'Abbott Elementary' Creator Quinta Brunson and ABC Sued for Copyright Infringement
By Mekishana Pierre
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Days after ABC’s Abbott Elementary earned seven Emmy nominations, the network and creator Quinta Brunson have both been hit with a lawsuit for copyright infringement. On Tuesday, performer Christine Davis filed a suit against Brunson and ABC that claims the hit comedy is a "knock-off" of her show called This School Year.
In court documentments obtained by ET, Davis claims she wrote her script in 2018 and that her show was registered with the copyright office in early 2020, a year before Abbott Elementary's 2021 debut. According to the suit, both shows have similar qualities, including the "look and feel of the inner-city school, the mockumentary style, unique plot synopsis, set design, and unique characters." The lawsuit also alleges that many of the characters are "nearly identical," and the plotlines in the first few episodes are similar.
"Without [Davis'] permission, license, authority, or consent, [Brunson & ABC] knowingly and illegal used [Davis'] works to create the Abbott Elementary television show," the suit claims.
Davis claims that her show follows a New York City public school, in which the principal hires filmmakers to film a documentary of the school. She details a series focusing on a principal convinced everything is going well, that the show is well-controlled and that the "teachers and students will adhere to her agents." But the teachers, staff and students have their own agenda. The main character, named Ms. David, is a "young, idealistic teacher hoping to get tenure but also trying to convince everyone that the school needs to be reformed."
Created by and starring Brunson, the half-hour mockumentary-style series follows a group of dedicated and passionate teachers -- and a slightly tone-deaf principal -- at a Philadelphia public school where, despite the odds stacked against them, they're determined to help their students succeed in life. Although the educators are outnumbered and underfunded, they love what they do -- even if they don't particularly care for the school district's less-than-stellar attitude toward educating children.
The series also stars Tyler James Williams as Gregory Eddie, Janelle James as Ava Coleman, Chris Perfetti as Jacob Hill, Lisa Ann Walter as Melissa Schemmenti and Sheryl Lee Ralph as Barbara Howard. Brunson serves as writer and executive producer alongside Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker.
Davis is seeking damages of an unspecified amount, demanding that "Brunson and ABC turn over all profits they made from the show," as well as a jury trial.
The suit alleges that in mid-June and July of 2020, Davis contacted Shavon Sullivan Wright and Cherisse Parks at Blue Parks Productions in Los Angeles and had three meetings regarding This School Year. Davis claims the producers showed her script to Hulu and, a few months later, Abbott Elementary started filming. Neither producer is connected to Brunson's series.
ET has reached out to Brunson and ABC for comment.
Brunson's multiple duties scored her three nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actress in a Comedy and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. The nods make the former A Black Lady Sketch Show star the first Black woman to receive three Emmy noms for the same comedy series. Michaela Coel earned a similar accolade last year, scoring four noms for the limited series I May Destroy You.
If Brunson were to win either Lead Actress in a comedy and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, she would be the second Black woman to win either category, ever. Isabel Sanford won the former in 1981 for her iconic role as Louise on CBS' The Jeffersons and Lena Waithe won the latter alongside co-writer Aziz Ansari in 2017 for Netflix's Master of None.
And only one Black person has won Emmy's top comedy category -- Winifred Hervey for The Golden Girls in 1987. Bunson's nomination puts her in the lead to make history in three ways.