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Sheryl Lee Ralph Initially Wanted To Play A Different Role On Abbott Elementary

In a pop culture moment where many shows are full of morally reprehensible characters, "Abbott Elementary" is an outlier. The mockumentary sitcom has only one season under its belt, but it is already making waves. Set in a Philadelphia public school, the series uses humor to paint a diverse and optimistic view of educating children. The cultural impact of the series cannot be overstated. Writer Quinta Brunson created the show in response to her mother's career as a teacher as well as the real-life Ms. Abbott who the show is named for (via NPR).

And this awards season, the comedy series was given its due. Brunson clinched the award for best writing in a comedy series, an award that is most deserving. But the early highlight of the evening was Sheryl Lee Ralph's inspiring speech after winning best supporting actress in a comedy for her portrayal of Barbara Howard. Ralph is an experienced actor who has put in years on Broadway as well as the small screen. 

Playing Barbara now seems like a no-brainer, but the powerhouse in the entertainment industry had once considered playing a very different character.

Sheryl Lee Ralph angled to play Ava in the beginning

As soon as Quinta Brunson met Sheryl Lee Ralph, the writer was intent on working with her. The two crossed paths while working together on "A Black Lady Sketch Show" and it wasn't long before Brunson set her sights on Ralph for an important role in "Abbott Elementary." Barbara Howard was a role that Ralph was meant to play, though at first the Broadway actor had another idea.

"I did want to play Ava Coleman, the principal," Ralph told Variety after her Emmy win. "And [Brunson] said: 'No! Absolutely not! We need a queen for this role and that is you. Take it or leave it!' And I was like: 'All right, little miss. All right, all right, I'll take it.'" Just like Ralph is perfect for Barbara, the role of Principal Ava simply would not be the same without the comedy stylings of Janelle James. 

Fans conclude that the "Abbott Elementary" character is a quantified scene-stealer, though vastly different from Barbara. Ava's hilarious scenes stem from her massive lack in qualifications. Where Janine (Brunson) attempts to make a difference, Ava is always there to throw a wrench in the new teacher's plans.  Ava does seem to be the more outrageous and enjoyable character to play, but Ralph ultimately did not miss out where it counted. Her dedicated portrayal of Barbara has made her a critically acclaimed (and now award-winning) fan favorite.