NBCUniversal ousts Ron Meyer, alleged victim of extortion plot
NBCUniversal ousted longtime Universal studio executive Ron Meyer on Tuesday after learning he made hush-money payments to a woman to cover up an old affair — a secret that Meyer said snowballed into an extortion plot.
“I recently disclosed to my family and the company that I made a settlement, under threat, with a woman outside the company who had made false accusations against me,” Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal, said in a statement from the company. “Admittedly, this is a woman I had a very brief and consensual affair with many years ago.”
The woman at the center of the scandal was British-born actress Charlotte Kirk, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment publicly. Meyer’s relationship with Kirk, 28, dated back nearly a decade, but the settlement and threats by an associate of hers to make the affair public, came more recently, according to other knowledgeable people.
Kirk, who had minor roles in the movies “Ocean’s 8" and “How to Be Single,” also had a brief relationship with former Warner Bros. studio head Kevin Tsujihara, who resigned last year after text messages that suggested he would help find acting jobs for her became public. Kirk, whose latest project is a horror movie called “The Reckoning,” denied any wrongdoing by Tsujihara, who said he did not have any direct role in her casting for projects.
The Hollywood Reporter first reported Kirk’s involvement in Meyer’s departure. Kirk could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday, Meyer, 75, acknowledged that he disclosed the settlement and threats to his bosses at NBCUniversal after others became aware of the secret payments. He feared the situation would become public and tarnish not only him but also NBCUniversal, which has been criticized for its handling of allegations against Harvey Weinstein and former “Today” anchor Matt Lauer.
“I made this disclosure because other parties learned of the settlement and have continuously attempted to extort me into paying them money or else they intended to falsely implicate NBCUniversal, which had nothing to do with this matter, and to publish false allegations about me,” Meyer said in the statement.
NBCUniversal said Meyer’s resignation was a mutual decision. It marked a stunning end to a 50-year career for one of Hollywood’s most popular moguls, a high school dropout and former Marine whose street smarts and charm propelled him into becoming one of the industry’s most powerful talent agents.
He became president of Universal Studios 25 years ago, and was in charge of the theme parks and movie-studio operations. He relished the role, viewing himself as the de facto mayor of the sprawling Universal lot in Los Angeles.
After cable giant Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, Meyer took on a senior role as NBCUniversal vice chairman. The 2013 move gave him less managerial influence over the day-to-day businesses including film, TV and the company’s theme parks.
Still, he worked collaboratively with others, including NBCUniversal’s now-Chief Executive Jeff Shell when Shell stepped into the role of Universal film chairman seven years ago. Around NBCUniversal, Meyer was known affectionately as “Ronnie,” a wool-sweater-wearing sage who acted as Hollywood guide for his East Coast bosses. In February, he accompanied Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts to the Oscars. He also was the executive tapped to soothe frayed relations with actors, producers and talent agents.
Over the years, Meyer cultivated relationships with some of the biggest names in the business, including Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie and Jimmy Fallon, ensuring a longevity that few executives enjoy these days.
His defining skill — the ability to wrangle talent— is a throwback to an era in Hollywood when marquee (and often demanding) actors, directors and producers ruled the industry. Now, the guiding forces of the movie business are not the A-listers but rather the rapid push toward streaming and the types of intellectual property that drive box-office returns and produce ongoing franchises.
Meyer’s departure comes amid a cultural shift in Hollywood. Larger-than-life personalities have fallen out of favor as traditional media companies have become more corporate — business units inside larger companies rather than freestanding, freewheeling entities. The #MeToo movement against the mistreatment of women sparked an ongoing reckoning for an industry that once looked the other way when confronted with sexual impropriety and other questionable behavior.
Earlier this month, NBCUniversal cut ties with the gregarious NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy after allegations that he condoned a hostile workplace. Universal Pictures marketing executive Josh Goldstine was fired in 2018 after an investigation into unspecified inappropriate conduct. However, an arbitrator this year ordered the company to pay Goldstine a multimillion dollar award after he disputed his termination and argued Universal’s handling of the situation made him unemployable.
Companies like NBCUniversal also are cutting expenses and personnel as they struggle to maintain profits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has largely shut down TV and film production and delayed theatrical releases, and to compete with tech titans Netflix and Amazon. Netflix has spent billions luring top producers to make shows for its streaming services. Earlier this month, WarnerMedia — which is owned by AT&T — tossed out two veteran programmers, Bob Greenblatt and Kevin Reilly, in a cost-cutting reorganization.
NBCUniversal tried to swiftly deal with the scandal involving Meyer.
“Late last week Ron Meyer informed NBCUniversal that he had acted in a manner which we believe is not consistent with our company policies or values,” Shell said in a statement. “Based on Ron’s disclosure of these actions, we have mutually concluded that Ron should leave the company, effective immediately. We thank Ron for his 25 years of service, and for his significant contributions to NBCUniversal.”
In 1975, Meyer and four other William Morris agents, including Michael Ovitz and Bill Haber, founded Creative Artists Agency. As one of the industry’s top talent reps, he worked with stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas, Tom Cruise and Whoopi Goldberg.
Beverage giant Seagram Co. in 1995 named him president of the studio’s parent company, MCA, succeeding Sid Sheinberg. His run got off to a precarious start with flops such as “Meet Joe Black,” but the studio regained its footing with hits including “Erin Brockovich,” “Gladiator,” “A Beautiful Mind” and the “The Fast & the Furious” franchise.
Meyer’s entertainment industry career has not been immune to controversy. In the past, he was known for his penchant for high-stakes gambling. His high-profile friendships included notorious private investigator Anthony Pellicano; Meyer drove 120 miles to visit Pellicano in prison after the Hollywood fixer was accused of wiretapping and conspiracy.
He famously had a falling out with fellow CAA co-founder Ovitz, the more abrasive counterpart to Meyer’s “Mr. Nice Guy” persona.
Yet Meyer’s relationships have made him into a survivor. His colorful tenure endured multiple ownership changes for Universal, where he answered to overlords including Seagram, French conglomerate Vivendi, hard-charging mogul Barry Diller, General Electric and, until this week, Comcast Corp.
Last year, Meyer sold his 14,000-square-foot oceanfront home in Malibu for nearly $100 million.
“I’ve spent 25 years helping to grow and support an incredible company in a job I love,” Meyer said in the statement. “It is the people at this company that I will miss the most. I regret what has happened, and I am sorry for all the people in my life I may have let down, especially and most importantly, my family.”
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