On Thursday, minutes after news broke that Disney entertainment chief Peter Rice had been abruptly and unceremoniously fired, setting off an earthquake across Hollywood and igniting rampant speculation about the mysterious and irregular circumstances of his ouster, Disney C.E.O. Bob Chapek summoned Rice’s direct reports onto a phone call. When the headlines first hit the wire, most Disney executives had no idea what had just happened, or why. Many of them had been in meetings with Chapek and Rice in recent days, and had no reason to believe that anything was amiss. And indeed, as they would later learn, even Rice was shocked when he was invited to Chapek’s office earlier this week and told, in a meeting that lasted less than ten minutes, that he was being forced out of a company that some believed he might one day run.
Chapek was direct and unsentimental on Thursday’s call, sources who participated in the meeting said. He told Rice’s direct reports: “I’ve made a decision, and Peter is leaving the company.” Rice’s unit, Disney General Entertainment, needed “a more collaborative leader,” Chapek said, and someone who could better align the division with the rest of the organization. That leader would now be Dana Walden, Rice’s deputy and the chair of entertainment at Disney Television. The executives on the call, still shocked and perplexed by the news, did not ask any follow-up questions.
And yet, more than 24 hours after Rice’s dramatic defenestration, questions persist: Most notably, what was it about Rice—a widely respected and accomplished executive—that did not align with Chapek’s vision? Yes, Rice had been brought up under the wing of Rupert Murdoch at Fox, where the culture was a little more cutthroat, and sharp-elbowed. And yes, he was notably reserved and ran D.G.E. as a fiefdom. But he was also a fantastic performer, who had racked up several wins across Disney’s myriad television properties, and got along well enough with his fellow executives. And if he was really so uncooperative, why had Chapek re-signed him to a three-year contract last summer?