ABC Shocker: Network President Paul Lee Out; Channing Dungey Takes Over

Michael Schneider
Channing Dungey, Paul Lee
From left: Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images, Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Paul Lee is out after more than five years as head of ABC Entertainment, as longtime ABC executive Channing Dungey has been named the network’s new entertainment president.

CHANNING DUNGEYThe move was unexpected, given that ABC, like all broadcast networks, is knee-deep in the middle of pilot season—when the networks develop and choose their next batch of new fall TV shows. Dungey will maintain continuity at ABC, however, as she was already a part of the current pilot process as ABC’s executive vice president of drama development, movies and miniseries.

ABC also made history with the announcement: Dungey becomes the first African American executive to lead one of the four major broadcast networks as entertainment president.

The news means Dungey will now help oversee, with Sherwood, the fate of all current shows for next season, plus select among this year's pilots which ones will go to series. She will now take the stage in May during ABC's upfront presentation to advertisers in order to announce the network's new lineup.

Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group, announced the abrupt change on Wednesday.

“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,” he said.

Lee's tenure had been rumored to be on rocky ground since Sherwood took the reins at Disney/ABC Television Group at the start of 2015.

Sherwood's predecessor, Anne Sweeney, was a big supporter of Lee. But The New York Times, which first broke the story, noted that Sherwood wanted to be more involved than Lee would have liked, and "also wanted ABC to focus more on CBS-style procedural crime series like NCIS, while Mr. Lee continued to back serialized dramas like Scandal and American Crime.

Insiders confirm that relations continued to grow more icy between Sherwood and Lee, and that Disney chief Bob Iger eventually allowed Sherwood to win that power struggle.

Fans of ABC's existing TGIT/Shonda Rhimes lineup should probably not worry. Rhimes remains a crucial part of the Disney/ABC TV family, and Dungey helped develop hits for ABC and its sister ABC Studios including Scandal, Criminal Minds, How to Get Away with Murder, Quantico, Army Wives and Once Upon A Time. She’ll report to Sherwood.

Patrick Moran, who ran ABC Studios as executive vice president under Lee, will now also report directly to Sherwood.

Dungey began her ABC career at ABC Studios, which she joined in 2004. She moved over to the network side in 2009.

“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. 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.”

In his own statement, Lee called his ABC tenure “a fantastic experience. 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. Together, we've transformed ABC into one of the strongest brands in television.”

Besides expanding Rhimes' presence, ABC's family comedy stable grew under Lee's watch. The executive was particularly instrumental in promoting more diversity on screen at the network.

Lee took over ABC in July 2010 after Steve McPherson was let go at the network. Lee moved over from ABC Family, which reinvented itself under his watch as a Millennial destination with shows like Pretty Little Liars.

It's unclear where Lee will land next, and ABC also didn't reveal whether there would be any other changes.

Lee also had his detractors in the TV business, as this tweet by The Muppets executive producer Bill Prady appears to allude to:

Bill Prady tweet