Prof. Sheryl Anderson Reflects on Her Netflix Hit “Sweet Magnolias”
October 23, 2020 | By Clare Schmidt
Sheryl J. Anderson, a visiting screenwriting professor at JPCatholic, is an executive producer of the popular Netflix original series Sweet Magnolias. Days after its release this May, the series reached the #1 spot on the platform’s “Top 10 in the USA” list, where it remained for several days. It was recently renewed for a second season. The romantic drama series is based on the Sweet Magnolias novels by Sherryl Woods, and centers on three women, lifelong friends, who support each other as they juggle relationships, family, and careers in a small South Carolina town.
In addition to being a published author herself, Anderson has been working in the television industry for over twenty years on series such as Charmed, Flash Gordon, and Ties That Bind. “To do what you’ve been gifted to do as a living is a great blessing,” she shared.
As showrunner for Sweet Magnolias, she is central to the series’ creation both as the head writer and as an executive producer on set. “I had fabulous, amazing department heads,” she said. “I believe in creating space behind the camera and in front of the camera where everyone feels safe, respected, and heard, because it allows people to dig down deep and do their best work.”
As a Lutheran, Anderson finds her faith important to both the stories she tells and her role as showrunner. “I want people to find joy in using their talents… I was very fortunate, there were a lot of people of faith on the show. It was really important to me that everybody on the show have the opportunity to give back by using their talents, to His glory, and to support their fellow artists.”
As the show continues to find new fans, Anderson hopes viewers are inspired to seek community, and to define it more broadly. “If people watch our show, and think, ‘I should reach out to my neighbor and love my neighbor, that I should be the kind of friend that people come to in sorrow and in joy, and that I should celebrate others more than I need them to celebrate me’...those are all concepts that we’ve built into the series, and I’d love for people to embrace those as they watch, and carry them past viewing.”
Previously, Anderson designed and taught a course at JPCatholic called “Writing in the Writer’s Room,” an immersive opportunity which sought to replicate the experience of a television writer’s room; students collaborated to develop an episode under the guidance of Prof. Anderson, who served as showrunner. The course took place over three 10-hour sessions to approximate the typical workday of a television writer.
For students who wish to pursue a career in television writing, she offers this advice: “Be patient and persistent. This is not a quick road, it’s not a smooth road, but if it’s what you believe you’ve been called to do, gear up for the journey. Learn as much as you can. Be open to what people are trying to teach you, and find joy on every step along the way.”