After months of conflict and tension at ABC Entertainment, former drama chief Channing Dungey will become the first African-American woman to lead the company after the man who held that position, Paul Lee, resigned today.
Dungey had been a well-liked and respected executive at her old position and was responsible for overseeing two of Shonda Rimes’s most popular shows, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal, as well as Army Wives and Quantico. By stepping into Lee’s role, she will not only break the color barrier for leadership positions at ABC but within most of the major networks who have never had a black chief before.
On her revolutionary promotion, Dungey said, “I’m thrilled and humbled that Ben [Sherwood, whom she will report to] has entrusted me with this tremendous opportunity. And I am truly grateful to Paul for being a valued mentor and friend. I’ve had the great honor of working alongside the talented team at ABC for many years and look forward to starting this exciting new chapter with them.”
Paul Lee’s departure ends his five-and-a-half year command, during which time he green-lit pilots for Emmy-decorated shows such as How to Get Away With Murder and Scandal, as well as other popular series like Once Upon a Time, Black-ish, American Crime, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Though no one at ABC Entertainment will speak to this issue, there have been murmurs of Lee’s possible dethroning for a while now. After Ben Sherwood replaced Anne Sweeney as Lee’s direct superior in 2014, many wondered whether Sherwood and Lee’s conflicting visions for the company would carry too much friction for both to coexist. While Lee strived to focus on serial dramas, like American Crime, Sherwood desired ABC’s shows to follow a more formulaic format that would please the general audience. Coincidentally, Sherwood’s appointment came right as Lee finalized a new contract with ABC.
And though tensions between these two figures may have led to Lee’s demise, the fall of ABC’s ratings may have been the final nail in his coffin. Since September, the network has lost 13% of its overall audience, ranking fourth in the 18-24 demographic that advertisers covet like cat-nip. And while shows like Fresh Off the Boat, a show like many others on ABC frankly exemplifies more diversity than those of the networks that lead ABC in ratings, have had collected success, the number of canceled series this year overwhelmed Lee’s chances of staying on.
The rise in diverse shows also occurred under Dungey’s position as drama chief as well, and it will be something to see whether that flourishing characteristic will still be true in her new role. As far as diversity among the leading network’s executive positions, a report by UCLA last year showed that 96% of television heads were white and a subsequent 71% were male.
On Dungey, Ben Sherwood had this to say: “Channing is a gifted leader and a proven magnet for top creative talent, with an impressive record of developing compelling, breakthrough programming that resonates with viewers.”