Winner, Individual 2023

Quinta Brunson

Quinta Brunson 

Peabody Trailblazer Award Winner

The broadcast network sitcom is not dead, and we have one person to thank: Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of ABC’s hit Abbott Elementary, about a ragtag group of underpaid and under-resourced Philadelphia school teachers doing their best in a broken system and being heart-swellingly charming along the way. 

In a very 2020s twist, it took an internet star to save this most traditional of 20th -century -media forms. Brunson first rose to acclaim in 2014 for creating the web series The Girl Who’s Never Been on a Nice Date, a viral hit on YouTube and Instagram. From there, she was hired to produce and appear in works for BuzzFeed Video and to develop streaming series for BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. She also entered the traditional TV world, co-starring in and producing a few network pilots, and appearing in shows such as iZombie, Miracle Workers, and A Black Lady Sketch Show.

But her breakthrough came with her creation of Abbott Elementary, which premiered in December, 2021, with Brunson leading a winning cast that includes Sheryl Lee Ralph, Lisa Ann Walter, Chris Perfetti, Tyler James Williams, and Janelle James. The series is not only a hit, it is also the rare network comedy to garner widespread buzz in a streaming-heavy time. And it has done all of this while addressing real-life issues in education and being genuinely funny.

That may be because of Brunson’s personal connection to the subject matter. She grew up the daughter of a kindergarten teacher in West Philadelphia and genuinely enjoyed school, often recalling a particularly great experience with one middle school teacher named Ms. Abbott, who inspired the show’s title. Ms. Abbott turned her classroom into a planetarium and led the students in making and selling pretzels to teach how business works—imaginative and expansive projects like those that Brunson’s character might do. A fan and student of ‘90s sitcoms, Brunson has used the heartwarming format to gently spotlight real issues facing today’s teachers, particularly in underfunded poor, nonwhite public-school districts, along the way becoming a trailblazing Black, female creator, showrunner, and star.

She has been showered with industry awards (including a previous Peabody for Abbott), but perhaps more tellingly, she was also honored by the National Education Association. Brunson has used her newfound power to contribute to the real world, partnering with Box Tops for Education on a campaign to honor teachers and a donation of $20,000 to the middle school she attended. When hosting Saturday Night Live, a major milestone for any performer, she used her monologue to call for better pay for teachers.

For demonstrating the ways that television can make a difference in real lives while entertaining millions, Quinta Brunson wins the Peabody Trailblazer Award.