By Dino-Ray Ramos GLAAD.org | November 9, 2022
Since its premiere, the ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary has quickly found success and brought hope back to network TV, a space that has been an afterthought in a landscape of streamers and habitual binge-watchers. Writer Brittani Nichols has helped build the universe of the Emmy-award winning comedy created Quinta Brunson that follows a group of educators at a local elementary school in Philadelphia.
Nichols worked with Brunson prior to Abbott Elementary on the HBO series A Black Lady Sketch Show and has written for other TV series such as Take My Wife and Strangers. She also wrote, produced, and starred in Suicide Kale, which nabbed the Audience Award for Best U.S. Dramatic Feature at Outfest in 2016.
Being a staff writer on Abbott Elementary is almost a full circle moment for Nichols as she said she got into television writing because of shows that were on the network TV. However, she admitted that she was one of those people who strayed away from network TV because they weren’t keeping up in terms of diversity.
“I just sort of moved away from [network television],” Nichols told GLAAD’s Anthony Allen Ramos in a recent interview. “[Abbott Elementary] felt like a welcoming me back — and it’s nice that it’s welcoming back via a job, but also just welcoming me back as a viewer. Abbott is a show that I would have loved growing up… and it’s a joy for me to watch along with other folks as well.”
Nichols said that if she saw someone like herself working on a show like Abbott Elementary when she was younger, the idea of being a television writer would have come to her sooner. She added that it would have made her more invested in a show, it’s cast and everyone involved in it. “Growing up as a kid it never crossed my mind to do stand up or do improv, even though I was watching those things all the time, it just was a dearth of Black women in those spaces,” explained Nichols.
She added that rising to the top is a thing that happens now, but even then, the industry makes it feel like there can only be one. “No, there’s more than one,” she said. “There’s a lot of other people out there who do these things.”
Abbott Elementary does representation and inclusive stories in a way that does not beat you over the head with it. Instead, it is organically folded in – including queer narratives and nuances. In season one we learned that overeager and thoughtfully “woke” teacher Jacob (Chris Perfetti) is gay and has a partner named Zach (Larry Owens) but it was just casually mentioned in the show without an “on this special episode” lens.
Nichols pointed out that when shows are looking for inclusive writers rooms, it ends at visibility and ends up being lowkey tokenization. “I don’t think that it’s just about that,” she said. “It’s about weaving in themes and values that are very important.”
She continued, “I think to the LGBTQ community and to the Black queer community things like community care, chosen family — those are the things that I think are finding their way into the show and you wouldn’t necessarily look at that and go, ‘oh that’s what you get when you diversify rooms’.” Nichols said that she hopes people value the viewpoint as well as the visual signifiers.
For those who are vying for a spot in a writers room like Abbott Elementary or otherwise, Nichols said finding your voice is paramount. “[Don’t] let anyone else dictate to you what your voice is or should be,” she encouraged.
Nichols said that there are people who want to lean into “the trauma of our identities” and that it’s important to push back and say “I have a voice outside of that. That is not the entirety of my experience.” She said it’s about figuring out what that is and also being fans of the people that you’re coming up with.
“It’s about finding community, no matter where you go in the entertainment,” said Nichols.
Abbott Elementary airs Wednesdays at 9 on ABC.