ABC’s Channing Dungey on Juggling Shondaland Shows, Setting Her First Schedule

With Shondaland fielding five shows on ABC’s lineup for the 2016-17 season, ABC has no choice but to open up real estate beyond Thursday for Shonda Rhimes’ prolific production banner.

That’s the word from Channing Dungey, ABC’s newly appointed entertainment president, on the decision to break up the block of Shondaland series on Thursday this fall with the addition of new drama “Notorious” in the hammock slot between “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder.” The opening was created by the delay in production on “Scandal,” the usual occupant of 9 p.m. Thursday, necessitated by star Kerry Washington’s pregnancy.

Shondaland has two other series on deck, newcomer “Still Star-Crossed” and returning midseason entry “The Catch” which might have moved into 9 p.m. But in fact ABC has to be able to use established assets like “Grey’s” to launch new shows, even those beyond the Shondaland realm. Dungey was previously ABC’s head of drama development and has worked closely with Rhimes’ shop for years.

“The notion of using some of our strongest assets to launch new shows, with ‘Scandal’ being off in the fall — it seemed to make sense to give a new show a trial run there,” said Dungey. “If you’re playing along at home, Shonda’s going to have five shows on the broadcast schedule by the spring, so we’re going to have to expand beyond Thursday or we’re not going to be able to accommodate them all.”

Dungey indicated that “Still Star-Crossed” is bound for a different night, probably Sunday in tandem with the fantasy drama “Once Upon a Time.” “Star-Crossed” is a costumer that picks up the story of the Montagues and Capulets from the ending of “Romeo and Juliet.” It would not likely be a tonal fit with the serialized “TGIT” block (though Dungey said she had not yet decided if that branding would continue in the fall, given that Rhimes’ series will no longer own the night). And “The Catch” had a rocky run in its abbreviated first season, from creative changes behind the scenes to weak numbers after its March 24 debut. But Dungey said the plan is to return “Catch” again midseason after “HTGAWM” wraps its run.

“Star-Crossed” was always intended to be a midseason launch, Dungey said. “That was always a conversation we had with Shonda from the very beginning,” she said. “It’s a big, epic, sweeping period saga. We wanted to make sure we had enough time to produce it in the way that it needed to be produced.”

During the call, Dungey touched on strategy shifts from the previous regime lead by Paul Lee, who exited in March, including a desire to keep the fall to winter to spring breaks of its dramas shorter than they had been in the past. “That’s the evolution of a new strategy of how we launch the shows,” she said.

The abrupt change at the top of ABC meant that Dungey dove in to her new job after pilot orders were mostly completed. As the head of drama, she had a hand in developing the drama slate but not the comedies. But she praised the menu of projects that she had to work with in assembling the new schedule.

“We are extremely proud of our ‘ABC funny’ brand,” she said. “We think that we have a very distinctive brand of family comedies. The development we had this year came in very strong.” Dungey also asserted that while she’s new in the job, she was able to put her stamp on the 2016-17 decisions. After Lee exited the post he’d held for more than five years, Dungey’s boss, Disney/ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood, is known to have become more involved than in the past few years in decisions on series orders and scheduling — as would be expected after a management turnover.

“The schedule very much reflects my sensibility about where I think the network is, and where we want to be going,” she said.

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