ABC's Dungey Becomes First Black Woman to Lead Major TV Network

  • Network's audience loss is worst among Big Four this year
  • New chief helped develop hits like `Scandal,' `Criminal Minds'

Walt Disney Co.’s ABC named Channing Dungey president of entertainment, the first black leader of a major broadcast network. She succeeds Paul Lee, who stepped down amid steep viewer losses this season.

Dungey, who helped develop shows such as “Scandal” and CBS’s “Criminal Minds,” reports to Ben Sherwood, chairman of the Disney-ABC Television Group, the network said Wednesday in a statement. She previously was executive vice president for drama development, movies and miniseries at ABC.

Channing Dungey
Channing Dungey
Photographer: Angela Weiss/Getty Images for TheWrap

The lack of diversity in Hollywood has become a rallying cry for minority groups, especially after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in January nominated an all-white slate of actors for the Oscars for the second year in a row. Several of the shows Dungey has worked on feature minorities in lead roles. Civil rights groups applauded the appointment.

“ABC did the right thing,” said E. Faye Williams, president and chief executive officer of the National Congress of Black Women in Washington. “It’s our hope that with a black woman in charge we’ll have more positive coverage of our community.”

ABC has suffered the worst audience losses of the four major broadcast networks this season, with total viewers down 13 percent from a year earlier, according to data released Wednesday by Nielsen. The network’s audience has declined 15 percent in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that advertisers target.

Network18-49 Ratings
% Change
CBS    +3.5
Fox    +2.7
NBC   -12.7
ABC   -15

Lee had made programming for women and minorities a focus of the network for several years, introducing such shows as “Black-ish” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” which stars Viola Davis as a law professor at a prestigious university.

Disney rose 2.8 percent to $95.50 at the close in New York. The stock has dropped 9.1 percent this year.

“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 the statement.

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