“Roy Price is on leave of absence effective immediately,” an Amazon spokesperson told Variety Thursday. “We are reviewing our options for our projects we have with the Weinstein Company.”
The Amazon Studios president’s departure on an unpaid leave comes amid renewed sexual harassment allegations and multiple signs that Amazon and others in the industry had withdrawn their support from the embattled executive. Insiders have speculated for months about Price’s possible departure from his role as head of Amazon’s original-video arm. Multiple agents and producers who spoke to Variety in recent weeks speculated that such a departure may come soon.
That speculation was driven by concerns over possible sexual harassment and a dramatic shift in Amazon’s approach to original programming — one that was mandated by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and which rejects the strategy employed for years by Price.
On Thursday, reports resurfaced of an alleged harassment incident involving Price and Isa Hackett, an executive producer on Amazon original series “The Man in the High Castle” and the daughter of science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. According to reports, Price allegedly made a lewd joke to Hackett playing off the title of the Amazon series “I Love Dick,” pressured Hackett for sex, and made crude reference to anal intercourse.
Lisa Bloom, who had been representing Price as an attorney since the alleged harassment was reported on in August, dropped Price as a client on Thursday, with a representative for Bloom telling Variety, “Lisa’s representation of Roy Price has concluded.” Bloom similarly dropped Harvey Weinstein as a client earlier this week as multiple women began to speak out claiming that Weinstein had harassed or raped them.
One of Weinstein’s accusers, actress Rose McGowan, tweeted at Bezos Thursday, writing that a top-level Amazon Studios executive had rejected her claims that Weinstein had raped her. “I told the head of your studio that HW raped me. Over & over I said it. He said it hadn’t been proven. I said I was the proof,” McGowan wrote. She added that the executive had then killed a project she was developing at the studio. Amazon is developing two series with the Weinstein Company, Matthew Weiner’s “The Romanoffs” and an untitled drama from David O. Russell.
Despite traction gained with critics and awards voters, Amazon is in the process of pivoting away from niche, naturalistic scripted series such as “Transparent” and toward broader, larger scale genre series favored by a large swathe of television viewers — and by Bezos.
Following a mandate by Bezos to focus resources on shows with greater hit potential, Amazon canceled dramas “Z: The Beginning of Everything” and “The Last Tycoon.” At the same time, Amazon began funneling resources into the team lead by former Fox executive Sharon Tal Yguado, who was recruited by Price in January to join the digital company.
In August, Tal Yguado secured an overall deal with “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, luring him away from his longtime home AMC. At Fox, Tal Yguado helped finance and license “The Walking Dead” for the more than 200 Fox-branded international channels. In addition, she also worked with Kirkman in developing “Outcast,” which airs across the Fox international channels group and on Cinemax in the U.S.
The status of Amazon’s two series produced by the Weinstein Company, Matthew Weiner’s “The Romanoffs” and an untitled drama from David O.Russel, remains uncertain. Earlier this week, as accusations of sexual assault and harassment began to engulf TWC founder Harvey Weinstein, Amazon indicated that it would reevaluate its position on the two shows, which had been given series orders under Price. The company’s statement Thursday casts further doubt on the two projects.
Cheng, who will lead Amazon Studios on an interim basis, joined the company in 2015 after serving for 10 years as head of digital for Disney/ABC Television Group. He left Disney months after the departure of Disney entertainment TV chief Anne Sweeney and the appointment of her replacement, Ben Sherwood.
Cheng began at Disney’s cable division in 2000 as VP of national accounts and distribution strategy.
As recently as two weeks ago, Price was touting Amazon Studios’ future. In a Sept. 26 memo, Price wrote, “Right now around the world — in the US, in Japan, in Germany, in India — we are in preproduction, production or post on 67 television series and 20 movies. Not long ago this was a Word doc and a cubicle. On this day, approximately 9,000 people are at work bringing next year’s shows and movies to Amazon Prime Video customers around the world, and literally, the sun never sets on our endeavors.”
He added, “Bottom line. In 2018 and thereafter, we will deliver an incredible lineup to customers around the world. In the SVOD world, it is truly is Day One.”