A Woman’s Wit and Wisdom: How Rachel Shukert Made it as a Hollywood WriterApr 29, 2021 03:48PM ● By Katrina Markel
The redevelopment of Jobbers Canyon in 1980s Omaha was nearly a subplot in the award-winning Netflix series GLOW. If only COVID-19 had not stopped production on the fourth season.
Thanks to Rachel Shukert, a writer on the show and 1998 graduate of Central High School, the series already contained mentions of the city. One principal character named Ruth was from Omaha. She talks of her familiarity with good steak and about performing at the Blue Barn Theatre—not actually around in the '80s, but “worth it,” according to Rachel.
Rachel was friends with show creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch before they interviewed her for the writing gig. Rachel was not the person who decided Ruth was from Omaha.
“I do think they may have had it in their head like ‘Oh, we have a friend from Omaha. That’s a funny place for someone to be from,’” Rachel said. “I went in and I sat down with them...I was like, ‘Look, you will probably meet with people who are as good of, or better, writers than I am. But I guarantee you will not meet with anybody who has deeper knowledge of the 1980s Omaha community theater scene than I do.’”
Rachel dissolved into laughter telling that story. She laughs easily and often.
“Rachel was always funny. She was always witty. She always had a crazy memory that she could recall any line or lyric or story or weird fact,” said Ariel Shukert, her younger sister who is a vice president creative director at RPA, a Los Angeles ad agency.
The Shukert girls both performed in Omaha theater growing up, but Ariel said it was a bigger passion for her older sister. Their dad, Marty Shukert, is a former Omaha planning director and architect. Their mom, Dr. Aveva Shukert, is a clinical psychologist. The sisters said their parents encouraged artistic and cultural pursuits without being “stage parents.”
“They were very good about encouraging interests. It would be like, ‘Oh, you’re interested in this. Here we bought you all these [books of] plays for your birthday.’ That kind of thing,” Rachel said.
She first honed her storytelling skills performing in theater throughout the metro area. Rachel said a moment that always stuck with her took place backstage at the Emmy Gifford Children’s Theatre (later The Rose).
Rachel, 9, was in a play with Jon Jackson, a well-known local actor and casting director who also worked in Hollywood.
“It was very dark and there was just, like, a ghost light on. And Jon was sitting on this stool and all these kids were kind of sitting in a circle around him and he was talking about women being in the theater and in entertainment. He was like, ‘You know, where we really, really need women...people need to be behind the camera,’” said Rachel, remembering Jackson with his lanky frame and sharp features, backlit like some sort of oracle. “…[A]nd he was dressed as Mother Goose at the time.”
Rachel went on to study theater at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and gradually realized that her destiny was as a writer rather than as an actor.
“I remember the first time I saw one of my plays done and I wasn’t in it and I was—it was completely revelatory. The woman who was playing the part that I would have played was just so much better than I would have been, or just different,” Rachel said. “And the idea that I could write something, that somebody else could find something that I didn’t think of, was just like, so exciting to me.”
To make money, she wrote blogs and personal essays. Rachel had two memoirs published while she was still living in New York and the second production, Everything is Going to be Great, got enough attention that she took some meetings in Hollywood. She realized that she felt at home in that world.
“It was pretty cool to go into a couple of Barnes & Nobles and see her book on the shelf,” Ariel said. “That’s a big deal.”
In 2013, Rachel and her husband, Ben Abramowitz, who is not in the entertainment industry, moved to LA. Within six months, she’d landed on the writing staff of the short-lived series The Red Band Society. She followed that with a year on Supergirl and then GLOW happened—it was her dream job.
“It was a bummer that we kinda don’t get to finish it because of COVID,” she said.
Rachel wasn’t sure who on the writing staff originally thought Jobbers Canyon should be in the fourth season, but she does think it’s hilarious that writers wouldn’t believe that she had inside knowledge of the ’80s controversy. Her dad, Marty was the city planner at the time.
“Then I got my dad on the phone and they realized they were talking with the person who was actually there when it all happened,” said Rachel, laughing. “I was like, I told you. It’s not bullshit.”
In between the third and (now-cancelled) fourth seasons of GLOW, Rachel started working as the showrunner and creator on the acclaimed Netflix series, The Babysitter’s Club. Her job is to oversee nearly every aspect of production. She literally runs the show.
The opportunity was presented to her only three months after giving birth to her son, Theo, who will turn 4 this summer. She was back to work on GLOW with a new baby at home and not sleeping a whole lot. Rachel said she completely forgot about a phone interview where she was expected to pitch her vision for The Babysitter’s Club— and it was a job she dearly wanted, having loved the books as a preteen.
Sitting in a tiny closet on the GLOW set that she normally used to pump breast milk for her infant, she winged it.
“I had not had this experience very often where you just feel like something else has taken over creatively, but that happened on the phone call,” Rachel said. “I remembered every detail of the books...it was just there, kind of in my hard drive.”
“Rachel’s brain is pretty incredible,” said Ariel. “You wouldn’t necessarily think a GLOW writer would then have The Babysitter’s Club. They’re quite different.”
Ariel said that in LA she realized how many people have a foot in the door in the entertainment industry simply because they grew up there. Coming from Omaha, neither she nor her sister had the advantage of being second or third generation showbiz people.
“We don’t have any connections or any special treatment in Hollywood whatsoever, and she kept grinding, and was very talented, and kept putting her head down, and she did it, which is super cool,” Ariel said.
“I feel very privileged to get to do what I do and, you know, it’s cool to come from, kind of outside of the coasts...and it feels cool to bring like a different perspective to things sometimes,” Rachel said.
GLOW might be over, but here’s hoping she’ll find another outlet for jokes about her hometown.
She laughed again.“There’s not enough Westroads in pop culture,” she said.
Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachelShukert.
This article originally appeared in the May issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.