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ABC names network's first African-American programming head

Channing Dungey will lead ABC Entertainment Group after the broadcast TV network's president Paul Lee stepped down amid low ratings.

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    This undated photo provided by ABC shows, President, ABC Entertainment Group, Channing Dungey in Burbank, Calif. ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee has decided to leave, the network announced Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. His successor is Dungey, who has been ABC Entertainment Group's executive vice president for drama development, movies and miniseries, overseeing drama pilots and series' launches.
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The head of the ABC Entertainment Group is departing amid low ratings, to be replaced by the first African-American to head a broadcast TV network.

ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee has decided to leave, the network announced Wednesday.

His successor is Channing Dungey, who has been ABC Entertainment Group's executive vice president for drama development, movies and miniseries, overseeing drama pilots and the launches of series.

Dungey shepherded ABC hits including "Scandal," ''How to Get Away with Murder" and "Quantico."

The changeover comes a year after Ben Sherwood became president of the Disney-ABC TV Group and after Lee's nearly six years as programming chief.

"Channing is a gifted leader and a proven magnet for top creative talent, with an impressive record" of helping to create compelling and popular series, Sherwood said in a statement.

Dungey is both the first black network programming chief and a rare female executive. Change has come faster for women than minorities in the TV executive ranks, with Jennifer Salke serving as NBC's entertainment president and, at Fox Television Group, Dana Walden sharing chair and CEO duties with Gary Newman.

Dungey's appointment as ABC Entertainment president comes at a time of increased scrutiny of Hollywood's lack of diversity on- and off-camera, with attention focused recently on the Oscars' all-white slate of nominees for this month's awards.

Dungey said in a statement that she is "thrilled and humbled" by the opportunity.

Lee, in a statement issued by ABC, said he was proud of the team he built at the network and wished Dungey well. He did not say why he was leaving or what his next job would be.

The British-born Lee can claim credit for bringing notable diversity to ABC with shows including "black-ish" and "Fresh Off the Boat." The network also became home to megaproducer Shonda Rhimes' series that feature multi-ethnic casts and black stars. They include Viola Davis in "How to Get Away with Murder" and Kerry Washington in "Scandal."

"It is a mission statement to reflect America," Lee told a 2014 meeting of the Television Critics Association. "That's not so much diversity as authenticity when you reflect America."

Lee's schedule earned strong ratings in the 2014-15 season and still has impressive performers, especially Rhimes' Thursday night block of series.

But the network's numbers currently are in the doldrums, averaging 6.6 million viewers in prime time season-to-date. The network ranks third behind NBC and CBS, the leader with 11.7 million viewers. Last season, ABC averaged 8 million viewers.

Dungey, a graduate of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, has been with ABC since 2004, starting with ABC Studios. Previously, she worked at production companies and as a production executive at Warner Bros., handling films including "Bridges of Madison County" and "The Matrix."

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AP Television Writer Frazier Moore in New York contributed to this report.

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