Scott D. Pierce: ‘Abbott Elementary’ has many inspirations — including ‘Real Housewives’

Show owes a debt to ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ ‘Golden Girls,’ ‘The Office’ ‚,, and maybe ‘RHOSLC’?

(Gilles Mingasson | Disney) Quinta Brunson as Janine in "Abbott Elementary."

A lot of people who work in television don’t seem to have much respect for the medium. If I had a dollar for every time in the past 34 years that I’ve heard a TV actor, writer, or producer say that they don’t watch TV, I’d have a lot of dollars.

(These are the people who vote to decide who wins Emmys, by the way. Sigh.)

This prevailing attitude is one of the reasons why “Abbott Elementary” creator/writer/executive producer/star Quinta Brunson is such a delight. She loves TV, and she’s not above saying so. More importantly, she readily acknowledges that her show — set in an elementary school in a lower-class Philadelphia neighborhood — owes a lot to shows that have gone before. “I really like to look at TV as constantly reinventing the wheel,” Brunson said.

And she readily points to TV shows and characters who influenced different aspects of “Abbott Elementary.”

(Pamela Littky | Disney) ABC's “Abbott Elementary” stars Chris Perfetti (left) as Jacob, Quinta Brunson as Janine, Lisa Ann Walter as Melissa, Sheryl Lee Ralph as Barbara, Janelle James as Ava, Tyler James Williams as Gregory, and William Stanford Davis as Mr. Johnson..

• Mary Richards, the central character in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was a “huge inspiration” for Janine, the idealistic young teacher Brunson plays. And, like Moore, Brunson is smart enough to surround herself with an ensemble cast and spread the laughs around. Executive producer Justin Halpern said he’s struck by how “gracious” and “ego-less” Brunson is. “Never once in this entire process has Quinta ever come and been, like, ‘I need more this,’” he said. “In fact, most times, she’s, like, ‘I need less here or less there.’”

• “The Golden Girls” characters “kind of, like, bleed into” teachers Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) and Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph), Brunson said. And, no, it’s not hard to see that.

• Weird backwoods brothers Larry, Darryl and Darryl (William Sanderson, Tony Pappenfuss and John Volstad) on “Newhart” (1982-90) spoke to Brunson. “I was like, ‘I want to have something stupid like that in our world that’s dumb’” — inspiring the school’s oddball custodian, Mr. Johnson (William Stanford Davis.) Well, Larry, Darryl, Darryl and Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) from “30 Rock” “inspires Mr. Johnson a lot for me.”

on ABC. (Gilles Mingasson | Disney) William Stanford Davis as Mr. Johnson in "Abbott Elementary."

And Brunson was quick to give credit to shows that inspired the format of “Abbott Elementary” — a mockumentary in which the characters often speak to an unseen documentary film crew that’s filming them. She pointed to “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Modern Family” and more.

“We think we know what these people are, but who are they really?” she said. “And you’ve seen it in sillier versions, like ‘What We Do in the Shadows.’ Yeah, I think I know about vampires. But there’s so much more to learn once you pull back the curtain. So I wanted to keep up that tradition of this format” — pulling back the curtain on elementary school teachers.

Brunson didn’t just find inspiration in popular shows, but in more obscure series. Including an Australian sitcom.

“One of my favorite ones that no one talks about is this show called ‘Ja’mie,’” she said. “I wouldn’t recommend watching. It’s not aging well.”

The short-lived (six episodes) 2013 sitcom — full title: “Ja’mie: Private School Girl” — featured comedian Chris Lilley (then in his late 30s) in drag as a teenage school girl, an utterly awful character.

(Gilles Mingasson | ABC) Janelle James stars as Ava in "Abbott Elementary.")

“But at the time Ja’mie was more inspiration for me for Ava than, like, anything,” Brunson said. (Ava is the utterly awful, incredibly self-involved school principal on “Abbott Elementary.”)

Although many people “think that it was Michael Scott (Steve Carell)” of “The Office” who inspired Ava, it was much more Ja’mie, Brunson said, a character who was “so horrible. But by the end of the show, I’m, like, ‘Oh man, I really want Ja’mie to get what she wants. I really believe in her.”

Although there was one other “huge inspiration” for self-centered Ava — “Real Housewives” cast members. “You pick and pull from different places,” she said.

Brunson didn’t specify which Housewives, but there are plenty who fit that bill.

(“The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” finished airing its first season 10 months before “Abbott Elementary” debuted, so it’s at least possible that Brunson drew inspiration from Lisa Barlow, Mary Cosby, Heather Gay, Meredith Marks, Whitney Rose and/or Jen Shah.)

“I just pick all my favorite comedies, pick my favorite parts, and put them in the show,” Brunson said with a laugh.

• In its first two seasons, “Abbott Elementary” has won four Emmys, including two for Brunson — writing for a comedy series (2022) and lead actress in a comedy (2023). Her win as comedy best actress was the first for a Black actress in 42 years, since Isabel Sanford (“The Jeffersons”) in 1981. The show has also taken home a pair of Golden Globes, a Television Critics Association Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award … just to name a few. More importantly, it’s a success on a broadcast network at a time when broadcast networks are taking a back seat to streaming services.

Season 3 of “Abbott Elementary” is airing Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC/Channel 4, and episodes stream on Hulu and Max. It has already been renewed for Season 4.