Embattled Disney CEO Bob Chapek canned TV content boss Peter Rice on Thursday in a surprise shakeup that blindsided employees, as well as Rice himself, sources said.
Rice — who oversaw the division that made over 300 shows a year for platforms like ABC, Disney Channel, Disney+, Hulu and FX — had his contract recently renewed through 2024, according to reports.
But Chapek personally brought down the hammer on Rice, according to the New York Times, which cited “an ill fit” with the Mouse House’s corporate culture.
Sources said that Rice alienated senior Disney execs after coming over from Fox’s “looser” culture and that his exit was a “long time coming.”
Disney confirmed the ouster Thursday without providing any details of why Rice was let go.
Rice did not return requests for comment.
He will be replaced by his second in command, Dana Walden, who came over with Rice after Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, where he had served as chairman of general entertainment content.
“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 audiences crave,” Chapek said.
Rice, who also oversaw ABC News, renewed his contract at Disney in August, Puck News reported. It ran until the end of 2024 and Disney will pay the exec out, sources told the Times.
Rice, who had more than three decades of experience in the entertainment industry, soared at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Entertainment, where he grew the profile of Fox Searchlight, green-lighting some of its highest grossing, critically-acclaimed films like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”
His success at the division led him to a promotion overseeing the media giant’s TV assets. But when Disney bought Fox, Rice had a bumpy landing.
The exec left Fox’s “looser” culture and had to adopt to the “buttoned up” style at Disney, a source said.
“He’s not a bad guy, just grew up in the wrong corporate culture,” said the source, who cited cumulative issues over time for the rift.
As Disney had undergone a reorganization with streaming service Disney+ taking center stage, Rice bumped heads with former streaming boss Kevin Mayer over powers like the ability to green-light shows, CNBC reported.
It added that Rice had a tendency to withhold information from co-workers, a power-move that did not go over well at the Mouse House.
When Chapek took the helm in 2020, Rice found himself working closer with Hollywood talent, but losing oversight of profit and losses responsibilities, which sources said “infuriated” the exec.
“This is about two very different cultures. [Peter] was wildly successful at Fox,” a former Disney exec told The Daily Beast recently. “I have a lot of admiration for him. What you are seeing is a culture clash playing out.”
Chapek touted Walden’s achievements, which include “championing creative talent and developing programming that truly captures the cultural zeitgeist” such as ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” Onyx Collective’s Academy Award-winning “Summer of Soul” and Hulu’s “The Dropout.”
The CEO has had a difficult few months as he has grappled with the fallout from his fumbling response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Disney’s stock price has also plummeted as media watchers voiced concerns about the profitability of its streaming service.
Under Chapek, the company let go of its most senior communications executive, Geoff Morrell, after just three months on the job.
All the press for a company that had run rather smoothly under Chapek’s predecessor, Bob Iger, caused some in Hollywood to speculate if Chapek was up to the job.
Disney chairman Susan Arnold gave Chapek the board’s backing in an emailed statement Thursday.
“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,” she said. “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.”