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Why Quinta Brunson Won An Emmy: An Abbott Elementary Pilot Script Breakdown

By September 7, 2023No Comments

Why Quinta Brunson Won An Emmy_ An Abbott Elementary Pilot Script BreakdownABC’s massive hit Abbott Elementary is an instant classic. As a beautiful hometown story written and led by Quinta Brunson, a Millennial who made her bones with viral videos, the show’s heartstring appeal shoots through the roof for anyone who loves an underdog story. Especially true for a Philadelphian, like myself. But Abbott’s record-breaking ratings and two seasons of Emmys honors are a testament to a more-or-less universal appeal.  

Let’s take a deep dive into how Quinta Brunson’s writing manifested these outcomes from the start. Feel free to follow along with the script, which you can download from The Script Lab here


In an underfunded West Philadelphia public school, idealistic Janine and her colorful cast of K-5 teacher colleagues hope to use their new docuseries as a platform to make a better impact in the lives of their deserving students.

Download the script!


First Ten Pages

Hook – Homegrown Heroine Has A Huge Heart

Abbott Elementary_Pilot_1On the first page, our heroine Janine Teagues (surnamed Beeman in this non-shooting draft) summarizes her special connection to the story. In this pilot, she is the only cast member identified as a product of the same school district where she teaches. And with her being just two years into her career and relatively young, she is the closest to understanding the needs of the students from the inside. She’s looking forward to making the changes she wished to see not so long ago. The word “survive” is not a slip of the fingertips. Her penchant for optimism is atypical, making her unique to the setting despite being the opposite of a Fish-Out-Of-Water archetype. Her level of hope is the kind Philadelphians usually reserve for football season.

Why Quinta Brunson Won An Emmy An Abbott Elementary Pilot Script Breakdown

Abbott Elementary (2021-)

Setting – Philly As Ph*%#

As someone who attended Southwest Philly’s Patterson Elementary around the same time Quinta would have been at Harrity (the original name and inspiration for Abbott), the similarities mirrored in the schools are an almost eerie timewarp. A classroom rug that represents community as much as communicable diseases. Learning materials so outdated that they border on misinformation. That one teacher from “South” who suspiciously dresses a little too The Devil Wears Prada for her salary. Quinta has captured an experience that is meticulously specific and regionally ubiquitous, making Philadelphia feel like the City of Bizarrely Liminal Spaces. 

Abbott Elementary_pilot_2Abbott Elementary_pilot_4Tone – This Ain’t Welcome Back, Kotter!

Many K-5 teachers would be horrified if a student cited the ultraviolent American Gangster as one of their favorite films. Janine, however, is mildly disappointed. Again, regionally, this makes total sense. Many of Abbott Elementary’s problematic predecessors would have saved all the “rough edges” for the students. But even sweet Janine has her passion for axe-throwing to consider. In another city, this might just be a hipster pastime. But in Philly, one never knows when it might turn into SEPTA self-defense.  

Read More: 8 Things to Get Your TV Pilot Moving

Why Quinta Brunson Won An Emmy An Abbott Elementary Pilot Script Breakdown

Abbott Elementary (2021-)

Characters – Phabulously Phlawed

The pilot takes care to introduce all of the main cast in the first act, aside from school dreamboat Gregory Eddie — who comes in as a shake-up to complicate Act Two. In the initial ten pages, the reader receives a Fauvist portrait of every other key player. And even though the final product shines through the embellishments and ad-libs added by world-class performers, Brunson’s written groundwork provides impeccable bones for their crown molding. 

Characters like Jacob serve as wonderful dichotomies. You have to respect his commitment to staying Woke. But you also can’t deny his moments of cringe. Barbara is an OG of a teacher, and without teachers like her, this generation might not get to produce any Janines. However, curbing idealism is not what a teacher is for. And she does this without realizing that Janine is as much her student as her colleague. 

Read More: 4 Things You MUST Include in Your TV Pilot

Abbott Elementary_pilot_10And consider Principal Ava — who is technically an antagonist because of her inability to “adult” as the head of the school. But she can also be described as a Lovable Chaos Goblin because, at the very least, she sees the humanity of the students– unlike Ms. Schwartz. 

Act Flow

Cold Open

Janine and her kids are introduced to the audience with classroom footage and a Talking Head commentary which dive right into the inherent issues of the school system. These are just sweet kids doing their best with what they have — the students AND Janine. But when a kid named Jamar pees on the rug due to broken toilets, the audience meets the story’s central conundrum; How do you value a place that doesn’t seem to value you?

Why Quinta Brunson Won An Emmy An Abbott Elementary Pilot Script Breakdown

Abbott Elementary (2021-)

Act One

Noting how easily Barbara and Melissa can handle their classrooms, Janine starts to fight feelings of inadequacy as she balances the rug issue with resuming her lessons. This wayside school starts to make a little more sense when we meet Principal Ava who is… kind of just chillin’ while things crumble around her. She seems averse to an uphill battle, and we get the sense that every venture involving the School District is just that. As Janine tries to rally her colleagues around demanding more funds for the school, Ms. Schwartz — one of the teachers who came in not long ago with Janine and Jacob — seems to be cracking under the pressure as she gets into a physical altercation with a kid. 

Act Two

The remaining featured Abbott teachers are reeling from the news that Ms. Schwartz kicked a student, even if that student bit her first. This separates them as the Good Guys who we’re glad to know have these students’ backs. The incident causes Ava to cave to the funding requests and put more effort into turning things around. That’s when Ms. Schartz’s temporary replacement arrives. Gregory Eddie, the handsome new substitute, catches Ava’s eye. But he also shares a sweet moment with Janine as they wrangle a couple of students…and their unwieldy body fluids. 

Why Quinta Brunson Won An Emmy An Abbott Elementary Pilot Script Breakdown

Abbott Elementary (2021-)

As Janine prepares her official request letter for Ava and the District, she seeks Barbara’s advice but only finds discouragement. The veteran teacher is pessimistic about the email’s ability to bring change. And she’s proven right when Ava blows the approved funds on a new sign that features her own picture. Janine decides to tell the Superintendent about this, but it’s automatically rerouted to Ava — who calls a mandatory meeting about it.  

Act Three

Ava’s “trust workshop” meeting takes a turn for the petty and Janine ends up singled out. But the older teachers respect that limb that she went out on for her kids. Melissa uses her connections to scare up some Eagles-themed rugs for the classrooms. And Janine’s commitment inspires Gregory to stay on a little longer. 


The custodian, Mr. Johnson, promotes his TikTok account while helping Ava film a video for hers. (Maybe they’re both onto something about connecting with these kids?) 

The Takeaway

Let’s think about how a show that centers on the typically depressing topic of underfunded inner-city schools turned into one of the most hilarious series in all of TV history. Brunson’s close personal position on the issue as a product of these schools arguably allows her to approach it from an optimal perspective; knowing what needs to change and the ways in which it can. Culturally, laughing to keep from crying is very Philly.

And it has inspired an ethos that centers on performing good works while feeling good feelings — A gift that keeps on giving to the city that raised us both. The school that inspired Abbott is a mere walking distance from the home my grandmother owned for 50 years, so the social impact is more than personal to me, too. But as a screenwriter, I must acknowledge that this impact all began with words on a page. In part, there’s no other show like Abbott Elementary because there’s no other city like Philadelphia. And the love that Quinta Brunson has for the town permeates every line of this script. 

Read More: Why Jesse Armstrong Won an Emmy: A ‘Succession’ Pilot Script Breakdown

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