TCA Exclusive: Dungey Unbowed By ‘When We Rise’ Backlash

Complete Coverage: 2017 TCA Winter Press Tour

Pasadena, Calif. — ABC miniseries When We Rise, which depicts the LGBT community’s fight for civil rights, is sure to spark a firestorm in some corners of the country, but Channing Dungey, ABC president of entertainment, said that won’t affect ABC’s commitment to air programming that might provoke. The miniseries, from Dustin Lance Black, debuts Feb. 27.

Speaking with B&C Tuesday at the TCA 2017 winter press tour in Pasadena, Dungey said the trailer got over two million views in its first 48 hours, and plenty of negative comments from those who do not share the network’s views on inclusive programming. “What I want to do is tell stories that I think are compelling and important and reflect the world we live in,” Dungey said. “I want to work with filmmakers who have a real voice and vision. No matter what you do, you’ll get backlash from someone about something, and you can’t let that dictate the decisions you make. You have to follow your gut and your passion, and the storytellers whose stories you want to share.”

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Earlier in the day, Black said the miniseries was under attack by the alt right and that he was “incredibly grateful to ABC for its courage" on the project.

Dungey said ABC’s current season has had its successes, such as a new night of comedy on Tuesday, and its challenges, such as the weak performance of new dramas Notorious and Conviction. “That’s the game—you win some, you lose some,” Dungey said.

Among its debutant shows, Dungey talked up comedies Imaginary Mary and Downward Dog, and stressed that drama The Catch—or, as she put it, The Catch 2.0—is greatly reinvented, and improved. American Crime has been appreciated by critics, if not by Nielsen; Dungey said the new season is John Ridley’s best work yet.

On the musicals front, ABC’s movie version of Dirty Dancing debuts May 24 and expands the scope of the hit 1987 movie, with Baby Houseman’s parents and sister getting their own robust storylines in the three-hour production. “People who love the movie will discover new things, and for people who have never seen it, it still has the same great through line,” said Dungey.

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With Disney’s endless trove of IP, she said more projects of the special musical variety are in the works.

While the ABC camp was elated to see black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross pick up a Golden Globe, Dungey admitted she was “bummed” to see it come up short for best comedy.

Dungey marks a year on the job next month, and concedes that one does not fully appreciate the challenge of being network entertainment chief until one is in that chair. “It’s a lot of moving pieces with a lot of financial and creative implications,” she said. “There are definitely a lot of things you learn from being on it, but it’s also what I always loved about the job before—being able to hear creative ideas and being a part of helping bring that to life. Now I have even more opportunity to do that.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.