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The Irony Of Jeff Shell's Abrupt Ouster From NBCUniversal

Two men with light-tone skin stand arm in arm.
Ron Meyer (L) and Jeff Shell arrive at the premiere of Universal Pictures' "Good Boys" at the Regency Village Theatre on Aug. 14, 2019 in Westwood. Shell, now out of a job after having an inappropriate relationship with a coworker, had fired Ron Meyer for a similar breach.
(Kevin Winter
Getty Images)
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Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

That’s what Winston Churchill once said, paraphrasing the Spanish philosopher George Santayana. It’s a classroom aphorism that apparently not everyone in Hollywood remembers, which might help explain the ousting of the head of NBCUniversal.

Jeff Shell, the CEO of the media giant that’s part of Comcast, said on Sunday that he was leaving the company effective immediately.

“I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret,” Shell said in a statement. “I’m truly sorry I let my Comcast and NBCUniversal colleagues down.”

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In a filing with the SEC, company officials reported said an outside counsel sustained allegations that Shell had sexually harassed this woman. Here's an excerpt of that statement, which you can read in full below:

Following a complaint that Jeffrey Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal, engaged in inappropriate conduct with a female employee, including allegations of sexual harassment, Comcast Corporation (the “Company”) retained outside counsel to investigate the allegations. During the investigation, evidence was uncovered that corroborated the allegations. As a consequence, on April 23, 2023, the Company terminated Mr. Shell’s employment With Cause under his employment agreement, effective immediately.

The backstory

It’s the third time in four years that a top Hollywood mogul has lost his job after an affair. What’s especially notable about Shell’s case — ironic doesn’t begin to describe it — is that Shell fired his NBCUniversal colleague and predecessor under similar circumstances.

Shell took over running Universal’s movie studio 10 years ago. In early 2020, he became the CEO of NBCUniversal, with the added supervision of NBC Entertainment, Universal’s theme parks, its new Peacock streaming service and cable networks including MSNBC, CNBC Telemundo and Bravo.

Not long after his promotion, Shell fired fellow NBCUniversal mogul Ron Meyer after Meyer said he had paid actress Charlotte Kirk to not talk about their affair.

At the time, Shell said that Meyer “acted in a manner which we believe is not consistent with our company policies or values.” According to several reports, Shell at the time was years into his own affair.

In yet another only-in-Hollywood twist, Warner Bros. Chairman and Chief Executive Kevin Tsujihara lost his job a year before Meyer did, following allegations that he had an affair with Kirk as well, and that Tsujihara had tried to help her get parts.

What the company said

In a company note to employees about Shell’s firing, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts and president Mike Cavanagh said that Shell violated company policy.

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“You should count on your leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace,” they wrote. “When our principles and policies are violated, we will always move quickly to take the appropriate action, as we have done here.”

Maybe it’s fair to say that even if Hollywood doesn’t adhere to Churchill’s guidance, it follows a different show business maxim: When in doubt, do a sequel.

Read the SEC filing

What questions do you have about film, TV, music, or arts and entertainment?
John Horn, entertainment reporter and host of our weekly podcast Retake, explores whether the stories that Hollywood tells about itself really reflect what's going on?

Updated April 24, 2023 at 12:48 PM PDT
This story was updated with details from the SEC filing on the move.
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