Writers coming in for pitch meetings at ABC will be escorted into a well-appointed conference room on the 10th floor, where Channing Dungey, head of drama, and Samie Falvey, head of comedy, hold court. With its bigscreen TV and comfortable couches, it feels like a living room — which is exactly how Dungey and Falvey want it.
ABC, executive vice president, drama development, movies and miniseries
With ABC since 2009, current position since July 2013
Before that: ABC Studios, Dexterity Pictures, Material
ABC, executive vice president, comedy development and international scripted
With ABC since 2006, current position since 2006
Before that: Fox
Variety: What do you like about this room?
Dungey: It’s a comfortable room to do pitches in because there’s usually a lot of people in them (for drama). And we can spread out.
Falvey: It’s a good comedy pitch room because there’s a French farce that happens when people are in the room and people are coming in from both doors. The chairs are funny, too, because they accidentally spin around like “The Voice.”
Variety: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened in this room?
Dungey: People will bust into a meeting that isn’t theirs. I’ll walk in with my team, and be like, Hey, I don’t know any of you! That happens a fair amount of the time.
Falvey: You open a door and you’re like, hey, there’s Psy from Gangnam Style, and this is not my meeting!
Dungey: I’ve actually been in here for a few minutes and realized, it’s still not my meeting.
Variety: You must have smackdowns over booking this room.
Falvey: We always have smackdowns. We have smackdowns over the last hard-boiled eggs in the commissary.
Variety: I have to ask…
Dungey: We both are super busy, and we often don’t have time to eat lunch. And they sell these hard-boiled eggs in the commissary. But they sell out really early in the morning so you have to get there early if you want to make sure you have eggs for later. One day I came in and her assistant was walking by with two things of eggs. I thought those were the last two, and I was ready to knock her assistant over, grab one and run.
Variety: What’s the first thing you do when you get in in the morning?
Dungey: Besides the hard-boiled egg competition?
Falvey: Like everybody else, our days don’t start when we walk into the building. Our days start the moment we gain consciousness. We walk in on fire. There’s no warm-up ritual.
Dungey: Half the time I walk in, I’m still on the phone from the call I was on in the car.
Falvey: Which is really funny if you’re on the stairs. People are like, what are you doing? I’m fine. Mute.
Variety: And the last thing you do?
Falvey: Same thing in reverse.
Dungey: Realize I left my phone in the charger and come back to get it.
Variety: What are your favorite shows on the schedule?
Dungey: “Resurrection” is super special. It was one of those when you’re in the room and you hear the pitch, and you think, what a great, unique, amazing idea it is because everybody has always wanted to have a little bit more time with somebody that they’ve loved and lost. And like everybody in the world, I’m addicted to “Scandal.”
Falvey: I love “The Goldbergs.” There’s something funny about the family that’s aspirational in a very different way. I think taking the warts and all and making that the selling point of your show is a really fun idea. Right after we picked up the show, Adam Goldberg said to me, “There really is truth behind writing what you know. It’s flying out of me.” In the beginning we wanted to shy away from how close it was to real life, but I think if anything, it’s been a really fun detail of the show.
Variety: What’s the biggest challenge of your job?
Dungey: In this world, there are always so many things coming at you from every direction. Paul (Lee) needs things, your team needs things, an agent is calling. For me, the single biggest challenge is to find those moments in your day where I can quiet all of that and think actively. What do I need to accomplish today. Because otherwise you can get caught up in moments where you’re just being reactive all the time.
Falvey: Our job is to find stories that are incredibly specific and authentic and yet have massive broad appeal. And yet with comedy it’s hard to be that specific and that mainstream at the same time.
Variety: Did you always imagine yourself doing this job?
Dungey: I didn’t think I would be sitting here at a network. But I love telling stories so I always knew that I would be doing something that would involve telling stories as part of my job.
Falvey: I fell in love with TV when I was young. The box in front of me was magic as far as I was concerned. When I was 9, I pulled my first all-nighter watching an entire lineup. I realized it was 11:30 p.m. and I hadn’t built my Viking ship yet. But I pulled it off, got an A. When you learn that in the 4th grade, it’s a hard habit to break.
Variety: What do you love most about your job?
Falvey: We all get into this business because we love storytelling, but I love the social aspect of it, too. I love being able to go to a show and see a stand-up. I love being able to talk about a script. Hearing pitches for me, even when you’re hearing eight a day, is rarely a grind because I’m such a voyeur. On the comedy side, people’s pitches are so personal, and those are the stories that we at ABC do best. So people come in and pour their hearts out to you and tell you these intimate details that are extremely personal and usually pretty funny.
Dungey: What I love about my job is that it’s different every day. It’s never boring. As much as you think, pilot season, I’ve done that before, there are different challenges every single time.
Variety: How do you unwind?
Falvey: You come home… and everything has to go off. I don’t answer my phone, I don’t answer my emails. I’m in the zone. You put your kids to bed, and then you pick that next pile of scripts back up, and I find that it’s been a hard reset, and you come back fresh. Even if you’re physically fatigued, you’re mentally more prepared to get back on the treadmill.
Dungey: I think that’s all really true. I also subscribe to the Olivia Pope method: a big glass of red wine!
Falvey: I’ve also discovered the 10 p.m. yoga class.
Dungey: I would love to know where
Variety: What’s your favorite thing inside your office?
Dungey: I have a really big piece of art in that was done by a graffiti artist named Man One that my husband bought for me a couple of years ago for my birthday. It just makes me happy every time I see it.
Falvey: I have a picture of my family on my desk from my wedding, which I just love because it showcases all of my six sisters in their insanity. I have a blond sister. I have half-Jewish sisters. I have a Latina sister who’s adopted. I think it was this feeling when I first got to the network that the contemporary American family is not on TV. Yes, I have an extreme version which may be less accessible than others, but where is this family? We are a big, chaotic, opinionated, diverse family. I like to look at it and go, OK, this is where I started, this is what’s shaped my view of what I want to watch.