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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

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