ABC Entertainment Chief Talks 'Castle's' Demise, Shonda Rhimes' Future and More Marvel

Ahead of her network's upfront presentation, Channing Dungey also discussed her strategy as the newly installed honcho.
Jack Rowand/ABC
Channing Dungey

ABC's newly installed entertainment president Channing Dungey endured her first formal turn before the press.

Her pitch, which she will make to Madison Avenue buyers from the stage at Lincoln Center later Tuesday afternoon, was focused on the network’s ongoing (if slightly increased) commitment to family comedies and a host of “powerful” dramas, many of them from Shonda Rhimes.

During the call with reporters, Dungey acknowledged that she didn’t have a hand in selecting the batch of pilots that ABC developed this year, as that job fell to predecessor Paul Lee; at the same time, the former drama head suggested that the schedule that they now find themselves on is, indeed, a reflection of her sensibilities as far as where the Disney-owned network is at and where it’s headed.

Although she expressed enthusiasm about the ABC narrative — “We have a really good story here that I’m excited to share,” she said, after admitting she was a “tiny bit nervous” about the call — the broadcast network is poised to round out the season in fourth place, down 18 percent in the coveted 18-49 demographic from a year earlier. ABC will place third, ahead of Fox, among total viewers.

Here are the highlights from Dungey’s time with the press.

TGIT, No More?

When one reporter wondered aloud whether ABC would still be marketing the network’s Thursday night lineup as TGIT now that it has decided to stick a show (Notorious) that's not produced by Shonda Rhimes at 9 p.m., she suggested she didn’t yet know. As for why the net didn’t put Rhimes’ Still Star-Crossed or The Catch in that time slot, she noted that the former required more production time given its epic, sweeping period nature and the latter didn’t fit with her strategy to use the network’s strongest assets — in this case, Grey’s Anatomy — to launch new shows. (Scandal will hold until midseason to accommodate star Kerry Washington’s pregnancy.) Dungey also noted during her brief session with the press that the springtime schedule would likely feature more than one night of Rhimes fare as the uber-producer will simply have too many shows to be housed on a single night (four).

So, What Happened to Castle and Nashville?

Dungey couldn’t escape a question about the seemingly unexpected decisions to cancel both Castle and Nashville — the only surprise about said question was that it didn’t come earlier in the call. “At the end of the day, we didn't feel that even though Castle and Nashville were wonderful shows and good performers for a long time, the future for us didn't lie in those shows," she said, noting that ABC Studios (Castle) and Lionsgate TV (Nashville) were looking for the best creative and financial ways for both series to work while her net was examining what was the best fit for everything on its schedule. “Looking at ratings, our own finances and looking at new development, decisions came down to the wire, which is the difficult thing about these jobs as we weigh and measure different things.”

About those Marvel Moves

If you believe Dungey, you shouldn’t read too much into her decision to cancel Agent Carter, pass on Marvel’s Most Wanted and push Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to 10 p.m. (The latter move, she said, had more to do with making room for a new two-hour block of comedy on Tuesday to accommodate a strong development season for half-hours.) Dungey said she was engaged in extensive conversations with the folks at Marvel, and that together they have a handful of projects in development. She remained coy on specifics, noting only that the corporate cousins would look at series that would be beneficial to both brands.

The “Gap” Be Gone

Dungey is not as focused on the “gap” strategy that Lee had employed during his tenure. (The former network head would schedule shorter-order series (since-canceled Galavant, Agent Carter) between cycles of ABC’s serialized dramas.) When asked about her approach to benching series, she said it would be a mix of shorter and longer hiatuses. In fact, she noted at one point: “I’d prefer not to have big gaps.” With regard to scheduling, she suggested her strategy would also focus on strengthening 10 p.m. (which she called a “top priority”) as well as using the network’s biggest shows to help launch the freshman class.

Keep up with all the renewals, cancellations and new series pickups with THR's handy scorecard and follow the pilot crop status here. For full upfronts 2016 coverage, go to THR.com/upfronts.

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