Jeff Shell Ousted as NBCUniversal CEO Over ‘Inappropriate Relationship’

Comcast president Mike Cavanagh will take over duties as chief of the media and entertainment conglomerate

Jeff Shell
NBC Universal chief Jeff Shell (Getty Images)

Jeff Shell has been removed as CEO of NBCUniversal effective immediately due to an “inappropriate relationship” with a female employee, according to a statement from parent company Comcast. Shell’s team will now report directly to Comcast president Mike Cavanagh, who will retain his current title while assuming Shell’s duties.

Comcast says that NBCUniversal and Shell mutually agreed to part ways “following the Company’s investigation led by outside counsel into a complaint of inappropriate conduct.”

“Today is my last day as CEO of NBCUniversal,” Shell wrote in a memo to staff. “I had an inappropriate relationship with a woman in the company, which I deeply regret. I’m truly sorry I let my Comcast and NBCUniversal colleagues down, they are the most talented people in the business and the opportunity to work with them the last 19 years has been a privilege.”

“We are disappointed to share this news with you. We built this company on a culture of integrity. Nothing is more important than how we treat each other,” said Cavanagh and Comcast Chairman/CEO Brian Roberts in a separate memo. “You should count on your leaders to create a safe and respectful workplace. When our principles and policies are violated, we will always move quickly to take appropriate action, as we have done here.”

Following the initial announcement Deadline reported that the employee involved was CNBC anchor and senior international correspondent Hadley Gamble, who is currently based in Abu Dhabi, according to a profile on CNBC’s website. Shell’s relationship with her reportedly started about 11 years ago up until a couple of years ago when it ended. Shell was chairman of NBCUniversal International from 2011 to 2013.

A Comcast representative did not respond to a request to confirm the identity of the employee.

An individual with knowledge of the investigation told TheWrap that the employee was not involved with the entertainment side of the company and was the one who filed the complaint. The insider said that it “wasn’t a close call” on NBCU’s decision after Shell admitted to the relationship with the employee.

Shell is the second executive in the past three years to depart NBCUniversal over inappropriate conduct, as former vice chairman Ron Meyer left the company in August 2020 over an extramarital affair with actress Charlotte Kirk.

Shell took power as NBCUniversal CEO at the start of 2020 after working for the previous five years as the chairman of Universal Film and Entertainment Group. Under his leadership there, Universal Pictures succesfully revived the “Jurassic Park” franchise into the lucrative “Jurassic World” spinoff trilogy and developed partnerships with production companies like Jason Blum’s horror studio Blumhouse and Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions.

Shortly after taking charge of NBCUniversal, the COVID-19 pandemic began and led Shell and his team at Universal to make the industry changing decision to release the animated film “Trolls World Tour” on video on-demand instead of waiting for theaters to reopen. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Shell said that the profits earned from customers stuck in COVID lockdown “exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD.”

As the severity and length of the pandemic became clearer, Universal’s pivot on “Trolls World Tour” would end up sparking industry-wide experiments by all studios on how to release their films with the theatrical model thrown into uncertainty. While Hollywood as a whole has recently recommitted to releasing films in movie theaters first, the experiments conducted by the pandemic have led to a significant decrease in the theatrical exclusive window from the 90-day length typically used prior to the pandemic.

Prior to Universal, Shell also served as president of Comcast Programming Group and Fox Cable Networks Group. 

Shell’s family lives in Ojai, a rural town north of Los Angeles, but he worked mainly from New York after becoming NBCUniversal CEO.