Channing Dungey Talks Failure, TV's Strong Female Role Models in Wake of 'Roseanne' Cancellation

Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Women In Film

The ABC Entertainment president was honored with the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television at the Women in Film Crystal + Lucy Awards.

She quoted Michelle Obama and writer Washington Irving, praised the virtues of kindness and shared the spotlight with her young daughter, but in accepting Women in Film's Lucy Award for Excellence in Television, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey did not address the small-screen's most controversial subject of the month — Roseanne Barr. 

Then again, maybe she didn't need to mention Barr by name with such lines as: "When we see things that are happening around us that are counter to our values and our beliefs, our actions must match our words." Dungey, who was named head of ABC Entertainment in February 2016, most recently was behind the decision to cancel comedy Roseanne, after Barr's racist tweet caused an uproar. Within hours of the comedian posting the tweet, Dungey made the decision to cancel the season's highest-rated show. "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values," Dungey said that day (May 29).

Since then, Dungey has kept a relatively low profile and made one public appearance over the past two weeks, delivering remarks at Step Up's Inspiration Awards. Behind the scenes, sources tell THR that ABC executives, including Dungey, have been working on a way to reboot the series and move forward without Barr. 

The Lucy Award, founded in 1994, is named for TV icon Lucille Ball and recognizes those whose accomplishments have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television. Past recipients include Tracee Ellis Ross, Taraji P. Henson, Jill Soloway and Kerry Washington. Women in Film's Crystal + Lucy Awards — presented by Max Mara, Lancome and Lexus — have since 1977 honored women in the entertainment industry. This year’s event, held at the Beverly Hilton, also honored actresses Brie Larson and Alexandra Shipp, music producers NOVA Wav and the women (both in front of and behind the camera) of Black Panther.

Ellen Pompeo, a network icon herself who stars on ABC's long-running hit show Grey's Anatomy, presented the award to Dungey and in doing so, expressed her gratitude for having a front-row seat to the executive's career these past 15 years. She described it like "being in a champagne bubble" where anything is possible. 

In accepting, Dungey first touched on how she was influenced by television growing up as a TV junkie whose screen time was closely monitored each week by her parents. "It was important for me and for other young girls to see women on TV portrayed as strong and smart because I truly believe that if you can see it, you can be it," she said, garnering laughs when she said that this was before the DVR, ahem, VCR era. “Stories tell us who we are and what we can believe in. They let us see ourselves in others or imagine something even better.” 

She continued: "Great shows can remind us how much we have in common despite our differences. Over the years, thankfully, the profile of multidimensional, outspoken and diverse women on TV and entertainment has grown even more. It's been an honor to help showcase strong independent women on television like Meredith Grey, Rainbow Johnson, Annalise Keating, Beverly Goldberg, Jessica Wong and the gone but never forgotten Olivia Pope."

Dungey also praised some real-life characters in her personal story, including her first boss in television, Mark Pedowitz, "an incredible mentor," who always responded to good ideas and good strategy with "Let's give it a shot." Current boss Bob Iger also got a shoutout.

"There's nothing more wonderful or more freeing than those five words," Dungey said. "Those words give you the freedom to try, but equally as importantly, they give you the freedom to fail. I see the same leadership at Disney today with Bob Iger. Bob talks a lot about the importance of risk-taking and having the guts to take chances because in his view, ending up with something that's great usually means someone took a risk to get there. And that's where the greatest things in life come from — from giving it a shot and taking a chance. If you fail, so what, it's just part of the process. You learn from it and you'll figure out how to do it differently the next time."

She offered some advice for those in the room about how to navigate through the process when it seems like the cards are stacked against you. "If you really love ... something, advocate for it, pursue it and do everything in your power to give it life even if everyone around you doesn't get it, even if they tell you it's ridiculous, you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in your ideas and your ability to pick yourself up if you fail."

She then name-checked women who served as her role models while she was rising through the ranks, women like Lucy Fisher, Sherry Lansing, Gail Berman, Anne Sweeney and Oprah Winfrey. "The ability to see women in key roles is extremely important," she said.

Also important: Making the choices on where to place one's values. She quoted Obama's "When they go low, we go high," and then referenced good manners and courage. “The world is not the kindest, but I choose kindness," Dungey said. "The world can be daunting, but I choose to be brave.”