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ABC Chief Channing Dungey Talks ‘Scandal’ End Plan, TGIT’s Future

Through five seasons, “Scandal” has consistently been among broadcast’s highest rated dramas. With the sixth season of the Shonda Rhimes-produced series set to debut Jan. 26, ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey discussed with Variety whether a plan for when and how to end the show is yet in place.

“I would say yes, in Shonda’s head,” Dungey said in an interview Tuesday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif. “I know already that she has some great ideas for next season, which will be season seven. We have not really talked about what happens after that. But I love the show and I would happily keep the show on as long as she feels that she has creative runway to write the show.”

Dungey was promoted to programming head of ABC last year after six years of leading drama development for the network. In that role and in her new position, she developed four of the five Rhimes-produced dramas set to air on ABC this season: “Scandal,” “How to Get Away With Murder,” “The Catch,” and a still-untitled forthcoming drama based on “Romeo and Juliet.”

In addition to those series, ABC also has Rhimes’ “Grey’s Anatomy,” currently in its 13th season and the network’s highest rated drama. According to Dungey, there is no cap on how many shows Rhimes could potentially have on the network.

“I will take as many things as Shonda will give me,” Dungey said. But the network may in the future place less emphasis on the Thursday-night “TGIT” programming block that has clustered “Grey’s,” “Scandal,” and “Murder” on one evening. That strategy originated two seasons ago under Dungey’s predecessor Paul Lee as a way to counterprogram against “Thursday Night Football” with female-friendly dramas. But it was less successful last season, as “Scandal” ratings began to lag and critics raised concerns about the creative quality of the show.

“The truth of the matter is we’ve kind of been spinning things mostly around Thursday,” Dungey said. “There certainly is an opportunity for us to pepper them throughout the schedule.”

Rhimes also has two more projects in development at ABC: a legal drama and a comedy from writer Liz Tuccillo.

Dungey has sought to broaden the creative scope of the network’s drama offerings, which under Lee tended to skew heavily female. Among ABC’s fall freshman dramas this season, female-leaning “Notorious” and “Conviction” floundered in the ratings, while the more balanced “Designated Survivor” has been a solid performer, particularly in delayed viewing.

“When I first stepped into this role and did my first upfront, one of the goals that I set out was to bring more men into the tent,” Dungey said. “I felt as through we had gotten to a place where we were very heavily skewing [female] not so much in terms of the audience per se, but in terms of some of the content.” The appeal that “Designated Survivor” has shown among male and female audiences, she added, has been a positive for the network. “So I think we’re going to continue to look for shows in that vein.” In November, ABC announced that it had ordered a new superhero series, “Inhumans,” from Disney sibling Marvel Entertainment.

Dungey also points to the network’s past as an indicator of what it might look like in the future. She has emphasized to her drama development team her desire to seek out shows that are “a little lighter, brighter, more hopeful,” she said.

“I think that that’s again a space that broadcast can occupy differently than cable or streamers,” she said. “There was a point I felt like everyone was heading in that direction of ‘How can we be darker than ‘Breaking Bad’?’ While I think certainly there is a place for darker shows on our air, I look at things like ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Ugly Betty’ and ‘Brothers and Sisters,’ and would love to bring a little bit more of that tone back to our air as well.”

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