Network TV executives don’t typically cancel the No. 1 show on their network. But that’s exactly what Channing Dungey did.
Of course, the situation that led to the swift cancellation of ABC’s reboot of “Roseanne” in May,just days after the network aired the ninth and final episode of the show’s comeback season, was anything but typical. And Dungey, then president of ABC Entertainment and well respected inside and outside the company, is not your typical television executive.
She’s a creative first — the woman who helped Shonda Rhimes launch “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder” at ABC during her days in drama development. She was the rare executive who producers could count on to attend a reading of a script and know everyone’s name.
Dungey is also, by sister Merrin Dungey’s account, the rare exception in an industry that often values talk over authenticity. “There’s not a false note about her as a person and as an executive,” Merrin Dungey, an actress who stars in ABC’s new show “The Fix,” told CNN Business.
When the ax came down on “Roseanne” hours after Roseanne Barr went on a racist Twitter tirade, outsiders were shocked by ABC’s bold move. The show was the network’s highest-rated launch in years and a top-performer across all networks. (“The Conners,” a spinoff, replaced the series in the fall.)
In announcing the show’s end, Dungey, 49, issued a one-sentence statement: “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
The concise, direct response drew praise for Dungey both inside ABC — from Rhimes, “Scandal” star Kerry Washington and “Roseanne” actress Emma Kenney, to name a few — and elsewhere.
“For the record, this is Channing Dungey,” director Ava DuVernay tweeted, sharing a photo of the executive. “Sitting on top of your world like a Queen in full judgement [sic] of your garbage and taking it out.”
The praise was not universal. Some of Barr’s conservative supporters came to her defense.
In Hollywood, the decision put Dungey, the first black executive to lead a major American network, in a spotlight like never before. If her reputation had been one of a forward-thinking visionary with the heart of a creative, she also became known as someone who could and would make the toughest of decisions.
“I love how they handled that and how she handled that, and I couldn’t have been more proud,” Merrin Dungey said.
Dungey left ABC in November 2018, concluding a professional relationship with Disney that started in 2004 at Touchstone Television. One month later, she landed at Netflix, a company that’s changing Hollywood.
When announcing Dungey’s appointment, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, called her “a creative force whose taste and talent have earned her the admiration of her peers across the industry.”
“She’s a risk taker and ground-breaker, and talent love working with her,” he said.
Dungey had fielded multiple offers after announcing her departure from ABC, her sister told CNN Business.
The move to Netflix, where she is vice president of original contentalongside Cindy Holland, reunites Dungey with Rhimes and “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, who have both taken lucrative deals at the streaming service.
“Channing is a person of her convictions,” Merrin Dungey said. “She also can look at things from many different sides — as a network president, as a woman, as a woman of color, as someone who hasn’t lived the life where things have been handed to them. She’s worked for every single thing that she’s gotten.”