Why Was Peter Rice Fired From Disney? Inside Surprising Shakeup

In an trade the place many executives are fast to tout their very own accomplishments, Peter Rice was recognized for turning down alternatives to take a public victory lap. The soft-spoken British government, who was ousted on Wednesday from the highest TV job at Disney, has a popularity for quietly […]

In an trade the place many executives are fast to tout their very own accomplishments, Peter Rice was recognized for turning down alternatives to take a public victory lap.

The soft-spoken British government, who was ousted on Wednesday from the highest TV job at Disney, has a popularity for quietly cultivating relationships with producers and administrators resembling Baz Luhrmann and Danny Boyle. Within the 2000s, he leveraged these ties to spice up the efficiency of Fox Searchlight Photos with hits resembling “Moulin Rouge!” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Most of the time, Rice let the administrators, producers and actors take the bows.

That low-maintenance demeanor would serve Rice nicely in Murdoch’s empire as he grew to become near the household and rose in 2009 to supervise all of Fox’s leisure networks. After the sale of twenty first Century Fox to Disney in 2019, Rice took over the most important swath of Disney’s TV operations (all the pieces however the ESPN empire). On Thursday, he was formally changed by his prime lieutenant, Walt Disney Tv leisure chairman Dana Walden.

Disney’s TV content material engines had been revving excessive below Rice and Walden’s management, which makes Rice’s abrupt dismissal all of the extra head-spinning for trade insiders. Rice and Walden had labored collectively for years at Fox, and the 2 made the leap to Disney three years in the past, changing into the one Fox executives to take over a division after the acquisition.

By all accounts, Rice didn’t see it coming — in any respect. He was blindsided as he realized of his destiny in what was described by a supply as a dialog with Disney CEO Bob Chapek that lasted lower than 10 minutes. Chapek merely felt that Rice was not, the truth is, Staff Chapek, in keeping with a number of sources near the scenario.

In Walden, Chapek noticed an government who was simply adapting to the Disney system, working the levers of its manufacturing, advertising and distribution machine to successfully end up shiny and prestigious reveals for Hulu, ABC, Freeform and the brand new Onyx Collective banner. Disney insiders stated Chapek, who took the CEO reins from Bob Iger in February 2020, felt Rice was sad with the huge reorganization of TV operations that Chapek applied in October 2020.

Nonetheless, Rice had acquired solely optimistic suggestions and compliments about his management and operational choices up to now at Disney. There was no indication that the company aspect was dissatisfied together with his work — bolstered by the truth that he signed a brand new multiyear deal late final yr. When Rice pressed Chapek for a motive for this dismissal — simply three weeks after the 2 shared the stage in New York at Disney’s spectacular Could 17 upfront presentation for advertisers — the response boiled right down to Rice not being the best “match” for Chapek’s group, in keeping with a number of sources.

Rice’s largest administration problem throughout his Disney tenure got here with ABC Information. Sources there stated the rank and file usually waited for him to articulate his plans in larger, bolder vogue. They craved extra route from the highest boss, in keeping with individuals conversant in the information division. Certainly one of these individuals says ABC Information staffers haven’t developed a better rapport with Rice and a few veterans stay upset that he pushed out former ABC Information president James Goldston final yr in favor of CBS Information alum Kim Godwin.

ABC Information below Godwin has in current weeks made vital strides: “Good Morning America” has up to now 5 weeks taken the lead within the 25-54 demo from NBC’s Right this moment, a giant deal within the scorched-earth battle of morning TV. And “This Week,” the George Stephanopoulos Sunday public affairs present has been performing strongly within the scores. ABC Information has but to unveil new ideas in streaming below Godwin, although she just lately employed a brand new government, Reena Mehta, from HBO Max, to supervise a digital push. Rice has been seen as Godwin’s huge supporter inside Disney, even after she raised eyebrows on the firm by calling for an inside investigation associated to allegations made towards former ABC Information senior producer Michael Corn, however with out discussing the prospect with senior administration earlier than doing so. A go well with towards Corn was dismissed earlier this week.

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Dana Walden is the brand new chief of Disney TV operations after the surprising ouster of her longtime boss, Peter Rice.
Disney Basic Leisure Content material

Chapek’s transfer to take Rice out of the dominion is especially shocking given the previous’s picture issues within the inventive neighborhood of late. Rice is a well-traveled and well-liked government with robust inventive and enterprise chops. Chapek, a 29-year Disney government with roots in movie, residence leisure, client merchandise and theme parks, continues to be overcoming the PR injury accomplished from Disney’s public authorized battle over “Black Widow” earnings final yr with star Scarlett Johansson. This yr, Chapek has been on the middle of public controversy and inside pressure with Disney staff over the corporate’s dealing with of a wave of anti-LGBT laws in Florida.

In current months, Rice has usually been talked about as a robust candidate to succeed Chapek if the Disney board had been to determine that the world’s largest media firm wanted a brand new quarterback. Hypothesis that this was a supply of touchiness between Chapek and Rice was solely stoked by the truth that Disney board chairman Susan Arnold issued an announcement of help for Chapek on Thursday on the heels of the Rice information: “Bob and his management group have the help and confidence of the Board,” Arnold stated.

Rice’s sudden departure will undoubtedly shake up the established order inside Disney TV. Walden’s elevation places her above two executives with whom she’s lengthy been friends: FX Networks president John Landgraf and Nationwide Geographic Worldwide chief Courteney Monroe. Landgraf is among the most extremely regarded and erudite executives within the leisure trade. Monroe has earned a lot reward for her turnaround of Nat Geo’s TV content material technique since she took the helm of the group in 2015.

Walden will take over a portfolio that has grown considerably. Hulu has developed a rising slate of originals, together with the comedic thriller collection “Solely Murders within the Constructing” and the biopic “Pam & Tommy,” the Elizabeth Holmes restricted collection “The Dropout” and the extremely praised story of the opioid epidemic, “Dopesick,” starring Michael Keaton. ABC has new comedy successes resembling “Abbott Elementary” in addition to the sturdy “Gray’s Anatomy” franchise. And the corporate nonetheless produces prime reveals for different networks: Fox’s “9-1-1,” “Household Man” and “The Simpsons.”

Rice, in the meantime, is predicted to take a while to think about his subsequent transfer. For years, he’s been talked about as a CEO contender every time there’s turmoil at any of the media giants. He has lengthy been shut with Fox baron Rupert Murdoch, and just lately raised some eyebrows by turning up on the Could 25 world premiere of “Elvis” on the Cannes Movie Pageant. At an afterparty for the Luhrmann movie, thrown by Warner Bros. Discovery, Rice instructed Selection he was in London on enterprise and had popped over to the French Riviera particularly to see the movie. It struck some as odd {that a} prime Disney government would flip up at a splashy Warner Bros. occasion, though Rice and Luhrmann do have an extended skilled historical past.

Now, Rice is out of the blue again in the marketplace. Media executives together with his depth and breadth of expertise in movie, TV, sports activities and information are a uncommon breed. Rice additionally burnished his popularity final fall when he stepped as much as assist the foremost studios navigate difficult negotiations with IATSE after contract talks stalled and the union got here near its first widespread strike in many years.

Rice’s availability may nicely encourage a giant transfer by any variety of Large Media gamers who could also be contemplating a significant administration shakeup at a tumultuous time general for the trade. For now, as he kinds via his subsequent strikes, Rice’s longstanding choice for preserving his head down and letting others do the speaking will serve him nicely.

(Claudia Eller, Matt Donnelly and Adam B. Differ contributed to this report.) 

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