Former Disney executive Rich Ross lands at Shine America

Rich Ross is going back to TV.
(Irfan Khan)

Deposed Walt Disney Studios Chairman and former Disney Channels Worldwide President Rich Ross has been named chief executive of Shine America, a production company owned by News Corp.

Ross, who was a fast-rising television executive heading Disney Channels Worldwide, stumbled badly when he was tapped to head the Burbank media company’s movie studio. His 2 1/2-year run was marked by executive upheaval and disappointing movies, including the costly flop “John Carter.”

In joining Shine, Ross is returning to his small-screen roots. Best known for producing reality TV fare including Fox’s “MasterChef” and NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” Shine is run by Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch.

The hiring of Ross is a signal that Shine is making a big push to expand beyond reality into scripted entertainment. The company already has some scripted projects in the works including a new drama for the cable network FX. Most of Ross’ experience is with drama and comedy, not reality.


In an interview, Ross said he “wanted to go where there was a tremendous opportunity to create new content.” Ross was approached for the job by Elisabeth Murdoch over the summer. The two have known each other for decades going back to when Ross was a young programming executive at FX, a cable channel owned by News Corp.

“I have known and admired Rich for many years,” said Murdoch. “He is a world-class executive and the ideal leader to build on our extraordinary momentum at Shine America.”

Ross will succeed Carl Fennessy, who is returning to Australia to run Shine’s operation there. Fennessy had been acting as chief executive of Shine America since the departure of Emiliano Calemzuk in January. Ross, who will begin his new job in January, will report to Shine Group CEO Alex Mahon.

When Ross ran Disney Channel, he was instrumental in developing several key properties for the cable network including “Hannah Montana,” “Lizzie McGuire” and “Phineas and Ferb.” Ross started his career in programming at Viacom’s Nickelodeon.

Ross was considered one of Disney’s biggest talents when CEO Bob Iger named him successor to longtime executive Dick Cook as chairman of Walt Disney Studios in 2009. Carrying out Iger’s mandate to remake the studio, Ross fired a number of Disney veterans in key positions -- including marketing, distribution and consumer products -- and in some cases replaced them with less experienced executives.

Seen as a fish out of water in the movie world, Ross had trouble building relationships inside the studio and in the industry. Under Ross, Disney suffered several box-office flops including “Prom” and the sci-fi epic “John Carter,” which prompted Disney to take a huge $200-million write-down on the film.

Asked about his disappointing tenure, Ross said “there are probably many reasons” but declined to elaborate, adding that he “doesn’t dwell on it.”

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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.