ABC Chief Paul Lee resigned, and is replaced by Channing Dungey as ABC President, according to the Hollywood Reporter. This would make Channing Dungey the very first African-American to become president of a major broadcast network.
“Leading ABC has been a fantastic experience,” Paul Lee said in a statement, via the New York Times. “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 is, of course, responsible for such television hits as Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, and American Crime. Paul Lee was responsible for a lot of the diversity within the network, and helped encourage shows like Fresh Off The Boat and Black-ish to get produced, according to co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, Ben Sherwood. Dungey oversaw the development of shows like Criminal Minds, Quantico, Army Wives, and Once Upon A Time, and will now be reporting directly to Ben Sherwood. It is unclear who will succeed Dungey as head of ABC’s drama department.
Rumors have been floating around for a while regarding the possibly that Paul Lee would be leaving ABC. These rumors began ever since the executive change at the top of Disney/ABC TV Group way back in the spring of 2012, when Ben Sherwood replaced Anne Sweeney. At that time, Lee made some changes to his contract, and went on to preside over one of the most successful broadcast seasons in recent years, as ABC last season launched a number of strong, diverse series led by Shonda Rhimes’ How To Get Away With Murder.
ABC is currently producing pilots for next season, so the timing of Lee’s resignation is quite interesting. Large executive changes such as this within a television network aren’t usually made during pilot season.
Channing Dungey being named President of ABC is also happening during Black History Month, so February 17 is sure to be remembered as an important day in black history. Dungey first joined ABC Studios in the summer of 2004. She graduated from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television in 1991. At the beginning of her career, Channing was working at 20th Century Fox as a development assistant for Davis Entertainment. In the mid ’90s, she left Fox and joined Warner Bros. as a production executive and was involved in supervising and developing some of the studio’s most successful films at that time, including The Matrix and Heat. Channing’s sister, Merrin Dungey, is an actress known for her television roles in The King of Queens, Alias, and Summerland.
But this is not the first instance in which ABC has let go of one of their entertainment executives during a pilot season. Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne went through the same thing in 2004, when they were dismissed in April of that year. Paul Lee is a British journalist who become a producer and then an executive, and seemed like somewhat of an outsider in Hollywood. Despite that fact, he managed to help bring in some incredibly successful television shows for ABC.
Paul Lee, during a live-blog last year, stated that “Hit shows will help focus and change a brand,” which Lee has done to some extent at ABC, with Shonda Rhimes completely owning Thursday night on the network. “Brands take a very very much longer time to build, than do specific hours of ratings. Within the structure that is broadcast television, I think you can make amazing television,” he says. “This is a great age of television on every platform.”
[Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Variety]