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ABC Entertainment chief Channing Dungey, for better or for worse, walked into Sunday’s gathering at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour with the most news to address.
With just two weeks before ABC’s reboot of American Idol kicks off auditions, most of the judges’ panel has yet to be cast. It was also Dungey’s first public forum since production on Bachelor in Paradise was suspended (and quickly resumed) following allegations of sexual misconduct on the set. But what she wanted to talk about was her new schedule.
“This is the first TCA that represents my development, soup to nuts,” said Dungey, who inherited the top network post in 2016 during the midst of pilot season. Once she finally wrapped a long intro, the exec fielded some surprisingly tame questions from reporters — though, when asked point blank about the specifics of the Bachelor in Paradise allegations, she offered as firm of a “no comment” as anyone involved with the show has offered since June: “I’m not necessarily at liberty to speak about that. You’d have to ask Warner Bros.”
Dungey also handled some of the other hot-button issues with expediency. The cancellation of Last Man Standing? A matter of scheduling (and ownership), not Tim Allen’s conservative politics. Regrets about the way racism was handled on the current season of The Bachelorette? There was never any intention to sensationalize it. A verdict on the Gong Show? Not yet, but she’s happy with the creative.
Here are the biggest take-aways from Dungey’s time onstage.
All Is Well in “Bachelor Nation” … No, Really
Dungey was peppered with questions about the sexual assault allegations that caused a production shutdown on Bachelor in Paradise. She acknowledged the promotional campaign tied to the show’s return was a bit tone-deaf. “We were never looking to sensationalize it,” said the exec. While the investigation into the incident concluded that there was no sexual assault, the campaign prompted an outcry on social media. “The Bachelor Nation is very engaged,” Dungey continued, adding that the promo “did not refer to the alleged incident at all,” but rather was intended as “funny and cheeky and in line with the spirit of the show. The fan reaction told us otherwise, so we pulled it.” She also said that that incident — as well as some of the race-baiting on The Bachelorette, which for the first time features a non-white bachelorette — had caused the franchise’s producers and executives to “strengthen” the contestant vetting process. Dungey also noted that the Bachelor in Paradise incident was “a little bit of a wake-up call,” particularly when if comes to some of the “safety issues” on the show. She did not specifically address alcohol consumption on the series, but apparently moving forward, the franchise will have a maximum of two drinks — per hour.
American Idol Will Be Financially Viable, Even If Katy Costs $25 Million
Those seeking word of final talent announcements for American Idol will have to wait a little longer. Though auditions are set for Aug. 17, Dungey brought no news of who will be joining Katy Perry on the judges’ panel. Speaking of Perry, when pressed about her $25 million salary, the network honcho declined to get into numbers but tried to emphasize that the pricey series wouldn’t be a loss leader. “We need to make the right decisions to ensure the show is financially viable,” she explained. When asked if the recent ratings failure of Boy Band had her nervous about Idol’s ABC prospects, Dungey was also quick to note that Boy Band was a comparatively niche swing. “Boy Band, in its name, is narrow,” she said. “What I love about American Idol is that it’s broad.” Further questions about Idol will have to wait, as Dungey concluded that she would have more to say about the show during January’s press tour.
“We Are Concerned About Ratings”
ABC may top in “co-viewing” and social media interactions, as network brass are always keen to point out, but it still finished the 2016-17 season as No. 4 among adults 18-49. “We are concerned about ratings and want to do better,” said Dungey. “That was one of the first things I was being charged with.” Acknowledging that traditional linear returns aren’t where she wants them to be, the exec did push hard on the talking points of certain shows doubling their live-plus-same-day ratings with multiplatform returns. That did not satisfy one reporter, who pushed Dungey on how some of the lower-rated series aren’t putting ABC in the red. “We make money in a lot of different ways,” she said, emphasizing that it’s easier to turn a profit now that the network owns so many of their shows.
Roseanne Is Up and Running
After a bizarrely flat appearance at ABC’s upfront — the stars, looking a bit shell-shocked, were wheeled onto New York’s Lincoln Center stage on a tatty sofa — Dungey defended the still-nascent creative of the reboot. Noting that Roseanne executive producers Tom Werner and Bruce Helford have outlined the “broad strokes,” she added that she feels “very confident that it is going to be a return to the show that everyone knew and loved.” Dungey did confirm the obvious, that Dan (John Goodman), who died of a heart attack in the series finale, would indeed be alive in the 2018 version — but wouldn’t elaborate on how his miraculous resuscitation would be addressed. (The show received an eight-episode straight-to-series order and is set to bow midseason.) ABC Studios is still negotiating with original castmember Johnny Galecki to return, per Dungey, who also seemed to downplay Roseanne Barr’s involvement in the writers room. Before the reboot was announced, the volatile star was most well known for her wacky and at times controversial Twitter feed, which features her strident political opinions (not to mention conspiracy theories). Barr’s announcement that she turned her Twitter account over to her son has yet to tame the feed. Asked if she was at all concerned about potential for social media flare-ups, Dungey deadpanned, “I try to just worry about the things I can control.”
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