Quinta Brunson has earned three Emmy Award nominations for Abbott Elementary School – one is an executive producer of the show, one is a scriptwriter for the pilot program, and one is for her lead performance as Janine, an idealistic and ambitious young teacher at a school. Philadelphia Elementary School. The ABC sitcom is the only network show to earn a series nomination — the series also earned a nod from supporting actors Janelle James, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Tyler James Williams — and was a breakout success this season. thanks to its sharp humor and lovable cast. Brunson talked to CHEAP about how she developed comedy at work, how she always conceived of it as a web series, and how she incorporated real-life themes into the show’s plot.
From the start, did you feel that your show would be nominated for these Emmys?
Not really – I just feel that Abbott good. I remember a show I gave… I think, this is a show that will probably find its place a little in the first and second seasons, and then it will know what it is in season two. father. But Abbott, from the very beginning, feel so fully formed. And when we started filming it, I started to think we had something unique.
Do you remember what that moment was?
We are editing the first episode [after the pilot]. I watched the director’s cut and said, “Wow.” Sometimes a first cut can be terrifying. But with this, the jokes hit the mark, the cast is unbelievable. I started thinking, “Oh boy. I think we might have something quite promising here.”
Your mother is a teacher. How did her career inspire this show?
I grew up with my mother who was a teacher for many years. I go to the school where she teaches, so I spend a lot of time with her in the morning and after school – just completely focused on school life. When I move to LA, I’ll be back [visit] this setting which I already know very well. I [started] look at it with a different eye. The familiarity will appear to you a little more. Like, I miss this feeling. I remember the smell. And I watched my mother’s colleagues come in and out. I noticed how my mother always kept certain colleagues around her. Her relationship with the principal has always been unique; Custodians have always played an important role in my life, because I was a kid who would stay at school until 5pm. I love comedies at work, they’re just my favorite things in the world. I see all the characters so easily, it’s just fully formed for me. My knowledge of this world [came] useful.
How did the population get together?
Tyler is the only one on my mind. I actually reached out to him and was like, “I have something I want you to keep watching before you end up on another show somewhere.” Everyone else auditioned. I am looking for an essence that is really not easy to put on paper. Janelle had it. Lisa Ann Walter had it. Chris Perfetti had it, and it was a shock because he was the least formed character in the pilot. And then there’s Sheryl Lee Ralph. I thought she wasn’t present so I didn’t let her name cross my mind. There’s a world I want Barbara to be [played by] a complete newcomer. Someone like Sheryl, who is big, but not the biggest star in the world, is very attractive to me. There is a familiarity with her, but also the opportunity to introduce her to the world in a whole new way.
Once you had your actors, did they inform how you wrote their characters?
After testing, we finished seven episodes before filming started. We finished writing halfway through filming. We had to really write these characters the way we saw them – the voices of the actors didn’t necessarily affect what we were doing, which I think is good. That helped us believe in ourselves for the second season. The writer knows these characters. Their voices, though, added to it. I know someone who will tell a joke in some way. We’ve seen their strengths and it definitely informs what we write.
I’ve read that you want this to be a web series, rather than a cable or streaming comedy – which is more in vogue right now.
I want it to go where people won’t go. I studied marketing; you can create a new market or continue playing on an existing market. Honestly, the streaming and cable space feels overwhelming. Abbott It doesn’t have to be gritty or dark – I don’t care about making it gritty or dark. I need to push it where it belongs, which is in the network television space. There are people who think this is a Hulu show, but it aired on ABC first and it reaches a different market for everyone. It’s still coming to the streaming audience, but really it’s going to the grandmas first. That’s a huge audience right there. I feel it makes more sense to target them than trying to target my oversaturated age group.
There is a sanity to Abbott Elementary School. Do you think that’s part of the reason it found an audience?
I definitely think it [is]. Abbott do many things at the same time. It still functions as a 22-minute network sitcom, but it introduces a whole new sense of humor into the mix. All of us Parks and Recreation, Office Fans have been looking to streaming and cable TV sets for different reasons, and I think we’ve banned the network. I’ve said this before, if a lot of people go to other dimensions and [showing] that younger people, millennials or whatever, can make these big shows – opened the minds of networks. I think I have the ability to translate my humor to any room, and I think that’s what network television is for. Being able to reach a 14-year-old and a 74-year-old is a skill that I have. There are other people with that skill out there. I hope that the networks continue to work with younger people. I am 32 years old and rarely meet someone my age in the world of network television. If we make those connections, I think there will be more programs like Abbott.
After the school shooting in Uvalde, you tweeted that you have no interest in writing an episode of the school shooting – although some fans have gone as far as to request one. Where do you draw the line with the subject subject?
I don’t start from that place in the room. I thought, what is the problem affecting these people at this school? When I was out with my mother, the teachers rarely talked about the news – or the political elite discussions we see so much online. They don’t have time for that. These are not the people on Twitter. They have to do their job, and the world is small. In the new technology episode [in season one]where a new technology throws Barbara into a loop while Janine gets excited about it… through that, we can talk a lot about how [technology] affects people from different generations. But really, [episode] small logline. I think that’s where you have to start. I’m not trying to tackle the subjects, I’m just trying to show what’s happening in this school today.
One thing that really struck me was the way the show revealed that Jacob, played by Chris Perfetti, is a weirdo – not with an upcoming special, but simply by introducing you his son as another character.
Having another character was odd at first, but the network thought we had too many characters. I [thought] that’s fair. I really don’t want Not there’s a weird character on my show – I just don’t think it’s realistic. There are a lot of weird people in my life, and they never had to come out to me. I want the audience to feel that way. I was really shocked to see a very small number of people saying, “I don’t watch the show anymore.” First of all, I know they haven’t stopped watching. (Laugh.) It’s important to me to make people more comfortable in this world. I just want my friends to live freely out here. I commend Chris who entered the show without knowing it [we would write Jacob as queer]. He jumped on board immediately. It’s really unbelievable.
The edited interview is long and clear.
This story first appeared in the August issue of The Hollywood Reporter.