Ron Meyer turns 68 on Tuesday. So on the eve of his birthday, he finally made a public statement about the August rumors that he would be involuntarily or voluntarily exiting his job at Universal Studios soon. On a panel at the inaugural symposium of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy this afternoon, Meyer was asked by the moderator about “these rumors he might be leaving” the President/COO job he has held atop Universal Studios since 1995. Ron’s reply was as follows: “I wouldn’t know what to do retiring. So I have no plans to retire. I like what I’m doing and, as long as they will have me, I can stay.”
I immediately phoned Meyer afterwards and asked if he would expand. “What more is there to say?” he answered. Well, actually quite a lot. Because it’s a case study in how parent company Comcast failed miserably in stopping the rumors or doing damage control on behalf of the Universal brass.
The rumor that Comcast was going to replace Meyer with Stacey Snider first surfaced in the New York Post at the start of August. That usually unreliable newspaper had erroneously posted at least once before that Meyer was about to be fired. The Meyer-Snider rumor then was repeated by The Hollywood Reporter. Whose Kim Masters is widely regarded as the most consistently inaccurate reporter covering Hollywood. As an NBCU flack told me at the time, “She’s called us 20 times saying Ron is being fired or kicked upstairs – and been wrong 20 times. And even when we told her this time, ‘It’s not true,’ she ignored us.”
Next to jump on the rumor was the Los Angeles Times which claimed on August 8th that “Meyer will be headed upstairs to parent company NBCUniversal before his time in Hollywood is done. The longtime head of the Universal movie studio and theme parks has a provision in his contract, signed in June 2011, stipulating that at some point in the next year or two he will move into an advisory role working with NBCUniversal Chief Executive Steve Burke, according to two knowledgeable people not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.”
This, too wasn’t true. I’ve confirmed that Meyer has no such provision in his contract.
I understand it was at this point that NBCUniversal boss Steve Burke, who’s also Comcast #2, picked up the phone to the Universal brass and said somethng to the effect of, “I’m sorry you had to read this shit.”
Deadline never repeated the rumor. But Comcast never gave us a public denial to post, either. I believe Comcast made a big mistake not going public with a ‘Nope’. Sure, various in-house flacks were pooh-poohing the rumor off the record. But a big fat denial would have prevented destabilization of the studio. Which did occur as the rumor ran rampant. One reason for this was its plausibility. Yes, Snider who used to oversee Universal movies has ties to the Philly guys. Yes, Snider and Spielberg briefly discussed with Comcast the idea of bringing DreamWorks Studios to NBCU. But they all quickly discovered that getting DreamWorks out of its Disney deal would have been difficult because of the draconian financial terms being demanded. By the time anything surfaced in the media, the notion had been dead for a while – and replaced by new whispers that Tom Rothman lobbied his Comcast pals for the job.
As for anyone imminently replacing Meyer, Comcast still privately denies it – and Ron made clear today he isn’t soon exiting.