"It's a Bloodbath": Layoffs Underway at Disney

Peter Rice
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Peter Rice

"It's a bloodbath." That's how two longtime Disney staffers have described the wave of layoffs happening at the company Thursday.

The staff reductions are taking place in Disney's General Entertainment Content unit, overseen by Peter Rice, and Dana Walden's Walt Disney Television division, including ABC and studio 20th Television. Sources say more than 100 staffers have been impacted by Thursday's layoffs. "I'm sure Disney's seen worse, but it feels pretty significant," said one longtime executive familiar with the cutbacks. Disney declined comment. (THR will update this post with more information as it becomes available.)

Longtime ABC exec Vicki Dummer, who has spent nearly a quarter-century at Disney and most recently served as head of current for the broadcast network, is among the senior executives who have been impacted by the layoffs. ABC's exec vp scheduling Andy Kubitz, an eight-year network veteran, is also among those who lost their jobs Thursday. Kubitz most recently patched together ABC's schedule after the scores of holes were created when the pandemic forced production to shut down.

On the studio side, Dan Kupetz — who joined 20th TV in January to fill the void created by longtime studio co-chief Howard Kurtzman's retirement — was also let go.

At Disney-owned National Geographic, Geoff Daniels is out. Daniels most recently was promoted two  years ago to global exec vp of unscripted entertainment. His duties will be absorbed by Nat Geo CEO Courteney Monroe. Daniels had been with Nat Geo for nearly two decades and was promoted in 2018 ahead of the deal that brought the company into the Disney fold.

Another source noted that Hulu executives are also among those worried about their jobs after Disney earlier this week gave Hulu head of originals Craig Erwich oversight of ABC as well. Disney continues to restructure and consolidate its workforce to better position the company for the streaming future while eliminating staff redundancies for cost-saving purposes. The changes are the latest in a wave of structural repositioning across Disney that started Oct. 12 when new CEO Bob Chapek shifted the company's priority to streaming. As part of the effort, Chapek tapped former consumer products president Kareem Daniel to oversee a new Media and Entertainment Distribution Group. That gave greater content control to studio leaders, including Rice, while handing Daniel oversight of distribution, ad sales and such other business functions as budgets. The changes created what one top literary agent dubbed a "content czar and Supreme Court of buyers" at Disney.

As part of the moves, Rice centralized departments including marketing, publicity, scheduling and media planning into three distinct groups overseen by Shannon Ryan (Hulu and linear networks), former Twitter head of global creative Jayanta Jenkins (Disney+) and Stephanie Gibbons (FX/FX on Hulu). That means that networks like Freeform and ABC will no longer have dedicated teams overseeing areas including scheduling.

This week, Walden reorganized her group and folded Touchstone Television (formerly Fox 21) into 20th Television. ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke was tapped to oversee 20th TV, bumping Carolyn Cassidy to the No. 2 at the former Fox studio and sending longtime Fox 21 president Bert Salke back to producing.

With Erwich expanding his purview to include Hulu and ABC, and Burke now at the studio, it's unclear how the development process at Disney will work going forward. The restructuring empowered studio chiefs to develop content across Disney's portfolio. Still to be determined is if Disney will merge creative development teams — i.e., heads of current, drama, comedy and so on — into one larger group that oversees all content and could effectively end the age-old process of getting notes from both the studio and network side.

Such a move would position Disney similar to the changes that have taken place this year at NBCUniversal, which centralized business functions under Frances Berwick and entertainment content under Susan Rovner. The duo together oversee a portfolio that includes NBC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen and E!, among others. NBCUniversal continues to have its studio counterparts, with separate leadership of Universal Television and Universal Content Productions.

Thursday's layoffs are the latest to come at Disney, which like other entertainment titans, is under tremendous financial pressure as a result of the novel coronavirus. With Disneyland in Southern California remaining shuttered and most movie theaters pinched by the pandemic, Disney this month announced additional furloughs for theme park employees and executives. That unknown tally will join the 28,000 park employees who were laid off in September. Disney reported a $3.1 billion third-quarter loss this month, following a $4.7 billion hit during Q2. Other Disney brands, including ESPN, have also been impacted by layoffs as the pandemic touches every corner of the entertainment sector and upends Hollywood's old way of life.

Updated Dec. 4: Added Nat Geo exec.