UPDATED with more details: The town is absorbing the shocking news about the abrupt exit of NBCUniversal vice chairman Ron Meyer because of an admitted extramarital affair, a settlement and a disclosure to higher-ups that an alleged extortion attempt was made.
Meyer had always been considered a “mensch,” a former Marine who could be tough when he had to be, back when he, Mike Ovitz and a few others built CAA into a powerhouse that swung the pendulum in favor of actors and filmmakers. He and Ovitz had a famous falling out when Ovitz flirted with a move to Universal, only to see Meyer take the job. But he was always regarded as one of the nicer and more supportive upper echelon agent/executives in a town not known for that. He would fix problems quietly, behind the scenes, or try to.
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It was known in town that Meyer had his vices, women and gambling, some who know him told Deadline. “That’s just Ronny,” said one who was lamenting today that Meyer has this event blotting one of the great executive and agent careers. He was in his sunset years at NBCUniversal and was expected to retire after his contract ended in another year. Several expressed regret that the 75-year-old didn’t just walk away before this happened, evidence of the good will toward Meyer.
Hollywood had long been a town with loose morals, but now it’s a different business. These conglomerates are publicly traded companies, extensions of tech companies. At this point, there is no room for the kind of behavior and we’ve seen zero tolerance when moral miscues rear up and becomes public as evidenced by the NBCUniversal shakeup that just saw Paul Telegdy exit. Sources said Meyer disclosed all this to Jeff Shell on Sunday night, and things moved quickly. Shell gave Meyer a day to tell his family. Rumors are now racing around town, and it will likely be open season on his life and behind the scenes behavior, the gambling, the use of the corporate jets. It sure seems that more will be written about his lifestyle and that it will further sully Meyer’s standing as an elder statesman in a business that is barely recognizable from when he was one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood.
PREVIOUSLY, 9:09 AM: This is a bombshell. Veteran NBCUniversal executive Ron Meyer is leaving the company after quarter of a century.
NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell just announced the news in a company memo.
“I am writing to share some unfortunate news. Late last week Ron Meyer informed NBCUniversal that he had acted in a manner which we believe is not consistent with our company policies or values,” Shell said. “Based on Ron’s disclosure of these actions, we have mutually concluded that Ron should leave the company, effective immediately. We thank Ron for his 25 years of service, and for his significant contributions to NBCUniversal.”
Meyer issued his own statement, elaborating on the reasons behind his abrupt exit:
It is with a heavy heart that I announce my departure from NBCUniversal.
I recently disclosed to my family and the company that I made a settlement, under threat, with a woman outside the company who had made false accusations against me. Admittedly, this is a woman I had a very brief and consensual affair with many years ago. I made this disclosure because other parties learned of the settlement and have continuously attempted to extort me into paying them money or else they intended to falsely implicate NBCUniversal, which had nothing to do with this matter, and to publish false allegations about me. After I disclosed this matter to the company, we mutually decided that I should step down from my role as Vice Chairman of NBCUniversal.
I’ve spent 25 years helping to grow and support an incredible company in a job I love. It is the people at this company that I will miss the most. I regret what has happened and I am sorry for all the people in my life I may have let down, especially and most importantly, my family.
As the news broke this morning, Meyer’s bio had already been scrubbed from the NBCUniversal company website.
Meyer began as president & COO of Universal Studios in 1995, replacing Sidney J. Sheinberg, who was given a producing deal. Meyer was promoted to NBCUniversal vice chairman in 2013. In that new post he provided strategic guidance and counsel to all aspects of the conglom, including its film and TV assets as well as its theme park business, working alongside Universal Filmed Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell and Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley. Together they saw Universal to a then industry-wide box office record of $6.9 billion worldwide gross in 2015 (a record that has since been broken by Disney). Meyer brought Spielberg and Amblin back to the Universal fold in 2015 after the director’s DreamWorks departed to Disney, where the Oscar-winning director made such movies as Lincoln, War Horse, Bridge of Spies and The BFG. Meyer’s renewed contract in 2016 was originally meant to keep him at the studio through the end of 2021.
He co-founded CAA in 1975 with Mike Ovitz, Bill Haber, Rowland Perkins and Michael Rosenfeld. A former Marine, Meyer, through a family connection, landed his first entry-level job as a messenger at the Paul Kohner Agency, working there from 1964-1970. He then jumped to William Morris as a junior agent, working alongside Ovitz.
Meyer was known as a people person, a cool-headed diplomat who personally guided the careers of Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep and Cher among others. Stars have looked to Meyer at Universal as their champion: He’s the guy who encouraged Dwayne Johnson to transition from WWE wrestler to leading man, and gave Angelina Jolie all the support for her first major studio directing gig on 2014’s Unbroken. Jolie’s connection to Meyer went all the way back to her childhood when he repped her father Jon Voight at CAA.
Originally, in the mid 1990s, Meyer was going to be an independent producer, but Ovitz talked him into coming along with him to run Universal Studios after being courted by its then-owner, Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. While talks went sideways between Ovitz and Bronfman, David Geffen, the billionaire co-founder of DreamWorks SKG, talked Bronfman into hiring Meyer.
Meyer’s departure comes at a time when there’s been a significant shakeup at NBCUniversal with its network and direct-to consumer business streamlined. Recently, NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy exited due to allegations of misconduct including racist, sexist and homophobic behavior. As a result of the Telegdy incident, NBCUniversal Chairman of Television and Streaming Mark Lazarus said in an internal memo that the conglom is expanding its probe into its workplace culture.
Frances Berwick was recently upped to an expanded position at the conglom overseeing entertainment business strategy. NBCUniversal is currently looking for an executive to lead a centralized portfolio of their programming outlets including Peacock, USA, Syfy and NBC.
Mike Fleming Jr and Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.
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