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Tome puts Mouse on a ‘War’ footing

Herewith a few observations about “Disney War,” the new James B. Stewart book, even though I may (or may not) have read it. After all, everyone I ran into last week claimed to be reading it and had an opinion about its impact on the future of Disney. I didn’t believe them for two reasons: The publisher had all the copies locked away until March 7 and was being very unyielding about it. And besides, no one in Hollywood reads anything but coverage.

That having been said, my feelings about the book that I probably haven’t read are as follows:

  • I’m glad I never worked for Michael Eisner even though, on a personal level, I really liked him.

  • Bob Iger is a gracious man, and his boss doesn’t really appreciate him.

All things considered, the book I probably didn’t read is supposedly very well written in a distanced, business-book sort of way. Having said that, Eisner’s flaws are abundantly apparent. Sure, he’s impulsive and innovative, but what you look for in a boss is not only vision but consistency. Eisner could say you’re terrific on Monday and forget your name on Tuesday.

A personal note: Eisner once said he regretted firing me when we worked together at Paramount. Actually, I left of my own volition two years before he arrived. In retrospect, I’m grateful.

Had I read the Stewart book, I would have witnessed Eisner calling Lloyd Braun a creative wimp. That’s because Braun, then the chairman of ABC, disdained an Eisner-Iger proposal to capitalize on the death of John Ritter. Their notion was that Ritter’s wife on “8 Simple Rules” become pregnant during sweeps. Braun felt this was vulgar and exploitative.

Braun had backed his colleague Susan Lyne’s favorite show, “Desperate Housewives,” in return for Lyne backing “Lost,” which Braun fostered. Before either came to fruition, however, Braun got canned, then Lyne. After Iger fired Lyne, Eisner purportedly unleashed an unexpected tirade against Iger, vowing he’d never become CEO of Disney.

Iger is still at Disney, of course, and perhaps may shortly succeed Eisner, even if, as Tom Murphy supposedly said, Iger had compromised his soul to stay there. (Murphy was the former chief of Cap Cities, which owned ABC.)

Had I read the Stewart book, I would have concluded Mike Ovitz was a uniquely inept manager during his brief stint at Disney and Eisner an erratic one. In preparing his book, however, Stewart depended on access graciously provided by Eisner, but ended up whacking him anyway.

It’s a revealing book. I wish I’d read it.

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SUBHEAD: Kudos credit check

I’ve always marveled at how crowded center stage becomes at this time of year when it’s time to take a bow. Everyone at every studio knew that Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby” would be a $100 million sleeper, for example — was it that long ago that no one wanted to make it?

In my 17 years working at studios, I vividly recall how lonely things got when a project you supported seemed to be tanking. When the numbers looked bright on opening weekend, however, everyone was smiling for the cameras. In the same vein, I’ve kept running into people over the years who insisted that they personally bought the film rights to “The Godfather,” which is remarkable since, prior to acquisition, Robert Evans and I were the only people who read it.

Most of the all-time hit television shows, to be sure, also had to overcome fierce opposition at their inception, going back to “I Love Lucy” and “All in the Family.” No major wanted to go near Jerry Bruckheimer when he was flogging “CSI,” especially Disney, supposedly his studio home.

Given this history, I suspect the senior heirarchs at Disney were justified in giving the cold shoulder to “Desperate Housewives” on its first go-around. After all, why take a risk on a primetime soap starring over-the-hill actresses? Marc Cherry, its producer, is the first to admit that he got very lucky because, at the time, he was far more desperate than the housewives.

It’s wonderful what desperation can achieve.

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