Peter Rice ousted as Disney TV chief in major shake-up

Peter Rice, the chairman of Walt Disney Co.’s TV content division, has been fired from the Burbank-based entertainment giant, a move sure to rock Hollywood.

Rice was replaced by his top lieutenant, Dana Walden, who was previously head of entertainment at Walt Disney Television, Disney said Thursday. The change will take effect immediately.

Rice, a widely admired television veteran, was fired on “cultural suitability” issues, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.

Walden, who like Rice joined Disney three years ago as part of the 21st Century Fox acquisition, will become chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, the division responsible for programming from ABC, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, National Geographic Content and others Brands is responsible. Walden’s portfolio will also include ABC News and content for streaming channels like Hulu.

“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 viewers desire,” said Bob Chapek, Disney chief executive, in a Email to staff announcing the decision.

“Dana is one of the most experienced and respected leaders in the industry, and her well-deserved reputation for nurturing creative talent and developing programs that capture the cultural zeitgeist has led to hit after hit for us.”

The move also removes an executive widely viewed as a potential threat to Chapek’s leadership.

Rice, a former 21st Century Fox executive who excelled in the hard scrabble culture of Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire, was speculated as a possible successor to Chapek during a difficult time for the company. Even before Chapek’s rise to power, Rice was frequently mentioned along with Kevin Mayer as someone who could take over Bob Iger.

The entertainment industry has been enthusiastic about Chapek’s handling of the political firestorm sparked by opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which LGBTQ advocates and Disney employees view as anti-gay. Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized the company as a “woke” company, and the Florida Legislature voted to strip Disney of its special self-government privileges in the area that includes the Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney stock, along with many other companies, is grappling with fears of an economic recession and worries about the state of the streaming business, which has made Chapek Disney’s top priority. Disney+, the company’s app that competes with Netflix, recently hit 137.7 million subscribers, but some analysts doubt the service can reach its goal of 230 million members by 2024.

The combination of factors has led some industry observers to question whether Chapek’s tenure at the helm of the company is in jeopardy.

But Disney Chairwoman Susan Arnold signaled support for Chapek in a statement Thursday.

“The strength of The Walt Disney Company’s businesses that has emerged from the pandemic is a testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the company’s future,” Arnold said. “During this important time of company 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 board’s support and trust.”

The fall of Rice is the latest shock for Disney. Disney’s chief communications executive, Geoff Morrell, was forced out of the company in April amid the Florida scandal.

Rice, caught off guard by the decision to fire him, wasn’t a good fit with the company’s new regime, according to insiders. Chapek assumed the position of chief executive from Iger in 2020 and reorganized the company by separating content companies from distribution decisions, causing a stir within the organization, particularly among senior executives used to relative autonomy.

Distribution decisions — whether shows should be sent to Disney’s traditional channels or put on streaming services — were handed to Kareem Daniel, who runs a division called Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. The reorganization also took financial decisions away from the programmers, including Rice, and transferred that power to Daniel.

According to people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to comment publicly, the structure created tensions between Rice and Daniel, a longtime Chapek deputy at Disney.

Nonetheless, Disney insiders were shocked at the timing of the decision, given that Rice’s contract had been renewed last year and he’d only shared the stage with Daniel weeks ago at the company’s preview to advertisers. Now Disney has to pay off Rice’s contract for the remaining two and a half years.

Chapek invited Rice to a meeting Wednesday and informed him that he had been fired.

In the meeting, which lasted less than 10 minutes, Chapek told Rice that he was “not a good fit” and that Chapek wanted his own person to lead the team.

At Walden, Chapek felt he had a leader who not only had the talent but also the collaborative nature to lead a huge creative organization.

Chapek also wanted to simplify a structure he inherited when he took the reins at Disney, where television content was governed by two high-profile executives, according to people familiar with the matter.

Already one of Hollywood’s most powerful women, Walden is increasing her influence at a company that has long been short of female leaders.

Walden also came to Disney through the 2019 acquisition of Fox assets. Walden is known for her talent-friendly approach and a track record of hits at Disney Television Studios. She ran the department responsible for ABC’s Abbott Elementary and the Hulu originals Only Murders in the Building, Dopesick, and The Dropout. Peter Rice ousted as Disney TV chief in major shake-up

Sarah Ridley

Sarah Ridley is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Sarah Ridley joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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