One day after celebrating her history-making Emmy nominations, the filmmaker for the hit ABC series, “Abbott Elementary” was served in a copyright infringement lawsuit, by an aspiring writer and actress who claims the sitcom is a revamped rip-off of her show.
On Tuesday, July 12, Quinta Brunson made history as the first Black woman to receive three comedy Emmy nominations in the same year. The 32-year-old Philadelphia native and creator of “Abbott Elementary” was nominated for “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series,” “Outstanding Comedy Series,” and “Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series.”
The actress said she was “crying, shaking and throwing up” when she heard the news.
“Still speechless,” she wrote. “Congrats to the entire staff and cast of Abbott Elementary. And I want to share this moment with all of the people who watch and love the show. Emmy nominated, baby!”
The feeling did not last long, as days after the Emmy nominations were made public, she was sued by Christine Davis, a creative who says, “Abbott Elementary” is a copy of her show “This School Year.”
According to Radar Online, names both Brunson and the network as defendants, charging, “Without [Davis’] permission, license, authority, or consent, [Brunson & ABC] knowingly and illegal used [Davis’] works to create the ‘Abbott Elementary’ television show.”
The complaints make very clear parallels between the show, including, both shows are done “mockumentary” style and center around a principal bringing in a camera crew to film the school and staff. It also demands that ABC and Brunson give Davis all the profits made from the show.
Both shows also have a lead character said to be a “young, idealistic teacher hoping to get tenure but also trying to convince everyone that the school needs to be reformed.”
Another similarity is that each teacher has an agenda on how they run their classrooms and handle students. Her lawsuit contends, “the main characters are all stingingly and substantially similar. From the triad of young teachers whose roles are nearly identical,” to those in her show.
Davis’ “This School Year” was written in 2018 and registered with “the United States Copyright Office in March 2020.”
She said in July of 2020, she shopped the show idea to Shavon Sullivan Wright and Cherisse Parks at Blue Park Productions, meeting with them at least three times. The producers told her that ABC and Hulu were looking for projects with Black and female centered comedies and that they took the show to Hulu, but nothing materialized. But three months later, ABC started filming “Abbott Elementary,” striking golf with both a Black and female lead.
Davis says that is no coincidence.
According to the lawsuit, the hit sitcom duplicated the “look and feel of the inner-city school, the mockumentary style, unique plot synopsis, set design, and unique characters from” her original work.
But Brunson has gone on record about how she came up with the idea and it was not linked to another script floating around Hollywood. In an interview with The Wrap, the comedian talks about coming up with the show and how the inspiration for “Abbott Elementary” was her mother.
“When I got the idea for it, I was watching my mom and I was sitting at her desk,” she revealed. “What gave me the idea for the mockumentary style, as a fan of it, was I felt I was in the room with her at that moment watching a very beautiful thing happen. But I’m not watching it as a full outsider. I’m in here.”
From the very beginning, the series has been wildly successful, with each cast member in the premiere season receiving nominations. Within a month of America catching its first glimpse of the show in December 2021 (including multiple platforms ranging from traditional television to streaming options) the show secured a 2.4 rating and 7.1 million total viewers, Deadline reports.
ABC stated that the show itself made history, striking a chord with viewers, with “the largest percentage growth from L+SD to MP35 for any new comedy premiere” in the history of their tracking MP35 performance, research that started in 2017.