Disney Morale Terrible After CEO Bob Chapek Fires Peter Rice

Morale is at an all-time low at the beleaguered Mouse House after Disney CEO Bob Chapek fired TV content chief Peter Rice.

Rice, who joined Disney after the media giant acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, was replaced on Thursday by his number two Dana Walden in what many described as a “shocking” shakeup.

“It’s not good for the company. Morale is terrible,” a Disney source told The Hollywood Reporter.

No reason was given by Disney as to why Rice was fired, but sources buzzed Thursday that Chapek sharpened the ax before it fell on him after he ran afoul of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

“Through all the press about the DeSantis fiasco, it’s been incredibly uncomfortable for a CEO whose power is fading to have the person who is seen as his successor sitting in the room with you,” the source told The Hollywood Reporter. “You kill that person.”

Chapek has had a number of mistakes since taking charge in 2020, including the fallout from his clumsy response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Peter Rice – a former Fox executive – was seen by some at Disney as a potential successor to Bob Chapek.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

As her boss changed her response to the DeSantis legislation, infuriating Disney employees, Rice issued her own memo at the time, saying, “Personally, I view this law as a violation of fundamental human rights.”

That probably didn’t win any points with Chapek, or other executives, who saw Rice as someone who didn’t conform to Disney’s more closed corporate culture.

Rice broke the news of her dismissal to employees on Thursday in a high school memo, ending a tumultuous trip at the company.

Bob Chapek
Disney CEO Bob Chapek has fired executive Peter Rice.
Chris Jackson

“I’m very proud of the work we’ve done together, the friendships we’ve built and the consistent success we’ve celebrated,” he wrote. “As I leave Disney, I would like to leave one last thought: remain committed to excellence and always recognize that our stories depend on the imagination and artistry of the writers, directors, producers, actors and artisans we are committed to calling Disney home.”

Rice, who had more than three decades of experience in the entertainment industry, moved up through Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Entertainment, where he raised the profile of Fox Searchlight, giving the green light to some of their highest-grossing and critically acclaimed films, such as ” Slumdog Millionaire” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”

His success in the division led to a promotion overseeing the media giant’s TV assets. The star executive was brought to Disney three years ago, where he oversaw the division that made more than 300 shows a year for platforms including ABC, Disney Channel, Disney+, Hulu and FX.

Dana Walden
Rice’s number two Dana Walden was promoted by Chapek to replace her former boss.
WireImage

“He’s not a bad guy, he just grew up in the wrong corporate culture,” a source told The Post on Thursday, citing cumulative problems over time for the rift.

But bad press for a company that did well under Chapek’s predecessor, Bob Iger, has some in Hollywood speculating whether Chapek was up to the job.

“Chapek’s contract expires in a year and a half,” a Hollywood executive told The Post in April. “I would be worried.”

Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World
Since taking the helm at Disney in 2020, Chapek has had a number of mistakes.
LightRocket via Getty Images

According to reports, Disney has yet to re-sign Chapek, but Rice’s dismissal came with a vote of confidence from Disney chairman Susan Arnold, who supported the CEO’s decision on Thursday.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Ending up with a potential successor is nothing new in the unforgiving world of media, nor is it an anomaly at Disney.

Iger purged COO Tom Staggs in 2016, when the executive was widely seen as the CEO’s successor, and Michael Eisner fired Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1994.

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