Peter Rice is out and Dana Walden is chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content. The shocking move, executed Wednesday by Disney CEO Bob Chapek, is presented as more of an homage to Walden than an indictment of Rice. Except the parts where it definitely appears to be an indictment of Rice.
The suddenly former chairman “wasn’t a good fit,” according to one person with knowledge of the decision who spoke to IndieWire on the condition of anonymity. The source told us that Rice was a bit of a “bully” and was not very “well-liked” within Disney. That is not a universal opinion; within the industry many people find Rice to be charming, intelligent, and smooth.
A spokesperson for Rice did not immediately respond to our request for comment on this story.
Both Walden and Rice came over from Fox when Disney acquired most of that company’s entertainment assets for $71.3 billion in 2019. Both Walden and Rice are highly respected executives with strong experience on the studio and network sides; Rice has more film experience than Walden, but this is considered more of a television role. Walden, who ran the Fox network for years with Gary Newman, has been showing off her TV acumen since Day 1 at Disney.
“Dana has had hit after hit since she got here,” the person told us, specifically citing “lots of streaming success.”
She also “set up [Onyx Collective] and won the company an Academy Award,” the person continued, referring to Questlove’s Oscar for “Summer of Soul.” “She’s just really beloved and I think when it came down to it Bob made the call.”
That call stunned Rice, according to Variety, who reported he was “blindsided” by the ousting. IndieWire has independently confirmed that Rice did not know he was being fired when the hammer came down on Wednesday. And why would he? Rice renewed his contract in August, which ran through the end of 2024. He will receive a payout from Disney amid termination.
‘Summer Of Soul (Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)’
So now it’s the Dana Walden Show. Reporting directly to Chapek, Walden will oversee ABC Entertainment, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic Content, and Onyx Collective.
An 813-word Thursday press release sung Walden’s praises — and then an encore. It was a long press release.
“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 as part of the media announcement. “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 Soul,’ to 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.”
The Walden accolades and achievements went on and on (and on) from there. In a separate statement, the Walt Disney board of directors backed Chapek’s chess move.
“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,” Susan Arnold, the chairman of the board, said in a statement sent to IndieWire. “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.”
Chapek didn’t always have everyone’s confidence. Among the interesting talking points surrounding Rice’s ouster is the fact that just months ago, certain Hollywood circles were abuzz with the opinion that Rice may replace Chapek. At the time, Chapek, the successor to the beloved Bob Iger, was bumbling through blowback to Disney’s silence over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Chapek weathered that storm, and it is now Disney at odds with the Sunshine State that houses Walt Disney World.
Our source with knowledge of the shakeup acknowledged such chatter of Rice replacing Chapek did not go unheard within Disney’s highest ranks. “It didn’t not play a role,” the person told us. Inside Disney, there were feelings Rice was “posturing” for the top gig among trusted media members.
Disney stock (DIS) showed little response to Thursday’s bombshell. Shares are currently trading down a couple of percentage points at roughly $105 apiece. Disney stock has a 52-week high of $187.58.
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