The Hollywood studio MGM, which found itself under pressure during the 2016 election to release unaired footage of Donald Trump during his time on The Apprentice, announced Monday that CEO Gary Barber had been fired from the role he held for eight years.
Barber saw the once struggling studio rebound after filing for bankruptcy in 2010, thanks to a string of successes like the James Bond films Spectre and Skyfall, and more recently with television hits like The Handmaid's Tale, which won big at last year's Emmys, and FX's Fargo.
"With this transformation complete, MGM is uniquely positioned for exceptional future growth in the evolving entertainment landscape," said Chair Kevin Ulrich in a statement. "Now is the right time to enable the next generation of leadership who can help drive the creativity, collaboration and partnership needed to continue the company's positive trajectory."
Sources told Variety that Barber was blindsided by the move from the board, who reportedly told him they wanted to take MGM in a different direction.
Barber and MGM — the studio that owns a majority stake in Mark Burnett Productions, the creator of The Apprentice — came under intense public scrutiny in the final weeks of the 2016 election after footage leaked of Trump on Access Hollywood in 2005 boasting while on a hot mic about grabbing women by the genitals.
The leak prompted widespread public speculation that raw, unedited footage of Trump on The Apprentice would show the business mogul making similar or worse comments.
Bill Pruitt, a producer on the first few seasons of The Apprentice, then tweeted that there was worse footage of Trump (but he declined to elaborate further).
However, no such footage was ever made public.
MGM insisted that it couldn't release any such tapes due to "various contractual and legal requirements."
The studio later doubled down on its position, saying, "MGM has every intention of complying with its agreements with artists and honoring their rights, including with respect to The Apprentice."
The public outcry caused Mark Burnett, executive producer of The Apprentice, to issue a statement amid claims that he was somehow protecting Trump by withholding the footage.
"I am not now and have never been a supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy," Burnett said in a statement from October 2016. "I am NOT ‘Pro-Trump.’ Further, my wife and I reject the hatred, division and misogyny that has been a very unfortunate part of his campaign."
A source close to Burnett told BuzzFeed News in October 2016 that the producer had threatened to sue anyone who leaked any footage. (He later denied this report.)
Last month, Burnett attended the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, and was praised by Trump on Twitter.
Barber's exit from MGM comes right after the executive committed to a contract extension in October 2017, which would've seen him keeping his role until 2022.
The company provided no details about the shake-up during this period of what it is calling "a CEO transition."
Barber told Variety he was proud of his accomplishments at the company.
“We’ve taken MGM from the depths of bankruptcy to one of the greatest turnarounds in corporate history,” Barber said. “I leave behind many friends and colleagues and I wish them well.”