ABC’s Channing Dungey Talks Time’s Up, Shonda Rhimes, Fox Deal

The morning after the Time’s Up movement dominated the Golden Globe Awards, ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey spoke about changing attitudes toward sexual harassment and assault in the industry and how they have impacted her network.

“I think that we’re kind of at a watershed moment in a real way, and it’s an exciting time to be here, to be in this role to be at this company,” Dungey said Monday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena. “We think that we have a collective responsibility to do more and to do better. Whether it’s 50-50 by 2020, whether it’s Time’s Up and everything else that’s happening, I’m really happy that these conversations are happening. I think it’s an issue that we have always taken very seriously as a company, and we will continue to do so moving forward. We have a collective responsibility to do everything we can to make sure that everyone feels that the workplace is a safe and equal environment. I definitely want to be a part of all of that.”

When asked whether that attitude will be reflected in the network’s programming, Dungey said, “I hope so. When I think about the shows that we have on our air, we’ve been known for a long time for shows that feature strong, dynamic, powerful women at their forefront. And we’re going to continue with that kind of storytelling. I think that the more that we can show onscreen men and women working together side by side with respect for one another, I think that that’s a good message for us to  be spreading.”

Dungey also spoke about the departure of Shonda Rhimes from the ABC orbit. In August, the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” creator signed an overall deal with Netflix, ending her 15-year relationship with ABC Studios.

“My relationship with Shonda pretty much dates back to my first days in television,” Dungey said, noting that her first assignment as an executive at ABC was on “Grey’s Anatomy.” “I’ve known for a while that Shonda was interested in stretching different sets of creative muscles, and I think we all know that there are different challenges and opportunities in broadcast and different challenges and opportunities in streaming. I wish her all the best as she explores those new options.”

Speaking to reporters after the session, Dungey countered the notion that Rhimes’ departure would leave lasting damage at ABC.

“Over time there have been people saying how are they going to survive without Aaron Spelling, how are they going to survive without Steven Bochco, how are they going to survive without J.J. Abrams,” she said. “Now they’re saying how are they going to survive without Shonda Rhimes. The great thing is there’s always new talent that emerges. This is going to give them an opportunity to step into the spotlight even more.”

Unlike last week, when the pending acquisition by ABC parent the Walt Disney Co. of the bulk of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets was the most discussed topic at Fox Broadcasting’s executive session, the mega-deal was barely mentioned Monday. Asked about its potential impact, Dungey said only, “At the moment my focus is on everything that’s directly in front of me,” adding that it was the company’s policy not to talk publicly about a pending transaction.

Prior to Dungey’s executive session, ABC staffers distributed shot glasses bearing the words “Business as Usual” to journalists — an obvious reference to the refrain sounded numerous times by Fox executive Gary Newman during his TCA appearance last week.

With development for 2018-19 in full swing, Dungey also talked during her session about her priorities as she prepares to begin ordering pilots.

“I do want to focus on shows that are lighter, brighter, more emotional,” she said, adding that she was encouraged by the network’s success with freshman drama “The Good Doctor.” “I think closed-ended storytelling is also important to us. We’ve been looking for a while to [do something in] the police-procedural space. So we have a number of those kinds of ideas in the drama space.”

In comedy, she added, “We’re going to continue to focus on family comedies, because that is something that our audience really comes to ABC for. But at the same time we’re going to push the boundaries of what a family comedy actually means.”

Among topics Dungey spoke with reporters about after the session:

• Marvel drama “Inhumans” appears unlikely to come back for a second season. “It didn’t perform up to the level we would have wanted,” she said.

• Long-running fantasy drama “Once Upon a Time” is still in play for another season despite declines in live-plus-same day Nielsen ratings, because of encouraging signs in delayed viewing. “The fan base hasn’t really shifted all that much, they’ve been watching it time-shifted,” Dungey said, adding that creators Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz are coming in soon to pitch ideas for a new season.

• Comedy “The Middle” will end with an hour-long episode. “I don’t think there’s going to be a dry eye in the house,” she said.

• Dungey said she and ABC Studios president Patrick Moran have been discussing how plans for Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming service might affect the network. “Patrick and I are in lots of conversations about the things that make sense for [the streaming service] versus us. It’s an ongoing conversation for us.”

• With “Roseanne” set to return to the network, Dungey said that she’s “open” to the idea of the show coming back for more episodes beyond this season.

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