Lindsey Shockley: Emmy-Nominated Writer and Producer
Lindsey Shockley is a two-time Emmy nominated writer who began her TV writing career in 2009 on NBC's Perfect Couples. She went on to write for Fox's Ben and Kate, HBO's Hello Ladies, ABC's Trophy Wife, and USA's Benched.
In 2014, Shockley inked her first overall deal with ABC Studios to develop new projects and serve as a writer/producer on Blackish. She currently serves as a Co-Executive Producer on the show's fourth season. In 2017, ABC picked up and shot Shockley’s original pilot, Unit Zero, a one-hour action comedy, starring Toni Collette. Shockley penned the script as well as executive produced the pilot alongside Kenya Barris (creator/EP, Blackish). She is the winner of three NAACP Image Awards, a Peabody Award, an AFI Award, and has been nominated twice for the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for her work on Blackish.
Make Muse: Tell us a little about your background: Your age, where you’re from, where you went to school, when you moved to Los Angeles, and your role as a television writer on Blackish.
Lindsey: I’m from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I went to college at the University of Pennsylvania and got my B.A. in Communications. I went to graduate school at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts and got my M.F.A. in Production. I moved to LA in 2003, to attend grad school at USC. I have been writing professionally for TV for 9 years. For the past 4 years, I’ve been a writer/producer on Blackish. I have been a writer/producer since Season 1 and now in Season 4, I am currently a Co-Executive Producer. Blackish has 16 writers and we are a very diverse group, both in terms of race and gender. I am so proud to be a part of writing and producing 96 episodes of Blackish. So close to 100 episodes! I can hardly believe it. I also have an Overall Deal with ABC Studios where I work full-time on Blackish as well as develop original content for them. ….And I’d rather not say my age since there’s a lot of age-ism in TV writing… especially in comedy writing… and especially for women! Ha!
Make Muse: What other shows or movies (or plays?) have you written for?
Lindsey: I also have written for HBO’s Hello Ladies, Fox’s Ben and Kate, ABC’s Trophy Wife, NBC’s Perfect Couples, ABC’s Work It, and USA’s Benched. And last year, I wrote and produced an original pilot for ABC, Unit Zero. It did not go to series, but it was a life-changing opportunity just getting to shoot the pilot and work with such talented artists.
Make Muse: How did you get your start as a writer?
Lindsey: I got my start by being a writers’ assistant on a CBS show called Welcome to the Captain. After that, I was a writers’ assistant for 4 years on 5 different shows. It was an incredible learning experience getting to sit in writers’ rooms and see how TV story-breaking actually works, and also taking mental notes on bad behavior and realizing ‘what NOT to do’ – that last one may have helped me most of all! The other way I ‘got my start’ was through improv comedy. I started doing improv in high school and when I got to LA, I took classes at UCB, and later formed a team, The Cabinet, which performed around town. All the years I was working as an assistant, I was also performing as an improviser and the skills I learned as a improviser are skills I use every day as a comedy writer. Have you always wanted to work in TV? Yes. Growing up, I was glued to my TV and obsessed with The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Friends, Freaks and Geeks, and The Office. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was “studying” TV before I even knew TV writing was an actual job!
Make Muse: What do you love about being a producer?
Lindsey: There’s so much to love about TV producing that honestly every day I pinch myself because it feels “too fun to be true.” This is partly because I have ‘imposter syndrome,’ but I digress -- The best part about being a producer is that you get to be involved in every step of the process. You shepherd an idea from a personal anecdote someone told in the writers room to shaping the story into 3 act breaks. Then, you pitch jokes to punch up the script and get it ready for the table read. Table reads are the most fun days of the week because that’s the first time you get to hear the actors perform the words out loud. The table read never lies – you will always know what works and what doesn’t! Then, once an episode is polished, you get 5 days to be on stage and shoot it. In that week, you collaborate with the director, DP, and all the departments and help make decisions on props, wardrobe, etc. And once you wrap, you work with the editor to get it ready for the air date. Sometimes an idea can go from a personal anecdote to the airwaves in as little as 8 weeks. What do you hate about it? The biggest challenge of being a producer is walking the tightrope between art and commerce. You have to figure out how to tell the best story possible while also staying on budget.
Make Muse: Can you tell us a story about any time in your career where you noticed your gender either hindering your ability to succeed, or helping (or both).
Lindsey: Hmm, I’m not sure I would say my gender has ‘hindered’ my career, but I will admit: it was really scary finding out I was pregnant when I first got my job on Blackish. I had no idea how my bosses and co-workers were going to react so I hid my pregnancy as long as I possibly could! I wore A LOT of oversized blazers and walked around looking Paula Poundstone circa 1990. I would even ‘casually’ hold my scripts in front of my growing belly just like women hold boxes or potted plants to hide their pregnancy on TV. I was basically a walking sitcom. (And lucky for me, it all worked out and I wasn’t banished from comedy forever like I feared I might be.)
One way I think being a woman has helped me in my career is that women constantly have to make themselves malleable and accommodating to others and that’s a fantastic skill to have in a writers room!
