×

What Does Channing Dungey Mean for Netflix? (Column)

The media brand whose identity is having no identity has just hired an executive who made her name on her taste.

Netflix’s news Monday that Channing Dungey was entering the company in a newly created role as vice president of original content would seem to be a step forward for a company whose vast volume of productions share nothing but the platform on which they air. “The Crown,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Santa Clarita Diet,” and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (to name but four titles picked at random) are shows that could only share an outlet that made breadth a core part of its mission. By contrast, at ABC, where she served as entertainment president from February 2016 until last month, Dungey can be said to have pursued a unified vision of the network’s identity, shifting toward a middle America-friendly slate of programming that minted a few genuine hits — the short-lived “Roseanne” and the promising medical franchise “The Good Doctor.”

Not everything that happened during Dungey’s tenure worked: ABC’s ratings woes still haven’t stabilized, and the volubility of Roseanne Barr on social media doomed what had looked like the first piece of a network rebuilding strategy. But, crucially, Dungey was an executive with a vision that went beyond simply winning; her ABC was a place one understood as standing for certain concepts. Lacking the boundless resources of a cash-flush streamer, boxed in by dwindling broadcast audiences, and working with a few nightly hours of prime-time rather than the expansiveness of the web, Dungey made canny choices to position ABC as the default network for folks between the coasts.

Of course, those people are just like anyone else, viewers and creators alike — they’re shifting their entrenched viewing habits and migrating to Netflix. Who needs to compromise on a show for the whole family when each member of that family can watch their own favorite show on their own respective device? Netflix’s something-for-everyone strategy has made it into a safe landing place for any conceivable viewer, even as it’s helped erode the perhaps-archaic idea that a television outlet is well-served by a recognizable identity.

It’s impossible to speculate about what, exactly, Dungey will do at Netflix, a service whose expansiveness of programming is nearly matched by its opacity. A recent executive session at the Television Critics Association press tour saw Cindy Holland, the Netflix veteran who will now work alongside Dungey, shed little light on her decision-making process, and much press around Netflix emphasizes the degree to which programming is determined by catering to data-driven subsets of the audience rather than attempting to find consensus hits.

But it seems notable that Dungey is entering as high-profile creators recently snapped up — not only Ryan Murphy but also former ABC-based showrunners Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris — work towards showing the world their first series for the creatively appealing commercial-free environment of a streamer.

Supervising a broad spectrum of series as different as “Narcos” and “Orange Is the New Black” takes one sort of talent; working on a suite of programs that share the vision of a single creator takes another, a skill set perhaps best honed at a broadcaster beholden to an image and an idea of the purpose it serves in the marketplace. That Dungey has strong relationships with two of the three major showrunners Netflix has recently bet hugely on is another point in her favor. Dungey’s former ABC showrunnersRhimes and Barris, as well as Murphy, incidentally, are the sort of creators whose original work is uniquely hard to categorize. There are few comparable programs to, say, a Murphy show that aren’t themselves made by Murphy. Data, then, can perhaps only do so much when it comes to guiding his decisions.

There’s a lot an executive like Dungey can do for Netflix over and above brand-building: For one thing, her time at ABC Studios is an asset in the programming and production process, one that for a place with as many irons in the fire as Netflix is surely complicated. But Dungey is, too, known for her ability to transmit a signal through the noisiness of the present-day media landscape, and may help Netflix transition, in its quest towards star showrunner-driven-projects, toward judgment informed by data but not defined by it, and towards a sense of Netflix’s identity for the first time in the streamer’s existence. Some portion of Netflix may well come to have the sort of brand executives like Dungey help craft, and that Netflix had — until hiring her — seemed to have little time for. As Netflix prepares to ramp up suites of programming built by creators whose taste and crispness of vision have helped show viewers what they might want instead of catering to what they already know they do, there might just come to be a Netflix within Netflix that evinces a bit of that most old-fashioned element: sensibility.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Succession HBO

    'Succession' Composer Nicholas Britell on Making Music for the One Percent

    The Roys, the media empire family at the heart of HBO’s “Succession,” are ridiculously rich. They’re manipulative and cruel. They’re also a bit delusional and absurd. When Nicholas Britell conceived the show’s score, he wanted to capture all of that. “I wrote in this almost late-1700s, dark classical zone,” says Britell, the Oscar-nominated composer of [...]

  • Ewan McGregor of 'American Pastoral'Variety and

    Ewan McGregor Confirms Obi-Wan Kenobi Disney Plus Series to Shoot Next Year

    Ewan McGregor has confirmed that he will be reprising the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi for a Disney Plus series centered around the powerful Jedi, after Variety previously reported that he was in talks for the series. At Disney biennial D23 convention in Anaheim, Calif. on Friday, McGregor provided more details about the prospective show and [...]

  • Cody Rhodes, Brandi Rhodes. Professional wrestlers

    Listen: Brandi and Cody Rhodes Give Wrestlers’ Perspective to AEW

    Wrestlers and husband and wife duo Brandi and Cody Rhodes bring an inside the ring perspective to their executive roles at the nascent All Elite Wrestling (AEW). Cody Rhodes, executive vice president, and Brandi Rhodes, chief brand officer, spoke on Variety’s “TV Take” podcast with Joe Otterson about their new wrestling league.  AEW will put [...]

  • Ms Marvel She Hulk and Moon

    Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, She-Hulk Series Ordered at Disney Plus

    Marvel debuted three new series it has ordered for streaming service Disney Plus at D23 Expo: a live-action Ms. Marvel series, as well as two additional series based on Moon Knight and She-Hulk. “That’s three new series coming to the MCU, that’s what Disney Plus is allowing us to do,” said president of Marvel Studios [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Opposition Candidate Blasts Writers Guild Tactics Over Agencies

    Opposition candidate Nick Jones Jr. has condemned the tactics of the Writers Guild of America in its battle against Hollywood agents. “I believe we’ve disrupted ourselves more than we’ve disrupted the Big 4,” he said. Jones, who’s running for the secretary-treasurer post as part of Phyllis Nagy’s Writers Forward Together slate, is running on a [...]

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- "Yes, It's Really

    Emmys: Netflix, 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Take Early Wins as TV Academy Announces Juried Awards

    Netflix is taking the early lead at this year’s Emmys race, with six wins, thanks to the Television Academy’s juried award winners for animation, choreography, interactive programming and motion design, which were announced on Friday. The outstanding individual achievement in animation category, a “juried” prize that means several, one or no winners could be named, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content