“Abbott Elementary”



ABC’s latest hit show, “Abbott Elementary,” is reaching those who do not typically watch network television by streaming to Hulu.


How ABC’s latest hit show proves that sitcoms are not dead

The American Broadcasting Company, better known as ABC, is known for several things. Among these include its news broadcasting, from morning to evening, with familiar faces like Al Roker and David Muir, its late night TV with Jimmy Kimmel and the television spots that ensure ABC takes home swaths of Emmys every year—their sitcoms. But, with long-running fan favorites like “Modern Family” becoming things of the past, how does ABC adapt their sitcoms for their newer audience, and how does ABC reach those who don’t typically watch network television?

Since 1948, ABC has been airing sitcoms, shows that typically air after the nightly news programming and before the late night television specials. ABC has long been known for their sitcom programming, their catalog including classics like “Full House,” “Happy Days,” “Home Improvement,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “Mork & Mindy” and “The Brady Bunch.” Their more contemporary catalog also includes some well loved audience favorites such as “The Goldbergs,” “Black-ish” and “Modern Family.” But, these long-running favorites are all in the process of filming, writing or airing their last episode together, or already have. As this chapter of sitcoms on ABC comes to a close, who could take their spots? And, how does ABC continue to rope in viewers in the age of streaming?

On Dec. 7, 2021, the first episode of a brand new sitcom, “Abbott Elementary,” aired. Starring Quinta Brunson, who some may recognize from her time at Buzzfeed, Tyler James Williams, the recognizable face from Everybody Hates Chris and Sheryl Lee Ralph of “Dreamgirls” fame. The trio are not alone, starring alongside a talented ensemble. “Abbott Elementary” is a mockuseries, following the lives of teachers at the Philadelphia school Abbott Elementary. Abbott paints a picture of a large majority of American public schools—largely underfunded, overworked teachers and poor district management. The 13 episodes that were aired in the first season showed not only the seriousness that comes with the state of our public school systems, but the light that comes from certain situations and the predicaments that the Philadelphia teachers find themselves in. But, beyond just the premise of the show and the lovable teachers the ensemble portrays, one of the things that makes Abbott so special is the writing. In the shadow of aforementioned sitcom greats, Brunson’s scriptwork for the pilot episode shines. “Losing the rug is a huge ‘L.’ Big deal. For primary classes, the rug is like a calm island among a wild sea. An oasis for the kids. Which I now realize is the opposite of an island. Okay, it’s either land in water or water in land. Let’s just say it’s like Xanax. It’s a big Xanax you can sit on.” 

Over the span of the first season’s 13 episodes, “Abbott Elementary” garnered a large fanbase on Twitter and acclaim from reviewers at the New York Times and the Guardian. Before the final episode of the first season aired in April, a second season was ordered by ABC, this time, a full 22 episode run. One of the biggest reasons for “Abbott Elementary’s” success outside of the slapstick writing and talented performers was ABC’s outsourcing of the show to streaming service giant Hulu. While the show aired Wednesday nights after ABC’s Nightly News, on Thursday mornings, the most recent episode would also drop for streaming on Hulu. After the pilot episode aired and released to streaming, people were abuzz about Brunson’s project. Due to the week of anticipation for the second episode, “Light Bulb,” this second episode amassed 3.45 million viewers. One of the largest reasons people began watching “Abbott Elementary” on ABC was because they first watched it on Hulu. ABC’s adoption of streaming is the reason why a lot of the network’s programming is still alive. Prior to their hybrid work with “Abbott Elementary” and Hulu, “Grown-ish,” Yara Shahidi’s spin-off of “Black-ish,” also tested out this model with Hulu. Proving successful, ABC began implementing this with their other sitcoms, eventually leading to “Abbott Elementary.” 

Shortly after the final episode of the debut season aired, the 74th Primetime Emmy nominations came out. “Abbott Elementary” amassed five nominations, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, and nods to Brunson, Williams, Ralph and Janelle James in respective comedy acting categories. After Monday night, both Brunson and Ralph walked away with Emmys, Brunson for writing, and Ralph for her role as a supporting actress. 

ABC has long been an industry giant when it comes to sitcom programming. But, as an audience, as our demands change, the industry must change with it. ABC’s promotion and rollout of “Abbott Elementary” shows that sitcoms aren’t dead—they just need to meet the demands of the audience. What an audience wants is to watch stories that reflect their experiences, see people go through life like they are. But, they also want to be able to stream it. ABC deciding to drop episodes on Hulu post-original air date was crucial to the success of “Abbott Elementary,” and created the foundation for what could be the next “Modern Family” or “Mork & Mindy.” “Abbott Elementary” airs the first episode of its second season on Wednesday, Sept. 21.