Make Muse: What is your dream creative project to work on?
Lindsey: I am currently working on my total dream job. Blackish is a show that is not only funny, but it’s about something real, and important, and it celebrates people who are not always ‘seen’. It also brings joy while sneaking in a healthy dose of social and political commentary. I feel so blessed to be a part of something making a positive impact on the world.
Make Muse: You’re a working mom, and you’ve been able to write some amazing scenes for Bow in Blackish (who is also a working mom.) Do you draw from your own experiences for situations like this?
Lindsey: Yes! One hundred percent! We have never done an episode that didn’t come from someone’s real life experience. For example, the episode Executive Producer Corey Nickerson wrote this year, “Mother Nature”, about Bow going through Postpartum Depression, was drawn from her experience, my experience, and other writers in the room who had gone through Postpartum Depression. Also this Season, I wrote an episode, “Working Girl,” which dealt with Bow feeling guilty about going back to work and realizing that she can “do it all”, but she doesn’t have to “do it all at once.” This storyline was heavily debated in the room as all of the writers have had a very different journey of finding our own work/life balance.
Make Muse: Are there other working moms on the writing/producing team who help to feed details and story lines for this?
Lindsey: Yes, every woman writing on the show is a mom - there are 7 of us! And when we disagree on a topic that’s when we know it’s juicy enough for an episode! For example, we got into a fierce debate over a storyline for Bow about making a plate of food for Dre and whether that’s a sign of love or subservience. We get into it! We pull no punches! But it’s a safe space where we can all be ourselves. I think that’s why the show is so special because it’s not a writers room about ‘sameness’ it’s a room that celebrates ‘difference.’
Make Muse: Talk a little about being a mom. How has this shaped or changed you in your career. Are you a different writer/producer because of it?
Lindsey: Honesty alert: being a mom makes your life as a writer super complicated! Being a mom in comedy is not something that is celebrated. It’s generally looked at as baggage. There is a huge misconception that working moms are frazzled and can’t handle stress. But I’ve found working moms are more efficient because they are better at time management. In terms of how being a mom has shaped me as a writer: it’s given me a wealth of life experiences and a whole lot of humiliation and failure to mine for comedy.
Make Muse: Tell us about being a woman in a TV writers room.
Lindsey: In general, I don’t think about being a woman that often while I’m working. I usually thinking about my next joke. But I guess it’s fair to say comedy is still a bit of a boys’ club. So even though I wear a hoodie and jeans like everyone else – there’s no getting around being seen as different sometimes. But I’ve been proving myself my entire life. I have to work twice as hard to get half as far. But that just fuels me to sharpen my skills. That might also be why my nickname at Blackish is ‘The Sniper’ because I’ve been told “you never see it coming from me.” And I’ve found that you can overcome any ‘gender’ challenges if you’re funny enough. So I try to look at it as a game. I’ve walked into a ton of rooms where I’m seated across from stone-faced men who are staring at me like: ‘What are YOU even doing here?” And I say to myself: “Just wait, I’m gonna get you.” And when I get that first laugh from those stone-faces, there’s no better feeling.
Make Muse: What do you consider your greatest muse for your creative work?
Lindsey: My muse is always whatever I’m currently afraid of! And lucky for me, I’m afraid of everything -- failure, Success, Love, Loss, Happiness, Inner Peace -- it all makes me worry. So it’s a well that never runs dry! Whatever I’m struggling with in my personal life is what usually leads me to my next big idea. A lot of my comedy comes from how I deal (or don’t deal) with a crisis. So when I write, I tend to put myself in a worst case scenario to see how I will stumble, trip, and fall as I try to get myself out of it.
Make Muse: Are you writing any other projects at the moment? Tell us about them.
Lindsey: I’m in the very early stages of working on a new idea and I’m one of those superstitious people who thinks it’s ‘bad luck’ to share an idea until it’s ready. But I can say it deals with the theme of ‘having big dreams’ and how far (and ridiculous) we are willing to go for them.
Make Muse: Who are some of your favorite female artists, filmmakers, writers?
Lindsey: I am constantly inspired by the actresses on Blackish -- Tracee Ellis Ross, Jenifer Lewis, Yara Shahidi, and Marsai Martin – they have incredible comedic timing, nuanced choices, and gutsy performances! Have you been particularly inspired by any women in your chosen field? I am in awe of the work of Yvette Lee Bowser, Katie Dippold, Kay Cannon, Emily V. Gordon, Rina Mimoun, Winnie Holzman, Ilana Glazer, Abby Jacobson, Jessi Klein, and Samantha Bee… the list goes on and on. There are so many fantastic female writers with unique voices.
Make Muse How do you live a life promoting female empowerment?
Lindsey: In everything I write, I always end up making the female characters just as weird, complicated, flawed, and balls-out funny as the male characters… so hopefully that’s empowering?
Make Muse: What advice would you give to younger girls who want to pursue their creative passions?
Lindsey: My advice would be: It’s not a perfect world. Things aren’t equal for women. But don’t let that limit you. Just find a way to be yourself anyway.
Author: Beth Brandon Jensen