ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey has stepped down, becoming the second high-profile network executive to leave as the Walt Disney Co. prepares to bring in new management from Fox.
Longtime programmer Karey Burke, who has been developing original shows for Disney’s Freeform channel, on Friday was named as Dungey’s replacement. Burke will immediately begin her new role, which includes overseeing ABC’s primetime and late-night programming.
Dungey’s departure — she will leave after a transition period — comes less than three years after she made history by becoming the first African American to lead a major TV network.
Her exit was not unexpected, given the wholesale changes to Disney’s television empire in Burbank. Disney is spending $71.3 billion to buy much of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox media company, in large part, to turbocharge its TV operations because the company plans to roll out a Disney-branded streaming service in late 2019.
Fox’s top television executives — Peter Rice, Dana Walden and FX head John Landgraf — will be installed to oversee ABC and its cable channels when the Fox transaction closes early next year. In advance of that shake-up, Ben Sherwood, who has served as president of the Disney/ABC Television group for the last three years, announced that he would be leaving Disney after the Fox transaction is complete.
The new team will have its work cut out: the ABC network is suffering from sharp ratings declines this season. Among the key audience demographic of viewers ages 18 to 49, the network’s ratings are down 18% from a year ago, the sharpest drop among the four major broadcast networks. ABC draws an average of 6.1 million viewers in primetime, according to Nielsen data.
Other TV networks are struggling too, amid a glut of programming. Streaming services are spending about $20 billion this year to create shows designed to snatch viewers from the traditional channels. However, ABC’s rivals NBC and Fox have seen their prime-time audiences grow this season, in large part on the strength of their NFL football broadcasts.
Dungey, 49, was promoted to the post in early 2016 at a time when a lack of diversity in Hollywood’s executive suites was drawing increased scrutiny. A veteran development executive, Disney leaders championed Dungey’s taste and collaborative approach.
She repaired relationships with high-profile producers and guided the launch of a few new hits, including “Speechless,” “The Good Doctor,” “The Rookie” and “Roseanne,” which exploded into one television’s biggest hits. But that sit-com fell apart last spring after its star, Roseanne Barr, made racist remarks on Twitter. Dungey pushed for Barr’s firing — a move that was supported by the Disney brass.
“I’m grateful to Channing for her significant contributions and unwavering dedication to the success of ABC over the past 14 years,” Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger said in a statement. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to work with and mentor Channing; her curiosity, passion and creativity will ensure she is successful in whatever path she chooses going forward.”
Dungey, in a statement, said she was “incredibly proud of what the team and I have accomplished over the years, and all the meaningful and impactful programming we’ve developed. This job has been the highlight of my career.”
There will likely be other changes at ABC and a shift in culture. Rice, who has spent his entire career at Fox, will run the Disney/ABC television operation. Walden will become chairwoman of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment with oversight of ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform. She will also be in charge of ABC’s television production studio, which will be under pressure to ramp up the programming pipeline to support Disney’s planned streaming service.
Landgraf will continue to run the FX channels, which will come to Disney as part of the Fox acquisition.
And now Burke, 52, has a prominent role in the new leadership team, overseeing day-to-day operations at ABC. She will report to Walden and be responsible for all development, programming, casting, marketing, business affairs and scheduling for ABC prime-time and late-night shows.
“Over the past four years at Freeform, and throughout her career, Karey has proven herself a gifted leader with a strong track record of developing unique programming,” Iger said in a statement. “Karey’s attention to, and intimate knowledge of, the audience, and a commitment to quality will be a great addition to the creative team at ABC.”
Burke joined Disney’s youth-oriented Freeform channel four years ago as executive vice president for programming and development. She helped guide the small channel's scripted and unscripted series, including the popular “Grown-ish” and “Siren.” Before joining Disney, she was a television producer, including a stint as a partner with Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg in Katalyst Films.
From the mid-1990s to 2003, Burke was a program executive at NBC Entertainment. She helped oversee such programming as “The West Wing” and “Will and Grace.” She was involved in the development and production of such shows as “Friends,” “Ed,” “Mad About You,” “Scrubs,” “Freaks and Geeks.”
“I am thrilled to be joining the wonderful team at ABC, and look forward to working with them to create groundbreaking, and memorable, television together,” Burke said in a statement.