In a major executive shake-up, Peter Rice, chairman of Disney’s entertainment and programming, is exiting the company, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.
Sources say embattled Disney CEO Bob Chapek summoned Rice to his office Monday and relieved the former Fox exec of his duties. The CEO, who took over for Bob Iger last year, is said to have felt that Rice was no longer a fit.
This dismissal took place in a seven-minute meeting Monday evening, according to sources. Chapek told Rice that he was not a fit in “the new Disney culture,” to which Rice said words to the effect that he thought they were in the midst of building the new Disney culture. He asked in what way he did not fit and Chapek responded, “Now is not the time” and dismissed him.
Industry insiders believe Rice was perceived as angling to replace the embattled Chapek.
Some of the town’s most powerful insiders responded with anger. “Peter is beloved,” said one agent, noting that he was overseeing a successful division. Referring to Chapek, he said, “How many times does a person have to show you who they are?”
It is notable that the board issued a statement in support of Chapek, who has only a few months left on his contract.
The move comes as a shocker considering Chapek re-upped Rice to a new long-term deal last summer. Sources say Rice has more than two years remaining on his contract and will receive a rich payout.
Rice’s top lieutenant, Dana Walden — who also made the move from Fox to Disney — will be taking over his responsibilities. Chapek announced the news in a memo to staff 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 audiences crave,” Chapek said in a statement Thursday morning. “Her well-earned reputation for championing creative talent and developing programming that truly captures the cultural zeitgeist has resulted in hit after hit, from ABC’s Abbott Elementary and Onyx Collective’s Academy Award-winning summer of soulto Hulu originals like Only 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 think of no one better than Dana to lead Disney General Entertainment to even greater heights.”
Rice, along with Walden, made the move from Fox to Disney following the Mouse House’s $73 billion acquisition. Rice, the former 21st Century Fox president, and former Fox TV Group chairman Walden assumed control of a portfolio that was 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 save for ESPN. Those included FX, National Geographic, ABC News and Disney Branded Television. Rice was once considered an apparent heir to Iger, and when the former CEO stepped down, the appointment of Chapek to the role was considered a surprise move given his parks background.
Walden, who reported to Rice, managed all of Disney’s TV studios as well as ABC, Hulu and Freeform, among other assets. As part of her move from Fox, she traded oversight of one broadcast network for another in ABC while continuing to manage the former Fox-backed 20th Television studio.
“It is an incredible honor to be asked to lead this amazingly talented team — they are truly the absolute best in every respect — and I am grateful to Bob for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Walden said. “Disney General Entertainment’s culture of creative excellence and originality has made us home to many of the most talented creators in the business. I am humbled to lead this team, and I am confident that together, we will continue to build on the foundation of culture-defining entertainment we have achieved so far.”
Disney, like other conglomerates, reorganized its executive ranks in 2020 to better prioritize streaming. Much of the business side was handed off to Kareem Daniel, who sits atop the newly formed Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution Group and oversees distribution and operations as well as advertising, budgets and content needs.
Rice had been in his role at Fox and later Disney for more than three decades. His name had been floated as a potential head of entertainment for David Zaslav’s newly merged Warner Bros Discovery. The well-liked exec, who has strong ties to the creative community, is said to have removed his name from consideration after learning the position reported directly to Zaslav.
Sources indicate Rice was stunned by Chapek’s decision and has no immediate plans to re-engage for the WBD job.
As for Walden, her new title will be chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content — the same as Rice’s — and she begins her new position immediately. She will be charged with creating original content for Disney’s streaming platforms, cable and broadcast networks with oversight of 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’s Chapek’s memo to staff:
I am thrilled to announce that Dana Walden has been named Chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, reporting directly to me. For those of us who’ve had the extreme pleasure of working with Dana since her arrival from 21st Century Fox three years ago, you know she is a dynamic, collaborative leader and cultural force who has literally transformed our television business into a content powerhouse that consistently delivers the entertainment audiences crave. Dana, who previously served as Chairman, Entertainment, Walt Disney Television, succeeds Peter Rice, who is departing the company after leading the DGE group through an incredible period of transition, expansion, and creative renaissance; I know all of us wish Peter the best.
Dana is one of the most seasoned and respected executives in the business, and her well-earned reputation for championing creative talent and developing programming that captures the cultural zeitgeist has resulted in hit after hit for us, from ABC’s Abbott Elementary and Onyx Collective’s Academy Award -winning Summer of Soul, to Hulu Originals like Only Murders in the Building, Dopesick, The Dropout and The Kardashians. One of the highlights of joining forces with 21st Century Fox in 2019 was having Dana join our leadership ranks, and I can think of no one better suited to take our General Entertainment Content group to even greater heights in the years ahead. In her new role as Chairman of DGE, Dana will have oversight of ABC Entertainment, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic Content, and Onyx Collective.
When Dana first arrived at Disney after an incredible 25-year run at 21st Century Fox, she faced an unprecedented challenge: Ramp up our creative output to meet the needs of our rapidly expanding distribution pipeline, without compromising the quality storytelling for which Disney is renowned . If you know Dana, you know she relishes a challenge and loves the creative process, and the proof of her success has been in the performance of her talented teams at Disney Television Studios, ABC, Freeform, Hulu Originals, and Onyx Collective. Under her leadership, ABC has been the No. 1 entertainment network for three consecutive seasons, Hulu has seen record viewership for its Originals, and DGE has collectively earned an impressive 270 Emmy nominations and 23 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 delight audiences for years to come. Please join me in congratulating Dana in her new role.
Kim Masters contributed to this report.