of tent pole moments. It was really paying close attention to the stories that we were building and making sure we weren’t dropping any balls and trying to get to the places we wanted to take our characters are authentically as possible and as weirdly as possible. Our north star was let’s get weird.’
Executive producer Jonathan Lisco noted that good television can happen even if the production is dysfunctional, “but I don’t think it’s a rule. I think it’s an exception. I think it’s much more likely when you have a room in which, this is a cliché, you say ‘this is a safe place. Pitch your bad ideas. You have to really mean it and your collaborators have to trust you. And then they do. It’s a really vivid, rewarding experience.”
Lyle added that it was also really important to treat these characters “these teenage girls as though their stories were really important There’s this temptation to categorize the stories of young women as YA or as a sort of niche. That wasn’t the way we wanted to approach these characters and stories. We saw it as being a 360-degree tale of these women and who they were and who they are.”
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