One of the most powerful leaders in the media met a group of people on the morning of June 9 when he heard the news that Disney boss Bob Chapek had abruptly fired chairman of entertainment and programming Peter Rice.
“Chapek just made another big mistake,” this leader announced. The market may have agreed: Disney shares fell almost 4 percent when the news became public, a larger decline than the market as a whole on Thursday.
Chapek’s decision to fire a longtime and respected leader in the most unpretentious way sparked waves of confusion and, for many, indignation – from the upper circles of Hollywood power to lower level players. “There are very few things that surprise me,” says another of the industry’s most experienced leaders. “This surprises me.”
Several insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter that the firing was another in a series of Chapek missteps, from Disney’s legal clash with Scarlett Johansson to the damaging flip-flop of Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. “Chapek has chosen another negative news cycle when he just got his feet back on the ground,” said a longtime communications manager.
Also negative reviews were the statement about the board’s “trust and support” for Chapek from chairman Susan Arnold. Some high-level executives at other companies said the board had already sent a message of no less than full confidence by failing, so far, to renew Chapek’s contract with only months left before it expires. “You let the CEO come within a year of his contract expiring,” says a longtime industry player. “That in itself is a statement of non-support. A vote of confidence is nonsense. It’s the most Mickey Mouse company. It’s so dysfunctional.”
Some speculate that the board can now extend Chapek’s contract at an upcoming meeting. But once again, it was the negative comparisons with 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 board would issue a statement? ” says an observer with previous connections to Disney.
Meanwhile, many Disney insiders reacted to the news with horror. “It’s awful,” says one. “It’s not good for the company. The morale is terrible. “Another adds:” I wonder if Chapek has even been aware that Rice held City Hall in Zoom and questions and answers throughout the pandemic, which really made him a presence in the lives of us privates clubs. “
It was not just the dismissal of Rice, but the way it was done that led to the rage. “By kicking the guy this way, everyone else is saying, ‘Is this what he wants to do to me?'” Says a high-level manager at a Disney competitor. Notices a source with ties to the company: “At Disney, at that level, you do not process [an executive] this way. You give him a production contract, you give him a cover story, you give him a party, you give them out the door. If you have to execute someone, there are ways to do it. It is the lack of touch. It’s like this guy [Chapek] do not know how things are done in our city. ” Sweeney, for example, was allowed to announce her own resignation in 2014, months before her official release, saying she wanted to be more involved in the creative side of the business. And just a few days ago, Warner Bros. Discovery boss David Zaslav introduced Toby Emmerich at Warner Bros. with a soft-landing production deal.
While Chapek is said to have cited a poor cultural fit in his brief meeting to end Rice, no explanation for this came from Disney, and sources say that Rice did not get anyone in the meeting with Chapek. Many speculated that Chapek reacted to the idea that Rice, who has had a long career in film and television, could have been seen as a successor – and may have been seen as positioning himself that way. A top executive in the industry says: “My theory is that Chapek thought, ‘This guy is trying to take me out. Fuck him. ‘”(It may be worth noting that when Disney was involved in a setback over its response to Florida law, Rice had issued his own note saying,” Personally, I see this law as a violation of fundamental human rights. . ”)
Says the source with ties to Disney: “Under all pressure about [Ron] DeSanti’s failure, it’s incredibly uncomfortable for a CEO whose power slips away, to have the person who is seen as your successor sitting in the room with you. You kill that person. “It would not be a new phenomenon at Disney: Iger sent out COO Tom Staggs in 2016 when Staggs was considered Iger’s successor, and Michael Eisner abruptly fired Jeffrey Katzenberg, who pushed for assurances that he was next in line, in 1994.