Dana Walden and Peter Rice: Meet the Media Heavyweights Behind Disney’s Major Shakeup
After the shocking news that Peter Rice has been ousted as the head of TV content for Disney, and will be replaced by his top lieutenant, Dana Walden, media insiders are left scratching their heads and speculating about the behind-the-scenes dealmaking taking place. For the uninitiated, Variety has put together a primer on the incoming and outgoing heads of Disney television.
Courtesy of Kwaku Alston/Fox
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Born and raised in the U.K., Rice’s family was close to Rupert Murdoch’s family, which lead to a Fox film internship in 1987. Rice was like family to the Murdochs, and Rupert helped Peter elevate his career in strategic ways, including a controversial but ultimately successful move from film to television in 2009. Despite those ties, Rice is seen as a very polished and capable executive in the media world.
*Biggest Roles Prior to Disney:
Fox Filmed Entertainment from 1989 — 2009, including roles such as president of Fox Searchlight Pictures and executive vice president of production for Twentieth Century Fox.
During his time at Fox Filmed Entertainment, Rice worked with young creatives such as Danny Boyle, Bryan Singer and Baz Luhrmann. During his tenure at Fox Searchlight, Peter Rice oversaw a multitude of critically acclaimed films including “Juno,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Sideways, “Bend it Like Beckham,” “The Last King of Scotland” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” Under his watch, Searchlight received 51 Oscar nominations and eight wins, including best picture for “Slumdog Millionaire.” He also oversaw juggernauts such as the “X-Men” film series.
Fox Networks from 2009 — 2019, including roles as chairman and CEO of Fox Networks Group and president of 21st Century Fox.
Working with groups such as Fox Broadcasting Company, 20th Century Fox Television, and FX Networks, Rice was able to move Fox to the top network slot for three seasons, as well as oversee numerous critical favorites, such as “The People v. O.J. Simpson” and “Fargo.”
When Disney purchased 21st Century Fox, Rice was elevated to chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content, where he served until being ousted. During his tenure, some of the 300 projects made in his group included prestige series such as “Reservation Dogs,” “Under the Banner of Heaven” and “Love, Victor,” and National Geographic’s film “Free Solo,” which won the best documentary Oscar.
*Why did he get fired?
Too soon to tell, but early whispers are that his communication style of keeping his ideas close to his vest did not work at Disney the same way it worked at Fox. Also, there is a long tradition that the most dangerous role at Disney is being seen as the “heir apparent,” and once Bob Chapek was chosen as the new CEO after Robert Iger, Rice’s head could have been on the chopping block.
Art Streiber for Variety
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Walden was captivated by television at a young age. She rode horses competitively throughout college but pursued work in entertainment after graduating from USC with a degree in communications. Walden worked in PR at Bender, Goldman and Helper, and then joined Arsenio Hall’s team when he was on top in late night. By the mid-1990s, Walden pivoted from PR to programming and development at 20th Century Fox’s television units. She joined the TV studio just as it was about to undergo a growth spurt under the leadership of Peter Chernin, the former 20th Century Fox chief who has been a key mentor to Walden.
*Biggest Roles Prior to Disney:
Fox Television Group from 1994 — 2019, including roles such as VP of current programming and senior vice president of drama at 20th Century Fox TV, and chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group. While at Fox, her studios were awarded 184 Emmys, 29 Golden Globes, 17 Screen Actors Guild awards and 24 Peabody awards. She helped spearh award winning programs such as “Modern Family,” “Homeland” and “Ally McBeal,” commercial hits such as “24,” “New Girl” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and bolstered FX’s fare with hits like “Sons of Anarchy” and “American Horror Story.”
Walden has overseen a string of buzzy Hulu originals, including “Only Murders in the Building,” “Dopesick,” “The Dropout,” “Pam & Tommy” and “The Great.” ABC is positioning for Emmy success via critical-darling comedy “Abbott Elementary.” And Onyx Collective, a content banner designed to put Disney muscle behind projects produced by creators of color, won the feature documentary Oscar for its first-ever release, the Questlove-directed “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” from Searchlight Pictures.
*Why did she get elevated?
Walden has been on a roll with content development and by all accounts has settled in well to the Disney production, marketing and distribution machine. Chapek may have felt that new Disney structure, her and Rice’s roles were redundant. With her diverse and successful track record, coupled with her recent hot streak, Walden was the obvious choice as successor.
Read more about Dana Walden’s vision for Disney in Variety‘s April cover story.
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