Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, walks out, citing “inappropriate relationship” at the company

Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, walks out, citing "inappropriate relationship" at the company

NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell has stepped down after three years in the top role due to an inappropriate relationship, parent company Comcast Corp. announced Sunday, making him the latest major-power Hollywood player to miss the work for misconduct.

Comcast said in a statement that the company and Shell mutually agreed it would be leaving, effective immediately, following an investigation into inappropriate behavior by an outside counsel.

Today is my last day as CEO of NBCUniversal, Shell said in a statement. I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman at the company, which I deeply regret. I am truly sorry that I let my colleagues at Comcast and NBCUniversal down, they are the most talented people in the industry and the opportunity to work with them over the past 19 years has been a privilege.

Comcast does not plan to immediately start a search for Shell’s successor.

Instead, Comcast chairman Mike Cavanagh will take over Shell’s senior management team and lead the entertainment company in the process, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Cavanagh said in a statement to employees.

Nine executives, including Donna Langley, president of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, Mark Lazarus, president of NBCUniversal for television and streaming, Frances Berwick, president of entertainment networks and Cesar Conde, president of NBCUniversal News Group, told Shell .

We are disappointed to share this news with you, Roberts and Cavanagh said in the memo. We have built this company on a culture of integrity. Nothing is more important than how we treat each other. You should rely on your leaders to create a safe and respectful work environment.

The nature of the inappropriate relationship was unclear, and executives at Comcast and NBCUniversal declined to elaborate.

The woman with whom Shell had the inappropriate relationship was the person who lodged the complaint, according to two insiders who were not allowed to comment. She is a longtime reporter at the firm, the sources said.

An insider said the woman who filed the complaint about Shell’s alleged misconduct was CNBC anchor and senior international correspondent Hadley Gamble.

Gamble was not immediately available for comment Sunday evening and a Shell representative declined to comment. Deadline first reported that Gamble had filed the complaint.

Comcast said it acted quickly after receiving a complaint and launching an external investigation.

The shock occurred suddenly.

Shell has been involved in its normal duties for the past week, according to sources familiar with the situation. On Thursday he traveled to Philadelphia, where Comcast is based, attending the festivities to honor Roberts, who received the William Penn Award from the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.

Employees were shocked by Shell’s departure. Few people internally were aware of the investigation.

Comcast executives declined to say when they received the complaint.

The company decided over the weekend that Shell had to go, according to insiders.

Shell, 57, was not immediately available for comment.

When our principles and policies are violated, we will always move quickly to take appropriate action, as we have done here, Roberts and Cavanagh said in their statement.

Shell’s departure comes at an inopportune time for NBCUniversal, which has struggled to forge a clear path in the streaming era and remain a source of news and entertainment for millions of viewers. The Peacock streaming service, which launched in 2020 under Shell’s oversight, has lagged behind much of the competition, including Disney+.

Comcast will report quarterly earnings on Thursday, and next month will be a pivotal period for NBCUniversals’ television division.

The all-important advertising sales season kicks off in mid-May. The NBC broadcast network grappled with lower ratings and had a tough time developing new hits to complement outdated mainstays like Law & Order: SVU and The Voice.

A key decision Shell was considering was whether NBC should abandon its original programming in the 10 p.m. primetime hour and give that one-hour block back to TV stations for local news.

For now, NBC plans to continue providing programming during the hour, including some of TV producer Dick Wolf’s procedural dramas, but the debate underscores the challenges of keeping broadcast networks relevant and profitable in the digital age.

Shell was expected to play a pivotal role in Comcast’s negotiations with Bob Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Co., over the fate of streaming service Hulu. Disney owns the controlling stake of Hulu and Comcast owns 33%. Comcast nearly four years ago agreed to sell its stake in Disney for about $9 billion by January 2024.

But Iger has recently shown less enthusiasm for creating general entertainment, including original programming for Hulu, leading analysts to speculate that Disney will try to sell the service. Disney is in the midst of a dramatic cost-cutting program, with a major round of layoffs expected to begin this week, including at Hulu. NBCUniversal has also undergone multiple rounds of cost cutting.

Additionally, the film and TV studios are in high-stakes talks with the Writers Guild of America to enter into a new labor contract by May 1. Failure to reach a deal would result in the first writers’ strike in 15 years.

Shell has been a trusted Comcast executive for nearly two decades. He became CEO of NBCUniversals in January 2020, succeeding longtime boss Steve Burke, who ran the company for nearly a decade.

The Los Angeles native began his career at investment bank Salomon Bros. after earning degrees in business and applied mathematics from UC Berkeley and an MBA from Harvard.

He continued to work at Walt Disney in strategic planning. He held various jobs for 11 years at Rupert Murdochs News Corp., including a year as CEO of the troubled Gemstar-TV Guide International, which Fox then co-owned. Lui joined Comcast in 2004, first managing the company’s small television channels such as E! and the Golf Canal.

After Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011, Burke sent Shell to London to learn international business. It was clear that Burke saw Shell as his successor after Burke put Shell in charge of the Universal film studio in 2013, where he led the studio during some of its most profitable years.

His abrupt departure comes after several Hollywood executives in recent years were toppled over their questionable behavior with women, including at NBCUniversal.

The company ousted longtime Universal studio executive Ron Meyer in August 2020 after learning he had paid an actress large sums of money to cover up an old relationship. At the time, Shell said in a statement that Meyer acted in a manner that we believe is inconsistent with our company policies or values.

Last year, former NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Zucker was also forced to step down from his top job at rival CNN after acknowledging an affair with a colleague. In 2019, Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara left the Burbank studio for an affair with the same situation woman Meyer. CBS chief Leslie Moonves was forced to step down in 2018 over allegations that he abused women in the 1980s and 1990s, which Moonves denied.

Shell appeared to show little tolerance for scandal during his tenure. After the Times investigation into questionable finances and the lack of black members within the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., Shell clarified that the HFPA’s Golden Globes telecast was not welcome on NBC, prompting a hiatus of a year for the awards show.

After enduring years of criticism that NBCUniversal had failed to handle the allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein and former Today host Matt Lauer, Shell struck a hard line, ushering in longtime NBC News head Andy Lack.

Times staff writer Stephen Battaglio contributed to this report.

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