“Abbott Elementary” kicked off this week by earning seven Emmy nominations, and ended it in the headlines with a lawsuit. The popular, delightful school-set sitcom is the subject of a new suit alleging copyright infringement, according to court documents obtained by Radar Online. The suit names both series creator and star Quinta Brunson and the show’s home network of ABC in claims brought forth by writer and performer Christine Davis.
Per Radar Online’s report, Davis alleges that “Abbott Elementary” uses ideas that she registered with the United States Copyright Office in 2020, well before Brunson’s show aired, for a series called “This School Year.” In court documents, Davis says that “This School Year” is a mockumentary-style comedy about a “young, idealistic teacher hoping to get tenure but also trying to convince everyone that the school needs to be reformed.” According to the plaintiff, the series idea also includes a documentary camera crew hired by the school principal.
Davis says she met with members of the team at Blue Parks Productions in July 2020, where she shared her script and was told that Hulu and ABC were both on the lookout for comedies with Black women leads. She then claims that Shavon Sullivan Wright and Cherisse Parks took the pitch for “This School Year” to Hulu, but it was not picked up. Davis also lists parts of “Abbott Elementary” that she says resemble her own script and ideas, including the show’s mockumentary style, the “look and feel of the inner-city school,” and the show’s “triad of young teachers.”
The Abbott Elementary origin story
Although the outcome of this lawsuit remains to be seen, there seems to be some public evidence in favor of the originality of “Abbott Elementary.” For her part, Brunson has been abundantly clear about her influences when writing the Philadelphia-set sitcom. The series creator has frequently mentioned her mother’s own teaching career as a major influence on the series, and in June she told IndieWire that she had the idea when her now-retired mom was “about a year and a half from retiring.”
Brunson also told the outlet that she originally conceived of “Abbott Elementary” as a cartoon, and that it was first pitched to the production company, Warner Bros. Television, before later being shopped around to multiple networks, including ABC:
“I have a good relationship with Warner Brothers already because I had developed with them in the past, and sold with them in the past. So this was an internal pitch to Warner Brothers first, and they loved it. Then it was about deciding, ‘Is this a network show or is it a streaming show? Is it a cable show?'”
Plus, Brunson described the moment she was inspired to create “Abbott Elementary” in depth on The Trevor Noah Show, telling the host about a time she witnessed her mom graciously greet a parent who showed up at the very last minute of all-day open house parent teacher conferences. “It was in that moment that something was sparked where I said, ‘this is what I want to make a show about,'” she explained.
As of publication time, the “Abbott Elementary” team has not released any statements with regards to the lawsuit.