When Quinta Brunson’s “Abbott Elementary” first premiered on ABC in late 2021, no one could have predicted the odd position it would hold in the 2023 Emmy race. After winning three Emmys for its first 13-episode midseason just last July, the show received eight more nominations for the 22-episode second season.
But that’s not exactly what makes the ABC show unique this year. Instead, it’s like this: “Abbott Elementary” now occupies a kind of last man standing position. It’s the only television series this year to have received a nomination for a show – and its actors (Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Janelle James and Tyler James Williams) are the only actors on the television series to be credited for lead or supporting roles for comedy, Drama or Limited Series were nominated.
Can Quinta Brunson save broadcast television? More precisely: does she want to?
Brunson, who spoke to The Envelope via Zoom just hours before the SAG-AFTRA mallet struck, is certainly a traditional TV supporter. “There are shows that do an incredible job on the airwaves, especially in comedy,” she says. “You have to hit the right spot to be interesting, to capture the zeitgeist and to be a show that people want to write about and talk about and debate about. I think that’s more difficult in broadcasting. But it can be done: Abbott is proof of that.”
In less than two years, “Abbott” has become a testament to many things, including the longer-season sitcom’s stubborn survival. It’s not exactly groundbreaking in format – the mock doc format has proven successful since The Office. But the ensemble cast of “Abbott” is particularly perceptive — Brunson as Janine, the perpetual optimist of a teacher at a Philadelphia school, along with a group of fellow educators who are variously jaded, a ruthless principal, and a very knowledgeable janitor. is it funny Certain – while at the same time fearless when it comes to tackling politics and class in relation to American education.
Brunson says last season’s 22 episodes were a learning experience. They had plenty of “time and space” to vent to storytelling. It also left them room to play. “What does it look like when we have an episode that makes almost no sense?” she asks. “Because that’s what you’re going to do with so many episodes, there’s going to be some that are completely nonsensical.”
That amount of time also allowed the show to delve deeper into its “will or won’t” couple: Janine and her colleague Gregory (Williams, who was also nominated for the role last year).
“Janine and Gregory are so much fun for us because these characters are 25, 26 years old on the show,” says Brunson, 33. “I’m just over 20 and you make really stupid, weird mistakes and it’s fun to deal with them play.” . Black characters have not often had the awkwardness we experience with them in the past, so it’s exciting to write about.”
The fact that this is a well-known TV expression doesn’t bother her in the least. “I love the tropics,” says Brunson. “I think we all do, whether we know it or not. We’ve always seen and heard the same stories – and we love them. When people didn’t want to see her anymore [the industry] would have stopped at Sam and Diane. But we love it because ultimately it’s storytelling. It’s always about how to make the trope look different. They find a way to reinvent the wheel.”
Brunson was born in Philly and grew up there as the mother of a kindergarten teacher. Her pre-Abbott career was spent learning her craft and finding ways to propel herself into the Hollywood spotlight as a writer. A brief stint at Second City saw her build a following with fun videos on Instagram and Buzzfeed; She was a screenwriter and featured comedy star for YouTube Red and Verizon’s go90, then increased her visibility in 2019 by appearing on A Black Lady Sketch Show, iZombie, and Magical Girl Friendship Squad, among others.
And while she’s made a name for herself writing many of her leads, she’s also found that “I really don’t want to write everything for myself,” she says. “One of the best lessons I learned on ‘Black Lady Sketch Show’ – I didn’t write for that show, although many people believe I did – was that I love being a performer. I love being someone else’s brush, so to speak.”
Brunson’s dream résumé originally envisioned becoming a regular cast member on Saturday Night Live (and she was nominated for an Emmy this year for hosting the series), but a mentor/boss advised her against it early on and put her on the map attention of the full-time job based in New York City. Brunson wanted to be in Los Angeles.
“At the time I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll have a baby soon,’ and she was like, ‘[Then] that will not happen.’ She really explained it to me,” says Brunson (who married in 2021 but has no children). “It pushed me in a different direction.”
Family plays a role in many of their conversations. She may have named the show’s eponymous institution after her middle school English teacher, but she draws on her own education at a Philadelphia public school—and her mother’s years as a teacher—for the episode ideas.
“A lot of what I saw with my mother flows into either Janine or Barbara [Sheryl Lee Ralph, who won an Emmy for the role in 2022],” she says. “I can’t even list all the ways we took it.”
And when discussing what makes them laugh, family connections surface again: Brunson loves “America’s Funniest Home Videos” because “I love watching family dynamics and how people interact.” That’s where Abbott’s came from. “
If you ask her about her favorite movies outside of comedy, the list is simple: Crooklyn, The Truman Show, and… Jurassic Park, which she saw at the cinema when she was 3 years old. Why? “My brother – he’s eight years older than me – took me to babysit and he decided he was going to see this movie,” she recalls. “He was obsessed with dinosaurs. As I got older it was a way for me to connect with him. It’s my earliest memory.”
While Brunson’s inspiration comes from family, she’s not afraid to direct the humor at herself. “Abbott” regularly jokes about her short stature, and she’s 100% okay with that.
She notes that her small size “could have hindered” her career. “But then it was convenient to write for myself or to present myself,” she says. “There aren’t many other 1.6 meter tall actresses out there. It feels just like me and Kristin Chenoweth. When you’re little like me, you’re not necessarily seen as a leading man or even attractive — which is crazy.”
But no matter how many jokes they crack, it’s safe to assume Brunson is larger than life. She laughs: “People still don’t realize how small I really am. They think the rest of the cast are giants and I’m about 5’7 or something. But I love short jokes. You make me laugh.”