×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Why Channing Dungey’s Exit From ABC Is a Sign of the Times

Channing Dungey’s time as president of ABC was short. But it was certainly memorable — both for moves she made and for shockwaves she and her network attempted to absorb.

As the head of the network, Dungey made several canny decisions meant to reframe ABC as the default choice for Middle America. What was until recently a network organized around the dramatic brilliance of Shonda Rhimes and the razor wit of Kenya Barris was to become the network of folksy, plainspoken conservatives (“Roseanne”), sweetly aspirational music competition (“American Idol”) and pleasant uplift (“The Good Doctor”). But big bets tended to slightly underwhelm — the appetites and habits of the audience having changed since a show’s heyday, “American Idol” was a success but not a smash — or in the case of “Roseanne,” to blow up in all the wrong ways. And making matters worse, Dungey lost her network’s two signature creative forces, Rhimes and Barris, to Netflix.

Her departure makes it a clean sweep across the broadcast networks: Each has lost a top-level executive this year, with Robert Greenblatt stepping down from NBC, Gary Newman unable to come to an accord with Fox in its merger with Disney, and Leslie Moonves losing his place as chairman of CBS amid allegations of sexual misconduct. But Dungey’s story feels most illustrative of the challenges facing networks and their chiefs in an increasingly difficult landscape. The brevity of her tenure — nearly three years — makes it clear the job was something of a poisoned chalice. So too did the choices she was forced into, and choices that were made for her.

Dungey likely could have done more to nurture her network’s relationships with Rhimes and especially with Barris, who has spoken of feeling bruised over ABC’s risk-averse handling of a “Black-ish” episode addressing football players kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. But there was no realistic way ABC could compete with the compensation offered the two creatives by Netflix. And in a climate short on reliable ratings draws, Dungey’s two series revivals brought little but grief. ABC shelled out massively for an only decently performing “Idol” and was delighted by the ratings of “Roseanne” — before watching its star implode with a racist barb on Twitter. A network not starved for hits would likely not have gone into business with Barr, known long before her show’s revival as a social-media troll; even at the peak of its success, the show was the most conditional of victories. In its iteration as “The Conners,” the series has come to feel like a concession to failure, an acknowledgment that ABC was compelled by panic into making a show it otherwise would never have.

It turns out Middle America is just like everyone else: Many, enrapt by Netflix and HBO Go and Fortnite, have fallen out of the habit of watching broadcast television nightly. That ABC can’t even get reliable ratings for its signature live event, the Academy Awards, signals just how much the ground shifted under the feet of Dungey and every other broadcast TV executive. Dungey’s place in history is earned in part by having lived through so much of it so quickly. She may well be remembered less for what she did than for what she presided over: a network in the moment that networks’ primacy conclusively fell away.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Elite Season 2

    San Sebastian: Spain’s SVOD Players Debate Competition, Brand, Talent

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — Executives from HBO, Netflix, Amazon and Movistar+ and “Elite” co-creator Darío Madrona took to the stage to field questions on the Global Impact of Spanish Series. Here, briefly, are five takeaways: 1.Spain First “La Casa de Papel” was watched by 34,355,956 Netflix accounts over its first seven days,  after a July 19 [...]

  • Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers

    Samsung Makes Bid to Keep Viewers From Skipping Fox Ad Breaks

    Fox is hoping to knit together the seconds-long divide between a TV program and the commercials that support it. During ad breaks for a few football broadcasts, tomorrow’s run of the Emmys and Wednesday’s season premiere of “The Masked Singer,” the network will kick off ad sessions with special show promos that display artistic renderings [...]

  • Patria

    HBO Europe Unveils ‘Patria’ Footage to Captive San Sebastian Audience

    SAN SEBASTIAN — Amid large expectation, HBO Europe has revealed first footage giving a first sense of tone and pace of its Spanish original series “Patria.” A packed-to-overflowing press conference on Saturday morning at the San Sebastian Festival can be read as one sign of the potential popularity of the eight-part series. The panel sneak-peek [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • Peter Weber and Mike Johnson

    'The Bachelor's' Mike Johnson on Diversity and New Leading Man Peter Weber

    ABC named its newest star of “The Bachelor” this week, officially making Peter Weber the leading man for Season 24 of the long-running dating show. Social media backlash ensued following the announcement due to ABC’s selection lacking diversity, yet again. Since the dating franchise began in 2002, there has been only one “Bachelorette” of color [...]

  • ABC Studios Logo

    ABC Studios Head of Alternative Fernando Hernandez Exits

    ABC Studios’ head of alternative Fernando Hernandez has departed from his post at the Disney-owned television studio, a source familiar with the situation told Variety. The Hollywood Reporter first reported the news. Hernandez’s exit follows an executive shuffling at the top in recent months that has included the departure of Amy Hartwick, ABC Studio’s head [...]

  • Rob Cowan, Greg Silverman'The Conjuring 2'

    Greg Silverman’s Stampede, School of Rock Team for Unscripted Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Former president of Warner Bros. Pictures Greg Silverman is partnering with School of Rock through his content creation company Stampede. The collaboration with the music school will create exclusive content, starting with the development of an unscripted series.  School of Rock operates a network of performance-based education franchises that offer students of all ages guidance [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content