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Upfronts 2016: Diversity Works, Says ABC’s Dungey in Her First Upfront Spiel

Complete Coverage: Upfronts 2016

Channing Dungey, new entertainment president at ABC, copped to some nerves in her first upfront presentation from the stage, then touted ABC core values such as family comedies and soapy dramas with love and intrigue, and diversity on both sides of the camera, be it a comedy or drama.

“We will always reflect the authenticity of the faces of those around us,” said Dungey, the first African-American woman to hold an entertainment president post at a broadcast network. “Because we are America's Broadcast Company.”

In the job just three months, Dungey will have to wait a year before she truly leaves her mark on ABC's development crop.

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The Lincoln Center gala kicked off with a song and dance number from Priyanka Chopra, star of Quantico. Quantico was one of the ABC shows to get repeated shout-outs, along with black-ish and Grey’s Anatomy.

Sales chief Geri Wang and network president Ben Sherwood took their turns before Dungey debuted the schedule, notably starting with Thursday, where drama Notorious, taking place behind the scenes at a hard driving cable network, slides into the TGIT block, with Scandal held until midseason, along with The Catch, Shonda Rhimes’ new one Still Star-Crossed, and others. 

Strengthening the 10 p.m. slot is a “top priority,” said Dungey, which is music to ABC affiliates’ ears.

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Dungey announced three more years for late night host Jimmy Kimmel, and joked that she hoped that would dull some of the razor wit he deploys this time of year at the expense of ABC—and the other networks.

“Are you guys OK?” Kimmel asked the crowd. “Was it a long day yesterday? F---ing NBC!”

Kimmel lacerated all the broadcast networks. Discussing recent CBS pickups, he said it’s a wonder CBS can pick up anything with its osteoporosis. With Fox turning vintage films such as The Exorcist and Lethal Weapon into series, he said, the network is raiding “all your favorite VHS tapes.”

Watch trailers for all of ABC’s 2016-2017 new shows

Fox’s decision to not release overnight ratings, quipped Kimmel, is like the woeful Knicks saying they would no longer use final scores to measure their success.

Kimmel even took a shot at ABC’s diversity mission, saying the ideal network show would be called Gay Black Doctor Cop.

That led into Dungey’s comedy spiel, with ABC using The Middle and The Goldbergs to kick off comedy nights, Middle setting up newbie American Housewife and Goldbergs warming up Speechless.

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Dungey also previewed comedy Downward Dog, noting that shows with talking dogs are not traditionally well received.

The comedy sizzles drew a moderate reaction from the crowd.

Dungey talked up the musical Dirty Dancing and gay rights miniseries When We Rise, then passed it off to Kiefer Sutherland, who told of how he got involved in Mark Gordon’s Designated Survivor. While Sutherland’s Jack Bauer saved the world in Fox’s 24, he’s a bumbling, bespectacled pol who ends up as president after a terrorist attack in Designated Survivor. Of the script his friend Gordon gave him, he said, “I realized I was holding potentially the next decade in my hand.”

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ABC would be delighted to see that drama, or any other series in the new batch, live to see its second decade.