Most entertainment executives can claim to have made their influence known in one or two entertainment platforms over their careers. Netflix VP of original series Channing Dungey, though, is poised to hit the trifecta of executive excellence in film, traditional television and streaming.
From having a major hand in the development of several blockbuster film titles to becoming the first African-American president of a major broadcast network — and now helping to set the content agenda for Netflix, the leading player in streaming — Dungey is a proven leader in any entertainment arena.
Dungey initially began to imagine a career in entertainment as a writer while attending UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television, she said, though she admitted she was not that great at it. “My professor said that what I really loved is development,” she said. “That was the first time I really understood that being a development executive was a career path.”
After graduating magna cum laude in 1991, Dungey would parlay her career epiphany into a job as a development assistant at 20th Century Fox and later a production executive at the Warner Bros. film studio. At WB, she helped develop and supervise a number of major releases, including The Matrix, The Bridges of Madison County and The Devil’s Advocate.
“It was really a wonderful time to be in the business because there was just so much potential and so much possibility in the mid to late 1990s,” Dungey said.
Shifting With the Business
By mid-decade, though, movie studios had turned heavily toward big tentpole films with lots of special effects and sequel potential. “I think a lot of the really interesting storytelling was starting to migrate from film to television, so I started casting my sights toward television, and that’s what led me to Touchstone and ABC Studios,” she said.
Joining ABC Studios (then Touchstone Television) as VP of drama development in 2004, Dungey began working on some of ABC’s biggest shows, including Desperate Housewives, Lost and Private Practice. In 2009, she was named senior VP of drama development for ABC Entertainment Group and soon after was elevated to executive VP of drama development, movies and miniseries. She oversaw the development of some of ABC’s most popular shows, including Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Once Upon a Time. Part of her success was an historic team-up with producer Shonda Rhimes, which yielded the big hits Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder.
“What made Channing so effective as our leader was her ability to set goals, communicate her expectations and recognize the team for our successes,” Andy Kubitz, executive VP of programming strategy for ABC Entertainment, said. “Her enthusiasm for great television was contagious, and we all wanted to develop, create and be a part of programming that resonated in American homes and across the world. Channing was the standard-bearer for us to be better TV executives while not forgetting to smile and have a little fun.”
In 2016, Dungey was named president of ABC Entertainment Group, becoming the first African-American president of a major broadcast television network.
“I didn’t necessarily have being president as one of my ambitions,” she said. “Everything happened so quickly in terms of me being approached and [former president] Paul Lee leaving the company.
“It was really overwhelming, but I’m proud of the achievement,” Dungey added. “The way I think of it is that, if by having done this I’m able to inspire other young women of color to reach for these kinds of positions, then I feel it’s the best thing.”
During nearly three years as president, Dungey created an environment that supported visionary storytelling, and oversaw such successful launches as the Golden Globe-nominated The Good Doctor and the revived American Idol. “I knew intellectually that what that job requires is to know the creative skills, but there’s also a very important business component to it,” she said.
While Dungey enjoyed the power to greenlight show pilots, she also had to make some difficult decisions, including cancelling one of her favorite projects, Emmy-winning anthology drama series American Crime, due to low ratings.
Making the Tough Calls
Dungey in 2018 also made the call to cancel the Roseanne reboot after star Roseanne Barr tweeted a racially insensitive joke about Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to former President Barack Obama — a decision Dungey doesn’t regret.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is that while it was a hard decision, it was the right decision, but I did have a lot of feelings about the writing staff and the crew,” she said. “We were able to reinvent the series as The Conners, which is continuing to do well on ABC and allowed the show to tell the kinds of stories that we had always hoped to tell. At the end of the day I feel like it came full circle in a really great way.”
The married mother of two children has never shied away from tough decisions or change. In 2018, she left ABC Entertainment to join Netflix, tasked with overseeing a large portion of its content slate as well as setting the strategic direction of the programming portfolio. Dungey, who reports to Netflix VP of original content Cindy Holland, is in charge of overseeing Netflix’s deals with high-profile producers, including former ABC collaborators Rhimes and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris.
“Much in the same way my [interests] led me from film to television, the same sort of thing happened for me in terms of the move from broadcast to streaming,” she said. “I felt there was some really great and terrific, groundbreaking work that was being done in that space. I’m always looking toward new challenges.” She’s been well-received at Netflix.
“It has been really great to see her bring her wealth of experience and perspective to Netflix,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said. “We want Netflix to be the kind of creative place where people can do the best work of their lives, including our own executives. Channing is doing just that at Netflix, and we are very proud of her.”