Speculation ran high this month over the reasons behind the departure of Peter Rice as head of the TV division at The Walt Disney Co.
Rice abruptly left the Burbank media and entertainment giant on June 9 and was immediately replaced by Dana Walden, who was previously chairman of entertainment at Walt Disney Television.
Rice and the man who fired him, Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek, were both praised by Walden in a memo to employees obtained by the Hollywood Reporter and other industry trade publications.
“I am very fortunate to have worked alongside Peter Rice for a long time,” Walden wrote, according to the Reporter. “We have been friends for almost three decades and he was my boss for eight years. He is a gifted executive, and I learned a lot from him. I know you all join me in wishing him the best in whatever he chooses to do next.”
She thanked Chapek “for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime. Bob is enormously proud of what we do, and as The Walt Disney Company enters its second century, I look forward to joining forces with all of you to help deliver on his priorities: storytelling excellence, innovation, and a relentless focus on our audience,” Walden said in the memo.
Both Rice and Walden came to Disney from 21st Century Fox, when the San Fernando Valley company bought the Century City-based entertainment firm in 2019.
According to an article at Fortune.com, based on reporting done by the Wall Street Journal, there was speculation that Rice had upset some Disney lifers by getting rid of Disney employees in favor of those from Fox.
“This ousting of people who had been working at Disney for their entire careers reportedly led to a schism between Rice and long-term Disney employees,” the Fortune story said.
The Fortune story, citing the Wall Street Journal, said that Disney lifers were suspicious of Rice after he came to the company.
“Kareem Daniel, the Chapek lieutenant who (heads) Disney’s media and entertainment distribution, started as a Disney intern in 2006. He clashed with Rice, as did Rebecca Campbell, head of international content operations, who joined the company in 1997; chief financial officer Christine McCarthy, who has been at Disney since 2000; and former Disney exec Kevin Mayer, who worked at the company from 1993 to 2020,” the Fortune story said.
Additionally, Rice ruffled feathers at Disney by wanting to change budgets. Namely, according to the Fortune story, Rice wanted to spend unused funds in his programming budget on marketing and promotion for several shows including the ABC comedy “Abbott Elementary” and the Hulu series “Dopesick” and “Only Murders in the Building.”
This was an unusual move as the marketing budgets were often kept separate.
“The idea was met with pushback from the company’s distribution and finance groups; Rice made a case to Chapek, who gave his approval,” the Fortune story said. “This was a regular occurrence, according to the Journal report, which indicated that when Rice didn’t get his way, he would often go to Chapek.”
And, finally, the Fortune story reported that Rice was seen as a potential threat to Chapek’s leadership position.
“Rice is admired in Hollywood circles and said to be viewed as talent friendly, a characteristic he and former Disney chief Bob Iger shared,” the Fortune story said.
As chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, Walden will oversee the content engine that creates original entertainment and news programming for Disney’s streaming platforms and its cable and broadcast networks, according to a release from Disney.
She will have oversight of ABC Entertainment, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Disney Television Studios, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic Content and Onyx Collective, the release said.
Chapek said that he could not think of a better person than Walden to lead Disney programming.
“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 (documentary film) ‘Summer of Soul,’ to Hulu Originals like ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ ‘The Dropout’ and ‘The Kardashians,’” Chapek said in a statement.