ABC Chief on Snagging 'American Idol': "It Felt Like the Perfect Home at the Perfect Time"

Channing Dungey also addressed the demise of 'Last Man Standing' during her pre-upfront call with reporters.
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Channing Dungey

Hours before media buyers flooded into Lincoln Center's David Geffen Hall on Tuesday afternoon, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey faced the critics.

Among the questions lobbed at her during the pre-upfront press conference: What night will American Idol air? Will the format be tweaked to make it feel fresh? Can the long-running franchise avoid losing money at ABC? And why is now the right time to bring it back?

Unfortunately, Dungey had little to offer by way of answers. She was not yet ready to unveil host or judge names (both Ryan Seacrest and Katy Perry are in talks), much less a premiere date and time for the series. The exec was similarly coy about tweaks to the show’s format, except to say that the forthcoming edition would be “ABC’s version of American Idol.”

As for any financial concerns — a subject that Fox TV Group CEO Dana Walden hammered Monday when she said the show lost an "enormous amount of money" in addition to viewers in its later years at Fox — Dungey suggested she was confident that it would all work itself out. So, while conversations with producers Fremantle and Core about budgets are still ongoing — part of the reason why Idol won’t be on in the fall — Dungey believes the long-running franchise will benefit strongly from its ability to draw a live audience. “Advertisers love shows that people like to watch live,” she reminded those on the call.  

What’s more, per Dungey, Idol should prove a valuable promotional platform for other shows on the ABC lineup, much as it did at Fox for years. And though Walden said she felt it was “extremely fraudulent” to reboot the show so quickly after promoting its 15th season as its final one in 2016, Dungey feels otherwise. “What I love about it personally is that it’s about heartfelt, uplifting stories of people who make their dreams come true, and honestly, that’s our sweet spot at ABC,” she said. “All of our alternative franchises deal in that, so for me that makes it feel like the perfect home at the perfect time.” (Dungey downplayed earlier preliminary conversations in which ABC passed on the franchise as just that — early and preliminary.)

During what was left of the call, the exec addressed some of the other decisions she was forced to make in recent weeks, calling the one to cancel Shondaland sophomore drama The Catch her biggest disappointment of the past season. (Dungey's biggest happy surprises were comedies working on Tuesday and the creative success of since-renewed Designated Survivor, though in praising the Kiefer Sutherland drama she acknowledged the litany of behind-the-scenes showrunner changes.) Axing Last Man Standing was a challenge, too, particularly since the Tim Allen comedy was such a steady ratings performer for the network, but Dungey said she saw no place for the show — produced by 20th TV — once she decided to cancel Dr. Ken and move away from comedy on Fridays. “A large part of this job,” she explained, “is managing failure.”

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