×

Ousted Paramount TV Chief Amy Powell Denies Making Racially Insensitive Comments

Former Paramount Television president Amy Powell has denied making racially insensitive comments that led to her being fired from the studio today after a 14-year run.

Paramount Pictures chairman Jim Gianopulos told studio staffers in a memo that Powell was terminated Thursday after complaints from other employees sparked an investigation into her remarks. Powell’s remarks were made last week in what the studio described as “a professional setting.”

A source with knowledge of the situation characterized her comments as racially charged in nature and related to Paramount Television’s adaptation of the 1996 comedy “First Wives Club” as a series for Paramount Network.

“Having spent the past several days conducting a thorough investigation into this matter and speaking to those who were present, our Human Resources and Legal teams came to the same conclusion, and we have made the decision to terminate Amy’s employment, effective immediately,” Gianopulos wrote. “While it is incredibly difficult to part ways with a valued member of our community, it is imperative that we uphold our values and ensure that all employees feel safe and included in the workplace.”

Powell strongly denies making inappropriate remarks and is understood to be considering legal action. Paramount declined to comment beyond Gianopulos’ memo.

“There is no truth to the allegation that I made insensitive comments in a professional setting — or in any setting,” Powell said in a statement. “The facts will come out and I will be vindicated.”

A source close to the situation said Paramount’s investigation found that Powell made statements about black women being angry for various reasons during a conference call about the “First Wives” series with producer Karen Rosenfelt and a handful of others. The group included an African-American assistant to another Paramount TV executive, who complained to studio leaders about Powell’s comments. Sources noted that Powell had appeared to have been irritated by a tweet sent June 28 by “First Wives” showrunner Tracy Oliver, who is African-American, criticizing the casting process on the show. Oliver was not a participant on the call.

When confronted with the accusation, Powell strongly denied making racially charged remarks, a source close to the situation said. Based on the results of its discussions with other participants on the call, Paramount made the call to fire one of its most prominent executives.

Powell was tapped in 2013 to head the studio’s re-entry into the television series production business. The studio had been out of the TV production arena since Viacom and CBS were split into separate entities in January 2006. Five years ago, then-Paramount chief Brad Grey decided to revive the production banner headed by a rising-star feature executive. She ran Paramount’s digital operations and its InSurge low-budget movie banner for two years before being tapped to revive TV.

Powell revved up activity with series based on IP from the Paramount vaults as well as new shows for Netflix (“13 Reasons Why,” “Maniac,” “F is for Family”) and Amazon (“Jack Ryan”) and high-end drama for TNT (“The Alienist”). For Hulu, Paramount is doing a starry remake of “Catch-22,” toplined by George Clooney. Other Paramount TV series include Nickelodeon’s “School of Rock,” Freeform’s “Girl Code,” Epix’s “Berlin Station,” and Audience Network’s “Condor.”

Powell has been well-regarded as a creative executive by her colleagues; she’s also known to be highly ambitious career-wise. Her name has been mentioned for recent high-profile job openings amid the Peak TV boom. News of her firing came as a shock to co-workers and in the creative community.

In Powell’s absence, Paramount TV will steered by Paramount COO Andrew Gumpert. Mireille Soria, Brian Robbins, and Wyck Godfrey — heads of Paramount Animation, Paramount Players, and Paramount Motion Picture Group, respectively — will provide “creative input” as needed, Gianopulos said.

Here is Gianopulos’ full memo:

Last week, multiple individuals came to us to raise concerns around comments made by Amy Powell in a professional setting, which they believed were inconsistent with our company’s values.  Having spent the past several days conducting a thorough investigation into this matter and speaking to those who were present, our Human Resources and Legal teams came to the same conclusion, and we have made the decision to terminate Amy’s employment, effective immediately.

Amy has made lasting contributions to Paramount in her 14 years with the company, including building a world-class team at Paramount TV.  While it is incredibly difficult to part ways with a valued member of our community, it is imperative that we uphold our values and ensure that all employees feel safe and included in the workplace.

We will begin immediately looking for Amy’s replacement. In the interim, Andrew Gumpert, Paramount’s Chief Operating Officer, will provide operational support and Mireille Soria, Brian Robbins and Wyck Godfrey — Presidents of Paramount Animation, Paramount Players and Paramount Motion Picture Group, respectively — will provide creative input, where needed, to the incredibly talented Paramount TV team, which is very well-placed to continue the incredible growth of this division.

Importantly, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone of the type of company and culture we’re committed to building at Paramount. It’s one of inclusion, honesty and accountability – where diversity is critical to ensuring that all ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are embraced and respected. 

We will continue this conversation in smaller groups and on a companywide scale in the coming months and, in the meantime, I want us to take stock of where we are and explore what more we can do to foster a safe, supportive and inclusive workplace. Through direct engagement and an open dialogue, my hope is that we can undertake this progress together, in an environment where each and every one of our employees feels heard and valued. 

Thank you for your continued hard work and ongoing contributions to this effort.

Best,

Jim

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Kevin Jonas, Joe Jonas, Nick Jonas.

    Jonas Brothers Shine a Light on New Jersey for VMAs Performance From Asbury Park

    The Jonas Brothers will pay homage to their New Jersey roots at the MTV Video Music Awards this Monday (Aug. 26) with a performance on the Asbury Park Boardwalk. The brothers — Nick, Joe and Kevin — were raised in Wycliffe, NJ. With the awards ceremony being held for the first time at the Prudential [...]

  • Sinclair

    Sinclair Closes Purchase of Fox Regional Sports Networks From Disney

    Sinclair Broadcast Group and the Walt Disney Company have closed their $9.6 billion deal for Sinclair to buy 21 Fox Regional Sports Networks and Fox College Sports. The deal was announced in May after Disney bought the networks as part of its acquisition of Twenty-First Century Fox. The portfolio, which excludes the YES Network, is described [...]

  • Michael Shannon

    Michael Shannon to Play Jerry Buss in HBO's 'Untitled Showtime Lakers Project' Pilot

    Michael Shannon has been cast to play self-made millionaire and former Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss in HBO’s “The Untitled Showtime Lakers Project” pilot, based on the Jeff Pearlman book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s.” The series, which chronicles the professional and personal lives of the [...]

  • Luna Nera Netflix Italy

    Netflix Eyes More Italian Productions

    Since Netflix entered the Italian market in 2015, it’s steadily gained ground in terms of subscriptions, which are expected to reach 2 million by the end of 2019, according to independent analyst Ovum. The streaming giant recently announced a €200 million ($222 million) investment in Italian original productions over the next three years. Variety spoke [...]

  • 'Serendipity': NBC Developing Series Inspired by

    'Serendipity': NBC Developing Series Inspired by Kate Beckinsale, John Cusack Movie

    NBC has given a script commitment to a prospective series inspired by the 2001 Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack movie “Serendipity.” The project hails from Miramax Television, whose film division produced the original film, and writer Jonny Umansky. The idea for the show seems like a romantic one, here’s the logline: Harry and Claire fall [...]

  • The Bachelor frontrunners

    Who's the Next 'Bachelor'? Here Are Season 24's Three Frontrunners (EXCLUSIVE)

    When last season of “The Bachelorette” wrapped up, many viewers would have guessed the next “Bachelor” would be runner-up Tyler Cameron. But oh, how things change in a month’s time. Cameron, the runner-up in Hannah Brown’s season, who stopped by “The Bachelorette” finale’s live after show to quickly reconcile with Brown and discuss meeting for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content