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Former ABC President Channing Dungey joins Netflix

In a move anticipated within the industry, Dungey is headed to the new home of two other former powerhouse ABCers: Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris.

Former ABC President Channing Dungey joins Netflix
[Photo: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Fortune]

Channing Dungey, the former head of ABC Entertainment who stepped down in November, is joining Netflix, where she will oversee original TV series alongside Cindy Holland, the company’s longtime head of originals. 

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The move was anticipated within the industry and reunites Dungey with two of her former showrunners, Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) and Kenya Barris (Black-ish), both of whom decamped from ABC to Netflix earlier this year. At Netflix, Channing will also oversee other high-profile producers, such as the Obamas, who have a producing deal at the company; Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black, Glow) and Marti Noxon; as well half of the originals executive team. The other half will report to Holland. 

Interestingly, sources told The Hollywood Reporter that Dungey, a TV veteran who had been at ABC since 2004, will also have a direct line of communication with Netflix’s content chief Ted Sarandos. Like other executives whom Netflix has poached from traditional entertainment companies, such as Scott Stuber, who heads Netflix’s original film division, Dungey brings experience working with talent and nurturing projects as the company invests more heavily in its own content–and begins to operate more like a traditional studio. In contrast, Holland was promoted to oversee originals in 2012, when Netflix first began making its own shows. She started at the company in DVD acquisitions and then took over domestic TV licensing. 

Dungey’s exit from ABC came as its parent company, the Walt Disney Company, was preparing to merge with 21st Century Fox. The new arrangement would have united Dungey with her formal rival at Fox, Dana Walden, who was named in October as incoming Disney TV Studios chairman. Her departure also marked the end of a dramatic year at ABC. After green-lighting a remake of Roseanne that became one of the network’s biggest hits, Dungey swiftly fired the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, after she made a racist slur on Twitter. The show continued production as a spin-off (The Conners) without Barr, but has faired less spectacularly in the ratings. 

Dungey became a star of sorts in her own right over the Barr firing. She has also gained attention for being the first African-American head of a major network. This role will be an asset at Netflix, which has been struggling with diversity issues. Over the summer, former head of communications Jonathan Friedland was fired after making racist remarks, including using the “N” word.” Netflix then hired an exec to oversee “inclusion strategy.” 

In an interview earlier this year with Fast Company, Dungey discussed the creative challenges of working at a broadcast network, giving signs that like Rhimes and Barris–who both said they left ABC in order to stretch their creative muscles–she was growing weary of corporate limitations.  

“You do have some very real limitations, right?” she said. “We have to adhere to FCC regulations and broadcast standards and practices. And there are other things that we hold to, you know. ABC is part of the Walt Disney Company, so we’re very against smoking on television, for example. I recognize that we have to kind of play within all those rules. So I want to give latitude [to creatives] where we can, but then there are other points where you feel like you have to step in.” 

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Yet she also spoke glowingly of the network model, and when she was asked specifically about competing with Netflix she said it was “an apples and oranges conversation.” 

“These are two different [kinds of] businesses, and they serve two different needs. For us it’s not about competing with Netflix. Streaming is something you do for you, which is why Netflix has your profile, your husband’s profile, your kid’s profile. Broadcast is something people tend to do together, wether it’s families watching comedies or friends who watch The Bachelor and drink wine and talk to the screen. I’ve made the decision in this role to look for shows that can be watched together. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to bring American Idol back: It hit that sweet spot of something that you can watch live, you can watch as a family, and that you can [turn into events] with live shows.” 

Dungey starts her new post in February. 

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About the author

Nicole LaPorte is an LA-based writer for Fast Company who writes about where technology and entertainment intersect. She previously was a columnist for The New York Times and a staff writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Variety

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