Interview With Nancylee Myatt

AE: Well that brings me to South of Nowhere. It obviously resonated with lesbian fans of all ages. I think when you look back in gay/lesbian TV history, it’s going to be a real turning point. South told a story so effectively that it really struck a nerve and sort of opened the floodgates, in a way, for some other things to happen.
NM:
Especially in terms of it being the lead story on a show. There are some that have gone before South that had used gay and lesbian relationships during sweeps, or maybe for a tragedy moment in a drama.

AE: Yeah, lesbian sweeps week.
NM:
But we have to start with Tommy Lynch [creator of South of Nowhere]. What’s really interesting is — talk about writing what you know — Tommy didn’t know this. This isn’t his experience. He’s an Irish Catholic guy, married to his high-school sweetheart, who raised four boys.

They shot this pilot presentation, and I think they had always intended for there to be more of a balance of the three kids’ stories. They were trying to say it was a story about identity, but the fans were not going to not let that happen.

South of Nowhere cast members (left to right)
Mandy Musgrave and Gabrielle Christian with Myatt


AE: The fans sort of shoved the other stories aside.
NM:
It’s true. … It’s really true. It was a curse and a blessing for The N. … They were like, "Whoa — wait a minute — but this wasn’t really what we had planned to do." But the controversy was getting them noticed, and Tommy said, "I know how to write a family, and I know how to write these other dynamics, but this isn’t my experience."

And that is why I got hired. He had seen Nikki and Nora, which I like to say is the most-watched pilot never on the air.

AE: It’s on YouTube. You can find anything on YouTube.
NM:
Yeah, I know … [laughs]. That’s why I got hired. I had run shows before that had strong female voices, and I’d written a lot of teen television. It was just a good fit.

AE: So you were brought in after the pilot was already produced?
NM:
I was [brought in] after the show was picked up and going to series. They were looking for someone to run the show, and that’s when I got hired.

AE: You wore many hats on South of Nowhere, didn’t you? What’s that like to be responsible for so many things?
NM:
It’s kind of what you do; that’s the job. The only difference for me with that production is that normally you have a little more money and you get other people to help you, like a writing staff. I had great support, don’t get me wrong, I just didn’t have the amount of bodies.

AE: You do more with less?
NM:
That’s right. In a way it was great because I found a great core group of writers who essentially became my faux staff, because I wasn’t paying them as a staff. They were freelance writers, but they were so committed to the show, and we made the experience really good for them and they were very loyal.

For the first season, nobody really knew what we had. We were working in a kind of vacuum, shooting in Whittier [near Los Angeles]. It was the honeymoon period, and we got to find our way. The shows were looking really interesting, but nobody had seen them yet.

AE: Don’t you think it made the show more powerful because it was sort of created in a vacuum?
NM:
The network was a little gun-shy. Before the show ever got launched, there had been some attacks from the Christian right. They do just what we do: They sit on the web all day long, and they Google in the names of people that are on their list, like me — I’ve been on their list for a long time.

The first time I got some attention from the right wing was when I was working for Norman [Lear, producer of All in the Family] and he said, "Welcome to the club." And he said, "If they are hating you, they’re watching you."

Myatt and Norman Lear

AE: Really a badge of honor.
NM:
Yes. So when they found out I was hired, and they found out what the show was about, there were letters to the network and letters to Tommy Lynch, and they panicked. God bless ‘em, they just panicked. … It was [like]: "Uh-oh, is this what it’s going to be? And is it your fault?" Just me being there — literally, we had not shot a single script before this happened.

There was an interesting couple of weeks there where finally I said: "You know what, I didn’t create the show; I’m not telling my story. If this is the show you’re going to put on, then you have to respond appropriately, which is [that] we are telling the truth about a specific story." And the best spokesperson you could ever have to the Christian right about the show is Tommy Lynch, because he has no agenda.

So I took a gigantic step back, and I didn’t do any press the whole first year. I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was too busy working anyway, but he was great. How were they going to go after this Irish Catholic guy who’s been married forever and raised these four boys and doesn’t have any gay children, [and] is not gay himself? He’s just saying, "I’m just telling stories about teenagers."

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