One of the media’s most powerful executives was meeting with a group of people on the morning of June 9 when he learned that Disney CEO Bob Chapek had abruptly fired entertainment and programming president Peter Rice.
“Chapek just made another massive mistake,” the executive announced. The market may have agreed: Disney stock fell nearly 4% when the news became public, a bigger drop than the market as a whole on Thursday.
Chapek’s decision to fire a longtime and highly respected executive in the most unceremonious way possible has sparked waves of bewilderment and, for many, outrage – from the highest circles of Hollywood power to lower-echelon players. . “There are very few things that surprise me,” says another of the industry’s most seasoned executives. “It makes me dizzy.”
Several insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter that the firing was another in a series of missteps by Chapek, Disney’s legal department shock with Scarlett Johansson on damage flip flops on Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” law. “Chapek chose another cycle of negative news when he was just getting back on his feet,” says a longtime communications manager.
The statement from the board of directors “trust and supportfor Chapek from President Susan Arnold. Some high-level executives at other companies said the board had already sent a message of less than full confidence by failing, so far, to renew Chapek’s contract with only a few months left before it expires. . “You let the CEO get less than a year out of his contract,” says a longtime industry player. “That in itself is a statement of no support. A vote of confidence is nonsense. This is the most Mickey Mouse company. It’s so dysfunctional.
Some believe that the board could now extend Chapek’s contract at an upcoming meeting. But again, there were negative comparisons to former Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger. “Can you imagine, when Bob Iger fired Anne Sweeney [the former president of Disney/ABC Television Group] that the council would issue a statement? says an observer with previous ties to Disney.
Meanwhile, many Disney insiders reacted to the news in horror. “That’s awful,” said one. “It’s not good for the company. Morale is terrible. Another adds: “I wonder if Chapek was even aware that Rice has been hosting Zoom town halls and Q&As throughout the pandemic, which has really made him a presence in the lives of us schlubs. basic.”
It was not just Rice’s dismissal, but the manner in which it was done that fueled the outrage. “When you fire the guy like that, everyone says, ‘Is this what he’s going to do to me?'” said a senior executive at a Disney competitor. Notes a source linked to the company: “At Disney, at this level, we do not deal [an executive] in this way. You give him a production deal, you give him a cover story, you give him a party, you get them out. If you need to execute someone, there are ways to do it. It’s the lack of contact. It’s like this guy [Chapek] don’t know how things are going in our town. (Sweeney, for example, was allowed to announce her own departure in 2014, months before her official release, saying she wanted to get more involved in the creative side of the business. And, a few days ago at barely, the head of Warner Bros. Discovery, David Zaslav brought out Toby Emmerich at Warner Bros. with a soft landing production deal.)
While Chapek reportedly cited poor cultural fit during his brief meeting to end Rice, no explanation for this was provided by Disney and sources say Rice received none during his meeting with Chapek. . Many have speculated that Chapek was reacting to the idea that Rice, who has had a long career in film and television, could have been considered a successor – and could have been seen as positioning himself that way. Said a senior industry executive: “My theory is that Chapek was thinking, ‘This guy is trying to get me out. Fuck him. ‘” (It may be worth noting that when Disney was embroiled in a backlash over its response to the Florida law, Rice released her own memo saying“Personally, I consider this law a violation of fundamental human rights. “)
Says the Disney-related source: “During all the press on the [Ron] The DeSantis fiasco, it’s incredibly uncomfortable, for a CEO whose power is receding, to have the person who is considered your successor sitting in the room with you. You kill this person. It wouldn’t be a new phenomenon at Disney: Iger sent COO Tom Staggs in 2016 when Staggs was widely seen as Iger’s successor, and Michael Eisner abruptly ousted Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was pushing for the job. assurance that he was next, in 1994.
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