One of the most powerful executives in the media was meeting with a group of people on the morning of June 9 when he heard that Disney CEO Bob Chapek had abruptly fired President of Entertainment and Programming Peter Rice. .
“Chapek just made another big mistake,” the executive announced. The market may have agreed: Shares of Disney fell nearly 4% when the news became public, a larger drop than the overall market on Thursday.
Chapek’s decision to fire a longtime and prestigious executive in the most discordant manner possible has caused waves of irritation and, for many, outrage – from Hollywood’s powerful elite to to the lower level players. One of the industry’s most seasoned executives said: “There are few things that stun me. “This stunned me.”
Some insiders said The Hollywood Reporter that the firing was part of a string of blunders by Chapek, from Disney’s legal conflict with Scarlett Johansson to the disastrous leak of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. “Chapek picked up another cycle of negative news as he was barely back on the ground,” said a longtime communications executive.
Also receiving negative reviews was the board’s statement of “trust and support” for Chapek from president Susan Arnold. Several senior executives at other companies said the board sent a message of something less than confident when it was unable to renew Chapek’s contract with just a few months to go. “You let the CEO have it within a year of his contract going into effect,” said one longtime industry player with power in the industry. “That in itself is a statement of disapproval. A vote of confidence is meaningless. That’s the company with the most Mickey Mouse. It is very dysfunctional. ”
Some speculated that the board might extend Chapek’s contract at an upcoming meeting. But again, there are negative comparisons to former Disney President and CEO Bob Iger. “Can you imagine, when Bob Iger fired Anne Sweeney [the former president of Disney/ABC Television Group] that the board will issue a statement? ” indicates an observer with a previous relationship with Disney.
Meanwhile, many Disney insiders reacted to the news with horror. “It was horrible,” said one. “It’s not good for the company. The spirit is terrible.” Another added: “I wonder if Chapek knew that Rice hosting Zoom town halls and Q&A during the pandemic actually made him present in the lives of level-and-dash schlubs- our episode or not.”
It was not merely the dismissal of Rice but the way it was done that caused outrage. “By firing him this way, other people will say, ‘Is this what he’s going to do to me?’,” said a senior executive at a Disney competitor. said. Noting a source with ties to the company: “At Disney, at that level, you don’t treat [an executive] in that way. You give him a production contract, you give him a cover story, you give him a party, you get them out the door. If you have to execute someone, there are ways to do it. It’s a lack of communication. It’s like this guy [Chapek] don’t know how things are done in our town. (Sweeney, for example, was allowed to announce her own departure in 2014, a few months before officially leaving, saying she wanted to be more involved in the creative side of the business. And , just a few days ago, David, Discovery director of Warner Bros. Zaslav opened Toby Emmerich at Warner Bros. with a light-landing production deal.)
While Chapek is said to have cited a poor cultural fit during his brief meeting to terminate Rice, there was no explanation for that from Disney and sources said Rice was not given an explanation. out anything in his meeting with Chapek. Many speculated that Chapek was reacting to the suggestion that Rice, who has enjoyed a long career in film and television, could be seen as the successor – and may have been seen. like positioning yourself that way. One top executive in the industry said, “My theory is that Chapek thinks, ‘This guy is trying to take me down. Fuck him. “)
Indicates sources with ties to Disney: “Of all the press about [Ron] DeSantis failed, deeply frustrating, for a CEO who is losing power, to have someone considered as your successor sitting in the room with you. You kill that person”. That wouldn’t be a new phenomenon at Disney: Iger dispatched COO Tom Staggs in 2016 when Staggs was seen by many as Iger’s successor, and Michael Eisner abruptly ousted Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was pressing for guarantees. announced that he was his successor in 1994.