Quinta Brunson started her career on Instagram but she always thought she wanted to do a sitcom that people could view the old-school way – by sitting down together at the appointed time to watch it.
Her ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary which she created and stars in, is that show, and it turns out Brunson was right. The ‘mockumentary’ style show about teachers doing their best to educate students in an underfunded Philadelphia elementary school while navigating their own lives, debuted in 2021. It struck a chord with viewers, scoring high ratings for ABC by its second episode.
Brunson, 33, a Philly native, won an Emmy in 2022 for writing the pilot. Veteran actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, 66, won her very first Emmy for Oustanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her work as teacher Barbara Howard on the show. The show even won a casting Emmy.
Brunson also picked up two Golden Globe wins this year – one for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical and one for Abbott Elementary as Best Comedy or Musical. And Abbott was awarded Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards. In May, the show won a Peabody Award, given to the best in TV, radio and online media.
“I just appreciate the access of network comedy,” Brunson told Deadline. “I’m even starting to get a little confused with how many streaming services are available, and I’m young and of this era, but there’s so much. I enjoy all those different streaming platforms, but it felt like ABC was a very safe place to go where people knew how to get to ABC, how to watch ABC.”
Brunson’s success has hinged on the ability to make decisions that resonate with her. In the Deadline piece, she talks about going to bat for Janelle James, a relative unknown who is only in her second role but has already scored an Emmy nod. She said she knew that James was right for the role of principal Ava Coleman, and convinced network executives who thought a more experienced actress would be best.
“And I’m like, ‘No, let’s not go against the oh wow factor. That’s what I think is going to make this show special.’ And I knew I had veteran actors who could help pull her up,” Brunson said. “I remember telling her from the beginning, ‘Girl, you’re an actress. You’re not just a standup who’s here by some whim. No. You are good at this.’ So, I think it was about asking the studio and network to really trust me with these unconventional choices.”
It may have been an unconventional move in the days of Peak Content on endless streaming sites, but trusting her instincts is what made Brunson Hollywood’s current It Girl. Abbott Elementary is a throwback sitcom that hearkens back to a time when networks dominated the TV landscape and hit cable shows on channels other than HBO were niche viewing or sports.
“I didn’t feel I could tell a cohesive story on the internet,” Brunson says. “I didn’t feel like I could really target an audience. I wanted to tell long-form stories, like Abbott, and, as we know, that’s just not what the internet is built for anymore. As a storyteller, I just had to honor the fact that that was not my ministry anymore. The internet was not my preferred platform.”
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