Channing Dungey called ABC's top executives meeting on Friday to announce that they would step down as the network's entertainment president. Within an hour, Disney went public with news that Kungy Burke, program director for ABC's sibling Cabler Freeform, was seeking to succeed Dungey.
The news came as no surprise to those who know Dungey, who was struggling to decide whether to stay with ABC or continue when their contract ended early next year, three years after becoming President in February 2016 had been appointed by ABC Entertainment.
But the news still produced a shockwave in ABC. The fear of the network was already great as Disney prepared for the 21
"Everyone is devastated," an insider told Variety . "There is a reason why Channing has become so popular and respected in the city."
Present sources say Variety that Dungey gave no indication when she talked to her leadership team about what her next step would be. She showed admiration for Rice, who will lead all non-sports TV activities; and Walden, who will oversee ABC, the Freeform cable channel, and the expanded TV studio operation.
Dungey was offered a new contract and encouraged to stay, but decided not to be part of the new regime.
Insiders emphasized that there is no evil will against Burke, an experienced will A TV executive who has been a member of Freeform's expanded Disney TV family since 2014. A source close to the situation indicated that the discussions with Dungey and Burke began about a month ago. Rice and Walden were involved in the process, although none of them officially started their new jobs at Disney.
Dungey had a unique position within the Disney ABC Television Group and throughout the industry. As a 14-year veteran of ABC, she moved to the entertainer position in 2016 following the departure of Paul Lee due to her record-breaking development of the drama for the network. The shows she has worked on, notably Shonda Rhimes' "Scandal" and "How to Get Away With Murder," have defined an era for ABC. As the first African-American leader to lead a broadcast network, her fame grew this year as she made the decision to abandon "Roseanne" – the best-rated TV show of the last season. Shortly after Roseanne Barr's racist comments on Twitter triggered a firestorm criticism. As a result, Dungey quickly worked with executive producer Tom Werner to develop a spin-off, The Conners, which would benefit from the show's popularity, with the exception of Barr, which voluntarily sacrificed its rights renounced to benefit financially from the new series.
"We were very clear that if we got ahead, Roseanne Barr would not have to participate in the show," Dungey said in Variety . " We were able to come to a place where everyone felt comfortable and well. We were very clear that Roseanne Barr, if we want to move forward, does not have to be involved in the show. We were able to come to a place where everyone felt comfortable and well.
Although Dungey's departure surprised her team with immediate effect, it came at a time when ABC insiders are just beginning to experience the expected change with the Fox acquisition. In October, network comedy boss Jamila Hunter left for the production company of Kenya Barris. Both Barris and Rhimes have both prematurely negotiated their ABC studios over the last year and a half to earn lucrative new agreements with Netflix, which have significantly impacted the ABC brand and its development pipeline.
What Dungey is doing next is a question for now. She is a popular executive with an admired programming taste and deep talent relationships – especially with Rhimes, whose Netflix development scheme is larger than some cable channels – and could benefit from an experienced leader who works with the producer.
The situation highlighted that the decision to leave ABC was taken exclusively by Dungey. She is known for having a close relationship with Disney Chairman and CEO, Bob Iger, who assured her that she would have a place at ABC or Disney in the post-Fox realignment. Dungey has expressed a desire to get closer to the production process, as it originated at ABC through the studio side.
Burke comes to ABC with experience as a buyer and seller. She worked at NBC during the Must-See TV wedding, started as an assistant in the early 1990s, and became executive vice president of the Primetime series before moving to a broader network transformation in 2003.
Burke partners with Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg at Katalyst Films, which has been active in both digital entertainment and traditional television at an early age. Katalyst had a long-term deal with 20th Century Fox TV when this studio was run by Walden, who has known Burke for a while from business and social circles.
In 2010, Burke collaborated with director Todd Holland on the Dark Toy production banners. This company has managed to land two NBC comedy series jobs – the Matthew Perry comedy "Go On" and the sitcom "Free Agents" – in a short time. Burke's time as a producer responsible for selling shows to networks will be invaluable, as she faces the challenge of keeping ABC in the game at a time when content costs go through the roof and top-notch. Talent deals reach the stunning nine-figure number range.
Burke's work at Freeform impressed Walden and Rice, both in terms of the programming quality of the cable, and the leadership they had shown in building their programming and marketing team at Freeform.
Dungey's stature at ABC has only grown in the last 12 months since the Fox transaction became a reality. One source noted that Dungey was focused on ensuring that its executives were well positioned after the merger, and that discussions with Burke were accelerating, the news published around 2 pm PT on Friday. This ability to control the information that brought such a high-level shuffle was a reflection of the Disney ethos, as opposed to Fox culture, where information and gossip in the Century City lot were traditionally much more porous ,
"They knew how to handle it in a way that would be very secretive," said a Fox executive who will make the transition to Disney. "It was very impressive."