Morale is at an all-time low at the beleaguered Mouse House after Disney CEO Bob Chapek dumped TV content boss Peter Rice.
Rice, who joined Disney after the media giant acquired 21st Century Fox in 2019, was replaced on Thursday by his number two, Dana Walden, in what many have described as a “shocking” shakeup.
“It’s not good for the company. Morale is terrible, ”a Disney insider told The Hollywood Reporter.
No reason was given by Disney as to why Rice was let go, but sources buzzed Thursday that Chapek sharpened the ax before it fell on him after he butted heads with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“During all the press about the DeSantis fiasco, it’s incredibly uncomfortable, for a CEO whose power is slipping away, to have the person who is seen as your successor sitting in the room with you,” the source told The Hollywood Reporter. “You kill that person.”
Chapek has had a slew of missteps since he took the helm in 2020, including grappling with the fallout from his fumbling response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
As his boss flip-flopped on his response to DeSantis’ legislation, enraging Disney employees, Rice issued his own memo at the time, saying, “Personally, I see this law as a violation of fundamental human rights.”
That probably didn’t win any points with Chapek, or other execs, who viewed Rice as someone who didn’t conform to Disney’s more buttoned-up corporate culture.
Rice broke the news of his firing to employees Thursday in a collegial memo, capping a tumultuous ride at the company.
“I am so proud of the work we have done together, the friendships we have forged and the consistent success we have celebrated,” he wrote. “As I depart Disney, may I leave you with a last thought: remain committed to excellence and always recognize that our stories are dependent upon the imagination and artistry of the writers, directors, producers, actors, and craftsman that we have engaged to call Disney home. ”
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. The star exec was brought over to Disney three years ago, where he oversaw the division that made over 300 shows a year for platforms like ABC, Disney Channel, Disney +, Hulu and FX.
“He’s not a bad guy, just growing up in the wrong corporate culture,” a source told The Post Thursday, citing cumulative issues over time for the rift.
But the bad 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.
“Chapek’s contract is up in a year and a half,” a Hollywood executive told The Post in April. “I’d be worried.”
According to reports, Disney has yet to re-sign Chapek, but Rice’s dismissal did come with a vote of confidence from Disney chairman Susan Arnold, who backed the CEO’s decision on 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.”
Axing a potential successor isn’t new in the cutthroat world of media, nor is it an anomaly at Disney.
Iger purged chief operating officer Tom Staggs in 2016 when the exec was widely seen as the CEO’s successor, and Michael Eisner pushed out Jeffrey Katzenberg in 1994.