In a surprise move, ABC has parted ways with Paul Lee, who has headed the network’s entertainment division for the past five and a half years.
Channing Dungey, who previously oversaw drama, movies and miniseries for the network, takes Lee’s place as president of ABC Entertainment. The network says Lee “has decided to step down”; The New York Times, which was first to report on Lee’s departure, says he lost a power struggle with his boss, Disney-ABC Television Group chairman Ben Sherwood.
“I’m thrilled and humbled that Ben has entrusted me with this tremendous opportunity,” Dungey says in a statement. “And I am truly grateful to Paul for being a valued mentor and friend. I’ve had the great honor of working alongside the talented team at ABC for many years and look forward to starting this exciting new chapter with them.”
Dungey, whose sister is actress Merrin Dungey (“Alias,” “Once Upon a Time,” “The King of Queens”), has been with ABC and its sister studio since 2004. She’s the first African-American to head a broadcast network.
What the change at the top means for ABC’s bubble shows remains to be seen. In her previous job, Dungey had a hand in developing “Nashville,” “American Crime” and “Secrets and Lies,” among others.
Lee leaves ABC with a sterling record of having increased diversity in front of the camera, but a mixed one in terms of ratings. The network’s TGIT dramas on Thursdays and its Wednesday comedy block are solid foundations, but through the first part of the 2015-16 season, ABC’s numbers were down by more than any other broadcast network. Launching new dramas not produced by TGIT maestro Shonda Rhimes has been a problem in the past couple seasons, leaving the network without many younger shows to step up in place of aging veterans.