For nearly a week, Hollywood has been trying to understand why Disney CEO Bob Chapek would abruptly fire the well-liked, experienced, and competent executive, Peter Rice. Rice had been an executive at 21st Century Fox when it was purchased by Disney, and he became an executive at The House of Mouse. Since the firing, Hollywood insiders have been unable to hold in their shock, calling Chapek “insecure”, saying he does not know how to be “graceful”, and that he may understand business, but does not understand content.
One major thing that many are struggling to understand is why Rice was straight-up fired instead of allowing him to resign. Over the years, Disney has let a lot of major people go — whether they worked under Michael Eisner, Bob Iger, or Bob Chapek. Eisner famously had major issues with Jeffrey Katzenberg, but he didn’t fire him, he let Katzenberg resign. Michael Ovitz — former President of The Walt Disney Company — was also allowed to resign when things got bad between him and Eisner. Bob Iger had not-so-secret issues with former COO/CFO Tom Staggs, but Staggs was allowed to resign. You see the pattern here.
Earlier this year, Disney Communications Chief Geoff Morrell — who was personally brought into Disney by Bob Chapek — leaked the opening date for Disney’s newest roller coaster, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Morrell also completely mishandled Disney’s reactions and statements to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill. He proved that he was not up to the task at Disney, but Chapek didn’t fire him. He allowed Morrell to resign after just a few months with Disney.
Then there’s Peter Rice. According to all accounts, Rice was popular among Disney employees. He was good at his job, which involved working with Disney talent, and there was never any major public issue that he faced. After Rice was fired, it was revealed that he was completely blindsided by the firing, as he had never had any real problems with Chapek and had never been given any inkling that his job was even on the line. When announcing his termination from the company, Disney did not have any kind words to say about Rice, which was also an unusual move.
The Hollywood Reporter has been speaking to Disney insiders since Rice’s firing and has been able to find a few potential answers as to why Disney handled Rice the way it did. According to THR:
Some answers have started to leak — many of them presumably from the upper echelons of Disney. Sources tell THR there was a group inside the company, including influential CFO Christine McCarthy, who saw Rice as an outsider who never adapted to Disney’s culture. (McCarthy also played a role in ousting Morrell.) But the explanations that have emerged came across as garden-variety power-struggle stuff, well short of explaining the seeming vitriol of the firing. The Wall Street Journalreported on June 13, for example, that there were “tensions with other senior executives” and that Rice had tried to spend unused money in his programming budget. On gambling and drugs? No, to promote Abbott Elementary, Dopesick and Only Murders in the Building. Another apparent sin: Rice’s “British mannerisms” made him seem aloof, the Journal revealed…
In the aftermath of the firing, there has been some speculation that Walden had made a subtle play for the job. (Those who have known her the longest believe she is far too skilled a player to do anything overt.) Though her contract is not up until 2023, a longtime television exec says, “I believe she said [to Chapek], ‘What’s my path? Where am I going?’ Implied: ‘You’re losing me. You’re going to be screwed.’ ”
While many people in Hollywood believe that Chapek handled Rice’s firing in an entirely inappropriate manner, that did not stop Rice from releasing a statement in which he called working for Disney “a privilege.” Dana Walden also released a statement when she was promoted to Rice’s position of Chairperson of Disney’s General Entertainment Content, saying that Rice was “gifted” and she was “fortunate” to work alongside him at both Disney and Fox.