Channing Dungey Exits ABC; Karey Burke to Take Over as Entertainment President

Channing Dungey and Karey Burke_Split - Getty - H 2018
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic; Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

Disney's entertainment suites are being reshuffled.

ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey is exiting her role at the Disney-owned broadcast network. In her place, Freeform head of originals Karey Burke has been promoted and will now serve as ABC Entertainment president. Dungey will stay on through a transition period as Burke takes over the position.

In her new role, Burke will be charged with overseeing development, programming, casting, marketing, business affairs and scheduling for all ABC primetime and late-night programming. After the $72 billion Disney-Fox deal is completed, as is expected early next year, Burke will report to incoming Disney TV Studios chairman Dana Walden. Burke's replacement at Freeform will be announced at a later date.

"I’m grateful to Channing for her significant contributions and unwavering dedication to the success of ABC over the past 14 years," Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger said Friday in a statement announcing the news. "I've thoroughly enjoyed having the opportunity to work with and mentor Channing; her curiosity, passion and creativity will ensure she is successful in whatever path she chooses going forward. Over the past four years at Freeform, and throughout her career, Karey has proven herself a gifted leader with a strong track record of developing unique programming. Karey’s attention to, and intimate knowledge of, the audience, and a commitment to quality will be a great addition to the creative team at ABC."

The news comes as ABC and Disney are poised to take on an influx of executives after the Disney-Fox deal closes. That pact will see Disney inherit assets including studio 20th Century Fox Television and such networks as FX and National Geographic Channel. Dungey's future at ABC remained a question mark given the new executive structure that would see her reporting to Walden, until now a programming rival. In recent months, whispers of Dungey considering other gigs, including one at Shonda Rhimes' Netflix shingle, made the rounds. Others there, including ABC's former head of comedy Jamila Hunter (who joined Kenya Barris' Netflix shingle), have left ahead of the merger.

"I’m incredibly proud of what the team and I have accomplished over the years, and all the meaningful and impactful programming we’ve developed," Dungey said. "This job has been the highlight of my career. While I’ve loved every moment, and knew I could call ABC home for many years to come, I’m excited to tackle new challenges. The toughest thing about this choice is leaving all the immensely talented people I’ve grown to admire and care for, from Bob Iger, the best leader and mentor that anyone could have; to my peers and colleagues; to my talented team, who I will miss enormously. But knowing that Karey is taking over, a person that I like and respect so deeply, makes passing the baton a lot easier. I know that, together, under Peter [Rice] and Dana’s leadership, they are going to achieve great things and I will be rooting for their success.”

Joining the Walt Disney Co. back in 2004, Dungey has spent the majority of her career to date at ABC — first at ABC Studios and then at ABC Entertainment, where during her tenure leading the drama department she helped build Rhimes' TV empire from the ground up. She was a natural choice to replace previous entertainment chief Paul Lee when he exited the network back in 2016, given her strong ties to the network’s marquee talent. The promotion was noteworthy in that Dungey became the first black woman to lead a major U.S. TV network.

Her tenure in the ABC's top post may have been brief, but it was anything but boring. In fact, Dungey gave the green light to the 2018 Roseanne revival, only to cut it short following star Roseanne Barr’s racist Twitter comments in June. Dungey’s swift cancellation and condemnation of the firebrand comedian propelled her to the national stage. It’s not often that network executives get name-checked in evening news telecasts or in the pages of international newspapers. 

She leaves ABC in better standing than when she took the reins, care of added hits including The Good Doctor. Still, the last few months haven’t exactly been great for the network. The Barr-free follow-up to Roseanne, The Conners, is pulling a fraction of the original series’ ratings, and after the seismic blow of Rhimes leaving ABC Studios for Netflix in 2017, fellow network darling Barris (Black-ish) followed suit in the summer. Both showrunners maintain affection for, and close ties to, Dungey.

Burke, meanwhile, joined Freeform as executive vp programming and development in late 2014, where she has overseen the younger-skewing cable network's scripted and unscripted originals. During her tenure, she helped boost Freeform's originals after the loss of flagship Pretty Little Liars. The cabler's roster includes breakout shows in The Bold Type and Black-ish spinoff Grown-ish, as well as Siren and Marvel's Cloak and Dagger.

Before joining Freeform, Burke was partners with Todd Holland at Dark Toy Entertainment, having produced comedies including NBC's Matthew Perry vehicle Go On. Before that, she worked with Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg at Katalyst Films, overseeing a TV division that included Miss Guided, The Beautiful Life and more. From 1999 to 2003, Burke served as exec vp primetime series at NBCUniversal, where she oversaw primetime comedies and dramas including Friends, Will & Grace, The West Wing, ER, Scrubs, Freaks and Geeks, Mad About You and more. She started her career as a comedy development assistant at NBC. With Universal Cable Productions chief Dawn Olmstead, Burke is also a co-founder of fast-facial company Face Haus.

“I am thrilled to be joining the wonderful team at ABC and look forward to working with them to create groundbreaking, and memorable, television together," Burke said. "ABC is a beloved brand, and I am honored to continue the legacy left by Channing of excellent storytelling that touches so many people’s hearts. As for Freeform, we are coming off our strongest and most profitable year yet, and I am deeply proud of our bold, inclusive programming and brand. Moreover, the team at Freeform is as good as they come. I will miss them massively, and will be cheering them on loudly from down the street.”

With Dungey's departure, each of the Big Four networks have seen major changes in their respective exec suites. At CBS, CEO Leslie Moonves was forced out following sexual harassment/sexual assault allegations. At the new Fox, Walden's longtime partner Gary Newman exited as the network tapped AMC's Charlie Collier to take over. And Bob Greenblatt stepped down from his role at NBC and was replaced by Paul Telegdy and George Cheeks.