Channing Dungey Becomes First African-American To Lead Major TV Network

By Meg James and Yvonne Villarreal Los Angeles Times.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A major step in forward towards empowering women in Entertainment. Channing Dungey becomes the first African American head of a broadcast network. A UCLA report last year on Hollywood diversity found that 96 percent of TV network and studio heads were white and 71 percent were men.

LOS ANGELES

In a major shake-up, ABC television network made history Wednesday by naming Channing Dungey as entertainment president. She becomes the first African-American head of a broadcast network.

Clearing the way for the change, entertainment chief Paul Lee resigned. Lee was largely responsible for a creative renaissance at the network during his 5 1/2 -year tenure.

The move comes as Hollywood has been under increasing pressure to promote more women and people of color. A UCLA report last year on Hollywood diversity found that 96 percent of TV network and studio heads were white and 71 percent were men.

Dungey has been an executive at ABC for more than a decade and was most recently the No. 2 creative executive at the network, owned by Walt Disney Co.

The moves were announced by Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks.

"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," Sherwood said in a statement.

Lee leaves behind at the network a legacy of encouraging a more diverse lineup, with such shows as "Scandal," "How to Get Away With Murder," "black-ish" and "Fresh Off the Boat." He was known for taking bets that might have seemed risky and for supporting the writers and producers who provided shows to ABC.

Dungey also has been instrumental in the development and success of ABC's biggest hits over the past few years, Sherwood noted in the statement. As executive vice president of drama development, movies and miniseries for ABC's entertainment group, Dungey oversaw the development of such hits as "Scandal," "Criminal Minds," "How to Get Away With Murder," "Quantico," "Army Wives" and "Once Upon a Time."

"I'm thrilled and humbled that Ben has entrusted me with this tremendous opportunity," Dungey said in a statement. "And I am truly grateful to Paul for being a valued mentor and friend."

Lee joined ABC in 2010 after a successful tour at ABC Family, the cable network that is now known as Freeform.

"Leading ABC has been a fantastic experience," Lee said in a statement. "I'm especially proud of the incredible team I built and the strategic, creative vision we established and successfully executed for both the network and studio."

ABC advertising sales have been strong in the last two years, outpacing other broadcast networks even though ABC remains in third place overall. Still, advertisers have been eager to have their products associated with ABC's more inclusive shows, which appeal to young women and generate social chatter.

The ratings began to pick up last season with shows such as "How to Get Away With Murder" and "black-ish." But this season has contained a few misses, including "The Muppets" and "Blood & Oil," and now ABC is in fourth place in the ratings among the key demographic of viewers 18 to 49.

The former chief of ABC News, Sherwood assumed control of Disney's West Coast-based entertainment networks early last year.

Sherwood and Lee repeatedly clashed on various issues, including how to approach the increasingly dynamic Internet streaming service market, according to a person familiar with the tensions who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

Lee was fiercely protective of the ABC broadcast network brand and prime-time shows, while Sherwood has been more open to experimenting with ways to build Hulu, which is co-owned by Disney, and selling shows to digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

Lee's current contract was set to end later this year.

The move was a surprise, although there have been murmurs of discord at the Burbank network. The network wanted to announce the leadership change during a brief ongoing lull in the important TV pilot production season to ensure a smooth transition.

ABC executives have already picked this year's crop of pilots, which have begun shooting. The new shows will be selected in late April and early May.

As part of the restructuring, Sherwood decided to break the broadcast network and TV studio into separate divisions, reflecting the change in the business landscape. Increasingly, the TV studio has become a more valuable part of the franchise as networks derive more revenue from foreign markets and Internet streaming services.

The network said that Patrick Moran, executive vice president of ABC Studios, would continue to oversee day-to-day operations. The New York Times first reported Lee's resignation, attributing his departure to losing a power struggle with Sherwood.

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