ABC Entertainment Chief on Pulled 'Black-ish' Episode and the 'Roseanne' Effect

Like every other network chief, ABC’s Channing Dungey was asked to weigh in on the impact of her network's own smash hit, Roseanne.

And like nearly every other network chief, she opted not to wax on too emphatically about its impact on her new series orders. Instead, the ABC Entertainment chief noted that, due to Roseanne's late-March premiere timing, the network's pilots were already ordered and well underway by the time she and her team realized the hit they had on their hands. Going forward, however, Dungey acknowledged it would give her confidence to develop more multicamera comedies, an area in which ABC had not had the same success as some of its competitors before Roseanne.

The remainder of Dungey’s call with reporters ahead of ABC’s upfront presentation to media buyers Tuesday afternoon was laced with occasional queries on hot-button topics, including the personal politics of star Roseanne Barr and the recent, infamously pulled episode of Black-ish, titled "Bedtime Stories." In her half-hour or so with the press, she also addressed the decision to cancel Fox’s newly revived Last Man Standing a year earlier, citing a struggle to come to deal terms with studio partner 20th Century Fox TV, and her network's Kiefer Sutherland vehicle Designated Survivor. Of the latter, she stressed the show's lagging same-day ratings, as well as its behind-the-scenes struggles, which included a revolving door of showrunners (four, with the network briefly in talks for a fifth). “Ultimately,” she said, “we were less confident about the [show’s] creative path forward than we were our other shows.”

Returning to the subject of Roseanne, which came up often, Dungey was asked to share her thoughts about the presumed dig at inclusive comedies Black-ish and Fresh off the Boat in a recent episode, which set off many in the creative community and beyond. Dungey suggested she was “a little bit surprised” by the reaction to the line, insisting that it wasn’t meant to offend. “We thought that the writers were simply tipping their hat to those shows,” she said. “That said, I do stand by the Roseanne writers in terms of the decision to include that line. They felt that they were expressing the point of view of the Conners in what they would actually have said.” When a reporter asked if she had any concerns about how Barr’s own personal politics color the way the comedy is perceived, she responded: “I do think that there’s a little bit of that, yes.” (Going forward, Dungey added that the series would continue to emphasize family over politics.)

During the otherwise uneventful call, Dungey effectively dodged a question about Black-ish creator Kenya Barris’ future relationship with her sibling studio, stating only that he was currently under contract there. As for the "Bedtime Stories" episode that didn’t air earlier this year, Dungey was only slightly more candid. “As you know, we’ve long been supportive of Kenya and his team tackling challenging and controversial issues in the show; and we’ve always, traditionally, been able to come to a place creatively where we felt good about the story that he was telling even if it felt like it was pushing some hot buttons, and he felt that he was getting to share the story in the way it should be shared,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “With this particular episode, there were a number of different elements to the episode that we had a hard time coming to terms on. Much has been made about the kneeling part of it, which was not even really the issue, but I don’t want to get into that. At the end of the day, this was a mutual decision between Kenya and the network to not put the episode out.”

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