UPDATED: Disney has confirmed the exit of Peter Rice and the ascension of Dana Walden. Release is below.
Peter Rice, the highly regarded Disney exec, has been fired, Deadline hears. Rice is the chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, and has been a respected leader there since moving over after the studio swallowed Fox. Rice was blindsided yesterday by the move, sources said.
Dana Walden, the Chairman of Entertainment, Walt Disney Television, will be succeeding him, we hear. The move marks a high profile restructuring shift made by Disney CEO Bob Chapek, as he continues to put his mark on the studio post Bob Iger.
Both are very well regarded execs, and Rice had to spend the past few months fending off wide rumors that Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav would tap him to run the entertainment business for him. When it was clear Zaslav wanted execs to report directly to him, Rice pulled himself out of the running, making this a true shock.
No immediate reaction by Disney stock or many on Wall Street to this stunner. There’s a Shakespearean element to all this: Chapek has had a rocky go of things, and his contract is up next February. Rice was rumored to be a contender to ascend to the CEO position before Chapek got the job. He’s expected to survive, but had he been deposited, Rice would have been the strongest internal candidate to replace him. Was this a factor? No one is saying.
Rice signed a new contract just last summer. Meanwhile, Walden’s contract was up this year, and she had been negotiating a new one with Disney over the past couple of months. Clearly, for Disney CEO Chapek, it came down to choosing between the two executives, and he made his pick.
The executive shakeup is certain to reverberate throughout the company as it upends the balance of power at the top levels of the TV operation. For instance, Walden and FX chairman John Landgraf have co-existed for years, both reporting to Rice. It is unclear how changing that dynamic will impact Landgraf, a very well respected executive.
Disney did not immediately respond for comment. We will build out this story with more details, as we hear them.
THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY NAMES DANA WALDEN AS CHAIRMAN OF DISNEY GENERAL ENTERTAINMENT CONTENT
BURBANK, Calif., June 9, 2022—The Walt Disney Company has named Dana Walden as Chairman, Disney General Entertainment Content, it was announced today by Bob Chapek, Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company. In this role, Walden will lead the company’s general entertainment content engine that creates original entertainment and news programming for Disney’s streaming platforms and its cable and broadcast networks. 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. Walden previously served as Chairman, Entertainment, Walt Disney Television and succeeds Peter Rice, who is leaving the company. Her appointment is effective immediately, and she will report directly to Chapek.
“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 audiences crave,” Chapek said. “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 Summer of Soul, to Hulu Originals like Only Murders in the Building , Dopesick, The Dropout and The Kardashians. She and Peter have worked closely together for years to create the best programming in the industry, and I can think of no one better than Dana to lead Disney General Entertainment to even greater heights.”
“It is an incredible honor to be asked to lead this amazingly talented team—they are truly the absolute best in every respect—and I am grateful to Bob for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Walden said. “Disney General Entertainment’s culture of creative excellence and originality has made us home to many of the most talented creators in the business. I am humbled to lead this team, and I am confident that together, we will continue to build on the foundation of culture-defining entertainment we have achieved so far.”
Walden joined Disney in 2019 with the company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox, and in her role leading Entertainment for Walt Disney Television, she oversaw Disney Television Studios (20th Television, ABC Signature, 20th Television Animation and Walt Disney Television Alternative), the original entertainment slates and content marketing for ABC, Freeform, Hulu Originals and Onyx Collective.
Under Walden’s leadership, ABC has been the No. 1 entertainment network for three consecutive seasons—the first time that has happened in 25 years. And since assuming leadership of the Hulu Originals slate of series in 2019, the streamer has seen record viewership for the aforementioned hits, as well as The Handmaid’s Tale, Little Fires Everywhere and Nine Perfect Strangers.
At Disney Television Studios, Walden has overseen the production of such iconic and hit series as Grey’s Anatomy, The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers and 9-1-1. The areas under her oversight have collectively earned an impressive 270 Emmy® nominations and 23 wins since she joined Disney.
Walden previously served as chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, which included Fox Broadcasting Company, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox 21 Television Studios, Fox Consumer Products and the syndication supplier, 20th Television. In the four years she overlooked Fox Broadcasting Company, she took the network from fourth place to first.
During her 25 years at 21st Century Fox, the studios overseen by Walden amassed 184 Emmy® wins, 29 Golden Globes®, 17 Screen Actors Guild Awards and 24 Peabody Awards and Humanitas Prizes. Additionally, Walden was responsible for numerous No. 1 broadcast hits like This Is Us, Empire and Glee, to multiple Emmy Award winners Modern Family, Homeland, Ally McBeal, Arrested Development, The Practice and Boston Legal. Other landmark series overseen by Walden include 24, How I Met Your Mother, New Girl and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She has also overseen along with John Landgraf the long and successful partnership between 20th Television and FX and FX Productions, resulting in The Americans, Sons of Anarchy, Pose, American Horror Story and the American Crime Story franchise.
In 2021, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business. She has received the National Association of Television Program Executive’s Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award and was named MIPCOM’s Personality of the Year. In 2013, she was inducted into Broadcasting & Cable’s Television Hall of Fame. She has been named Showman of the Year by Variety, Television Showman of the Year by the Publicists of the International Cinematographers Guild, and Executive of the Year in 2019 by The Hollywood Reporter.
Walden began her career at the public relations firm Bender, Goldman & Helper. At Fox, she rose through the ranks in roles that ranged from communications to programming, ultimately serving as executive vice president of Drama before being named head of the studio in 1999. She sits on the board of directors for Live Nation Entertainment and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Centre. Additionally, she is a member of USC’s President’s Leadership Council and the President’s Circle of the NAACP.