ABC Chief on Network’s Future: More Marvel, More Procedurals and Maybe ‘Star Wars’

ABC Chief Wants More Marvel, More Procedurals and Maybe 'Star Wars'
Courtesy of Disney | ABC Television Group

New ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey outlined her vision for the broadcast network’s programming future on Thursday — one that includes more procedurals, more Marvel and a possible “Star Wars” television series.

“As a fan I would absolutely love to say yes,” Dungey said at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour when asked about the possibility of bringing a “Star Wars” series to ABC. “We have had conversations with Lucas and we will continue to have conversations with them. I think it would be wonderful if we could find a way to extend that brand onto our programming.”

Dungey later told reporters that talks with fellow Disney division Lucasfilm “are ongoing. We don’t really have an official timeline yet.”

More series from another Disney sibling, Marvel Entertainment, also appear to be in the works. Earlier this year ABC canceled one of its two Marvel series, “Agent Carter,” and decided not to pick up another, “Marvel’s Most Wanted,” which had long been in development. Both shows had ties to ABC’s original Marvel series, “Agents of SHIELD,” which has seen it’s rating sag as it heads into a fourth season. Dungey hinted that a new strategy for Marvel on ABC may be in the works.

“We all came to an agreement that the next show that we want to do together is something that is as creatively strong as it can be,” Dungey said of discussions with Marvel. Asked whether ABC would want to carve out narrative niche for a family of Marvel shows as Netflix has done with series such as “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and the upcoming “Luke Cage,” Dungey said, “That’s an interesting question, and we have talked a little bit about that, yes.”

Dungey made her first appearance at press tour since being named entertainment president of ABC in February, following the departure of former network chief Paul Lee. Before taking over as entertainment chief, she had served as head of drama development for the network, developing hit serialized shows such as “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” which became the building blocks of the network’s schedule in recent years.

Going forward, Dungey said that one of her priorities will be championing more dramas that feature closed-ended storytelling.

“In terms of closed-ended stories, I think they are terrific, and when you get them right, they really, really work,” she said. She added, “I think that we’ve moved into a landscape where there is a real appetite for serialized dramas. In this binging culture, there’s something about serialized dramas that really compels people. But I would like to see more closed-ended procedurals on the network, particularly because we have to schedule 35 weeks in a year, and it’s nice because with a procedural you can do 22 episodes and they generally repeat really well.”

Dungey explained the decision to break up the Thursday-night block of three Shonda Rhimes-produced dramas that had been a staple of the network’s schedule the last two falls. With “Scandal” star Kerry Washington pregnant, ABC scheduled that show to premiere its new season in January.

“What that left us with was a hole on Thursday night,” Dungey said. Into that hole, the network has slid “Notorious,” a new drama that does not hail from Rhimes’ company Shondaland. As such, the network will hold off until midseason on bringing back its TGIT branding for Thursday nights.

“That’s an ABC marketing strategy, but it is closely associated with Shonda’s shows, particularly ‘Scandal,’ so it made sense to wait to bring that back until scandal comes back in January.”

ABC heads into the new season with a returning slate that includes four of the top 10 rated dramas and four of the top 10 rated comedies from the 2015-16 season in Nieslen’s 18-49 demo. But the network also finished the previous season in last place in the ratings race between the four major broadcasters, and saw many of its highest rated shows — particularly “Scandal” suffer steep ratings declines after midseason.

Also touched on by Dungey:

• Asked about the longstanding criticism that neither “The Bachelor” nor “The Bachelorette” has featured a person of color in the central role in either series’ long run: “I would very much like to see some changes there. I think one of the big changes that we need to do is increase the pool [of contestants] in the beginning.” She also admitted to being a fan of Lifetime’s “Unreal,” which features a fictionalized version of “The Bachelor.” “I don’t think we’ve ever had a full network conversation about ‘Unreal,’ but I enjoy watching it as a viewer.”

• About the cancellation of drama “Nashville”: “‘Nashville’ is a show that I personally truly loved and to not have it back as a little bit of a heartbreak for me.” She added that she was “thrilled” to see it picked up by CMT for a fifth season so she can continue watching it.

• Dungey reaffirmed the network’s commitment to shows that portray onscreen diversity, saying “We’re so proud that we reflect America in all of its diversity, and we want to continue in that direction.” She also discussed the network’s interest in portraying characters with disability, as its new fall comedy “Speechless” does. “For us it was an area that we were very interested in tackling.”