In a major executive reshuffle, Peter Rice, chairman of Disney’s entertainment and programming, is leaving the company, sources say The Hollywood Reporter.
Sources say embattled Disney CEO Bob Chapek called Rice into his office on Monday and relieved the former Fox exec of his duties. The CEO, who took over Bob Iger last year, is said to have found Rice no longer suitable.
That dismissal came in a seven-minute session on Monday night, according to sources. Chapek told Rice that he didn’t fit into “the new Disney culture,” to which Rice said words that he thought were in the midst of building the new Disney culture. He asked how he didn’t fit and Chapek replied, “Now is not the time” and fired him.
Industry insiders believe Rice was perceived as a replacement for the embattled Chapek.
Some of the city’s most powerful insiders reacted with anger. “Peter is loved,” said one agent, noting that he was overseeing a successful department. Regarding Chapek, he said, “How often does a person have to show you who they are?”
It is noteworthy that the board issued a statement in support of Chapek, whose contract has just a few months left.
The move comes as a shock considering Chapek rebooked Rice to a new long-term deal last summer. Sources say Rice has more than two years left on the contract and will receive a rich payout.
Rice’s top lieutenant, Dana Walden – who also joined Disney from Fox – will take over his duties. Chapek announced the news in a memo to employees on Thursday. (Read it in full below.)
“Dana is a dynamic, collaborative leader and cultural force who, in just three years, has transformed our television business into a content powerhouse that consistently delivers the entertainment viewers it craves,” Chapek said in a statement Thursday morning. “Their well-deserved reputation for nurturing creative talent and developing programming that truly captures the cultural zeitgeist has resulted in hit after hit from ABC Abbott Elementary School and Oscar winners from Onyx Collective summer of the soulto Hulu Originals like Just Murders in the Building, Dopesick, The Dropout and The Kardashians. She and Peter have worked closely together for years to create the best programming in the industry, and I can’t think of anyone better than Dana to take Disney General Entertainment to even greater heights.”
Rice joined Disney with Walden after Fox’s $73 billion acquisition of Mouse House. Rice, former president of 21st Century Fox and former chairman of Fox TV Group, Walden assumed control of a portfolio previously overseen by Ben Sherwood.
Rice, who was one of four direct reports under Chapek, oversaw Walden and a portfolio that included essentially all of Disney’s TV efforts except for ESPN. These included FX, National Geographic, ABC News and Disney Branded Television. Rice was once thought to be Iger’s heir apparent, and when the former CEO resigned, Chapek’s appointment to the role was seen as a surprising move given his park background.
Walden, who reported to Rice, ran all of Disney’s television studios, as well as ABC, Hulu and Freeform, among others. As part of her move from Fox, she traded oversight of one broadcast network for another at ABC while continuing to run the former Fox-backed 20th Television Studio.
“It’s an incredible honor to be asked to lead this incredibly talented team – they really are the absolute best in every way – and I’m grateful to Bob for this unique opportunity,” said Walden. “Disney General Entertainment’s culture of creative excellence and originality has made us home to many of the industry’s most talented creators. I am honored to lead this team and I am confident that together we will continue to build on the foundation of culture-defining entertainment that we have achieved to date.”
Disney, like other conglomerates, reorganized its leadership ranks in 2020 to better prioritize streaming. Much of the business side has been handed over to Kareem Daniel, who sits at the helm of the newly formed Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution Group, overseeing distribution and operations, as well as advertising, budgets and content requirements.
Rice served in his role at Fox and later Disney for more than three decades. His name had been floated as a potential entertainment head for David Zaslav’s newly merged Warner Bros. Discovery. The popular manager, who has strong ties to the creative industry, is said to have dropped his name from consideration after learning about the position reported directly to Zaslav.
Sources indicate that Rice was stunned by Chapek’s decision and has no immediate plans to rejoin the WBD job.
As for Walden, her new title will be chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content – the same as Rice’s – and she takes up her new position immediately. She is tasked with creating original content for Disney’s streaming platforms, cable and broadcast networks and oversees ABC Entertainment, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic Content and Onyx Collective.
Walden spent more than 25 years at Fox – all under Rice.
Here is Chapek’s memo to staff:
I am pleased to announce that Dana Walden has been appointed Chair of Disney General Entertainment Content reporting directly to me. Those of us who have had the great pleasure of working with Dana since joining 21st Century Fox three years ago know that she is a dynamic, collaborative leader and cultural force who has literally transformed our television business into a content powerhouse that delivers consistently the entertainment that audiences crave. Dana, formerly Chairman, Entertainment, Walt Disney Television, succeeds Peter Rice, who is leaving the company after leading the DGE Group through an incredible period of transition, expansion and creative renaissance; I know we all wish Peter the best.
Dana is one of the most experienced and respected executives in the industry, and her well-deserved reputation for nurturing creative talent and developing programs that capture the cultural zeitgeist has led to hit after hit for us, from ABC’s Abbott Elementary and the Academy Award from Onyx Collective -Summer of Soul to Hulu Originals like Only Murders in the Building, Dopesick, The Dropout and The Kardashians. One of the highlights of working with 21st Century Fox in 2019 was the addition of Dana to our leadership ranks, and I can think of no one better suited to lead our general entertainment content group to even greater heights in the years to come. In her new role as Chair of DGE, Dana will oversee ABC Entertainment, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic Content and Onyx Collective.
When Dana first joined Disney after an incredible 25 years at 21st Century Fox, she faced an unprecedented challenge: to scale our creative output to meet the demands of our rapidly expanding distribution pipeline, without compromising the quality of storytelling, for known to Disney. If you know Dana, you know she loves a challenge and loves the creative process, and the testament to her success has been the performance of her talented teams at Disney Television Studios, ABC, Freeform, Hulu Originals and Onyx Collective. Under her leadership, ABC has been the #1 entertainment network for three consecutive seasons, Hulu has seen record ratings for its Originals, and DGE has earned an impressive 270 Emmy nominations and 23 total wins.
I am incredibly confident in Dana’s ability to lead the DGE team in creating even more exciting, compelling and memorable general entertainment content to engage audiences for years to come. Please join me in congratulating Dana on her new role.
Kim Masters contributed to this report.