Disney and the entertainment industry did a double-take Thursday when they learned that Disney CEO Bob Chapek had coldly dismissed chairman of entertainment and programming Peter Rice in a seven-minute meeting. Not only was Rice well-liked, but his divisions—20th Television, ABC Entertainment, ABC News, FX and others—were doing well.
So the reason? He was a bad fit in “the new Disney culture,” Chapek reportedly told the axed exec. The real reason, some think? Rice has flown a little too close to the sun. With the embattled Chapek’s contract up for negotiation in a few months, Rice was seen by some at Disney as a potential replacement.
Whether that’s true, industry insiders are shocked both by the decision and the ice-cold execution.
One unnamed exec told The Hollywood Reporter that Chapek’s decision to fire Rice, who is well-respected throughout the industry, was a “massive mistake.”
“There are very few things that stun me,” another industry executive with many years of experience under his belt said. “This stuns me.”
Even the rank-and-file support Rice. “I wonder if Chapek has even been aware that Rice held Zoom town halls and Q&As throughout the pandemic that really made him a presence in the lives of us rank-and-file schlubs,” said one.
Sources told CNBC that Rice’s ouster was “unheard of” and “sizable.”
Yet there are those who contend that big cheese Chapek didn’t get rid of Rice just because he’s a likely competitor. Some say he truly was a bad cultural fit. While “generally well-liked personally,” Rice also rubbed others the wrong way by being tight-fisted with information instead of sharing it—a method that didn’t jibe with Disney’s collaborative culture, according to CNBC.
In fact, it was said that Rice didn’t work collaboratively in general.
And while two sources told CNBC that being seen as Chapek’s potential successor wasn’t the reason he was let go, that was apparently not the general consensus.
“My theory,” a showbiz executive told THR, “is Chapek thought, ‘This guy’s trying to take me out. Fuck him.’”
Still others contend that Rice’s exit from Mouse House can be blamed on his resistance to change. Chapek “felt Rice was unhappy with the massive reorganization of TV operations that Chapek implemented in October 2020,” reports Variety.
Either way, Rice had no time to prepare. “By all accounts, Rice didn’t see it coming,” Variety notes. He was, in fact, “blindsided.”
The company’s board has Chapek’s back.
“The strength of the Walt Disney Company’s businesses coming out of the pandemic is a testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the company’s future,” Disney chairwoman Susan Arnold said in a statement. “In 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 confidence of the board.”
Rice was replaced by his top lieutenant, Dana Walden, Chairman of Entertainment, Walt Disney Television.
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