ABC has announced that Paul Lee is out as president of the broadcast network after five years in the position. Effective immediately, he will be replaced by Channing Dungey, ABC's vice president of drama development. She is the first black president ever to lead a broadcast network's entertainment division.
As always with a significant Hollywood shake-up, there are a few layers to this news.
First, the terminology around Lee's exit is all over the map: The ABC press release says he "decided to step down," while the Hollywood Reporter claims he was "forced out," and the New York Times says he "resigned after losing a struggle over the network's direction."
Lee had reportedly clashed with Ben Sherwood, who became president of Disney/ABC TV Group a year ago and made the announcement today about Lee leaving. (And when I say "Disney/ABC TV group," I mean the umbrella company containing all Disney TV operations, including ABC Studios and all Disney properties.)
Lee's tenure was marked by both successes and failures, just like that of any network president. But he's perhaps best known for correctly betting big that viewers would want to see less homogeneous, more racially diverse shows — as evidenced by the enormous success of Shonda Rhimes's multiple "colorblind" series and the growing acclaim for family comedies like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat.
Things like "Blood & Oil" and "Wicked City" were bad jokes. But "Black-ish," "Fresh Off the Boat," "American Crime"? Good and IMPORTANT TV.— Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint) February 17, 2016
As ABC's VP of drama development, Dungey oversaw the development and production of ABC Entertainment's drama pilots, movies, miniseries, and new series. She also had a significant hand in the ever-growing prominence of Rhimes, who now dominates the network's Thursday-night programming block. (THR even calls Dungey "the Shonda whisperer.") Dungey developed both Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, as well as Once Upon a Time and Quantico.
The decision to promote Dungey instead of bringing in outside talent hints at Disney being generally happy with the direction ABC is headed, as she came up under Lee's mentorship. Dungey will now be responsible not just for making final, crucial decisions about programming, but for overseeing the network's overall vision.