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With the Oct. 19 announcement that Channing Dungey would replace Peter Roth as chairman of the Warner Bros. Television Group, the company signaled not simply a changing of executives but an overhaul of priorities, too.
Under Roth, who’d been at the helm for more than two decades, selling to broadcast networks had long been atop the studio’s agenda — and for years, it yielded big results, with juggernauts from The Big Bang Theory to Two and a Half Men.
And while the 69-year-old exec, famous in town for doling out hugs everywhere he goes, had been forced to dial back his network-first philosophy in recent years to keep the top producers in his stable happy, the decision to replace him with Dungey suggests Warner Bros. TV is poised for — as many industry sources describe it — a much-needed makeover.
“Warners was stuck in the ’90s — they were built for a world where an indie studio could sell to broadcast networks, and that was an incredibly profitable business for many decades,” says one top network exec who does plenty of business with the studio. “But anybody can see that the business has changed rapidly, and supplying broadcast networks isn’t viable anymore.”
Dungey, 51, arrives in the job after less than two years at Netflix and will report directly to WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group CEO Ann Sarnoff. With the hire, the studio is expected to shift its primary focus to the world of streaming and cable, with many suspecting she’ll look to make Warner Bros. TV the main content supplier for the WarnerMedia-backed streamer (and companywide priority) HBO Max.
In fact, a top question on industry minds is how much she’ll even look to supply elsewhere, with at least a few well-placed sources suspecting the answer is, “only some.”
Unlike Roth, who is known as a tenacious dealmaker, Dungey has spent the bulk of her career on the buying and building side. In fact, she’d been hired away from ABC — where she was the first Black woman to run a broadcast network — to do just that at Netflix. And in her short time at the streaming service, Dungey was focused on fostering and growing some of the streamer’s most important overall deal business, including pacts with Shonda Rhimes, Kenya Barris and the Obamas’ Higher Ground.
“You don’t hire [Dungey] if you want to focus on outside sales,” notes one top agent, with another key buyer adding of the leadership change, “It’s a 180-degree flip, if not more.”
This story appears in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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