Disney Fires Peter Rice, Its Chief TV Content Executive

The Walt Disney Company abruptly fired Peter Rice, its most senior television content executive, citing a lack of fit with Disney’s corporate culture, according to three people briefed on the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information.

Rice, president of Disney General Entertainment Content, a division of the company that makes more than 300 shows annually for platforms including ABC, Disney Channel, Disney+, Hulu and FX, was fired by Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, in a brief meeting. on Wednesday, these people said. Rice, who also oversaw ABC News, recently renewed her contract with Disney in August. It ran until the end of 2024. Disney will pay it, people said.

Mr. Rice declined to comment.

Rice’s expulsion was like a sonic boom in Hollywood, where he is widely admired. Many people in the entertainment business (outside of Disney, at least) even saw Rice as a possible candidate to succeed Chapek as Disney’s chief executive. Chapek’s decision is sure to cast doubt on whether this conversation got a little too loud; Chapek has had a rough few months, with Disney becoming a political punching bag, particularly for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Disney’s stock price falling sharply amid industry-wide concerns over the profitability of streaming services. .

In April, Chapek fired the company’s most senior communications and government relations executive; the executive, Geoff Morrell, joined Disney in January under a multi-year contract. Disney also paid him. On Thursday, Disney stock closed at just over $103, down nearly 4 percent that was more than the broader market’s decline of about 2 percent.

Susan E. Arnold, Disney’s chairman, said in an e-mailed statement that Chapek had the board’s support – a rare public comment that indicates that despite the turmoil, Chapek is moving towards a contract renewal. His current contract ends in February.

“The strength of the Walt Disney Company’s business coming out of the pandemic is testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the future of the company,” said Arnold. “At this important time of business growth and transformation, we are committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob and his leadership team have the support and trust of the Board.”

Another Disney board member, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss company matters, said the board had never considered Rice a chief executive candidate.

Disney confirmed that Rice would immediately leave the company, but declined to comment on why. Following the news of his departure, Disney announced that Dana Walden, who was president of entertainment at Walt Disney Television, would succeed him. Walden, working closely with Rice, has recently released hits like “Abbott Elementary,” an ABC comedy, and “Only Murders in the Building,” a comedic crime drama on Hulu.

“Dana is a dynamic, collaborative leader and cultural force who in just three years has transformed our television business into a content powerhouse,” Chapek said in a statement. “She and Peter have worked together for years to create the best programming in the industry.”

Mr. Chapek offered nothing further about Mr. Rice, avoiding the glossy platitudes Hollywood often resorts to at such moments. Not even Disney gave Mr. Rice a parachute in the form of a production deal. (“I know we all wish Peter the best,” Chapek said in an internal email announcing Walden’s rise.)

Mrs. Walden said in a statement that it was “an incredible honor” to be promoted and praised the team assembled by Rice as “truly the best in every way”. The group includes Kimberly Godwin at ABC News and Ayo Davis at Disney Branded Television.

Rice’s sudden departure breaks up a powerful trio that Disney inherited from 21st Century Fox, which agreed to buy from Rupert Murdoch in 2017. Rice, Walden and FX Networks chairman John Landgraf have worked together at Fox for decades.

Rice, affable but often inscrutable to those who worked with him, began his entertainment career in 1987 as a summer intern at Murdoch’s film studio. Over the next three decades, he would become close with Murdoch, eventually becoming president of 21st Century Fox. Along the way, Rice turned Fox Searchlight into an Oscar and box office superpower, delivering idiosyncratic hits like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Sideways,” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The change at Disney came as a shock to Rice and Walden, people familiar with the matter said. Just three weeks ago, Disney dispatched Mr. Rice for its initial stage, the company’s annual showcase for the advertising industry. A prominent initial appearance often indicates that an executive’s position in a company is strong.

Rice, who was introduced onstage by Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, the stars of “Only Murders in the Building”, spoke about Disney’s strong market position, noting that it was the “only company that was not bought or sold in the last 100 years”.

Disney’s TV division has been having a good run. In addition to “Only Murders in the Building,” Hulu recently aired “The Dropout,” a critically-loved limited series about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. ABC News’ top shows, “Good Morning America” ​​and “World News Tonight,” remain the most-watched morning and evening news.

Walden’s Hollywood relationships, like Rice’s, run deep. Jay Sures, co-president of United Talent Agency, called her “arguably the best creative executive in the TV industry”, adding that “she is loved for her talent”.

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