Not that long ago both men still occupied the spotlight. Both strutted confidently to centerstage in what came to be known as the Eisner-Ovitz trial, which was more theater than trial. Michael Eisner surely knew his reign as Disney CEO was drawing to a close and his one-time pal, Michael Ovitz, was then jobless, yet both exuded their customary bravado.And while Eisner and Ovitz are now mere footnotes to the media scene, the sheer mention of their names stirs instant argument. Ovitz’s presence hovers over the Pellicano proceedings as investigators drop conflicting hints as to their ultimate direction. In Ovitz’s post-Disney years, litigation seemed constantly to be swirling around him. If anyone would be motivated to hire a private eye to tap a few wires, this one-time mega-agent seemed a possible candidate. At least that’s what some self-styled “insiders” have been thinking, and the Feds seem tacitly to encourage that line of logic. In his prime, Ovitz was a man with many avowed friends, and Eisner was front and center in that circle. Yet ask a CEO about Ovitz today and you elicit memories of bitter arguments and power grabs. His achievements have long since been buried in the rubble of his mistakes. His legend has become as fearsome as it is Faustian. As for Michael Eisner, the question most widely asked is, why did he stay too long? His first Disney decade, with Frank Wells at his side, was steeped in extraordinary achievement. His final few years seemed bitterly divisive. In recent months there have been reports that Eisner was trying to raise money for a new enterprise or that he was thinking of producing for the theater. Oddly, the only concrete thing to emerge from these rumors is a talkshow. “Conversations With Michael Eisner” started last week, scheduled for broadcast twice a month on CNBC. The opening shows seem aggressively Eisnerian: A sleek set designed by Frank Gehry, solidly credentialed guests like Sir Howard Stringer and Martha Stewart — “Dances With Moguls,” would be a better title for the show, suggested Variety‘s Brian Lowry. True to form, the former Disney CEO posed issues but rarely seemed to listen to responses. As Paul Brownfield of the Los Angeles Times observed, Eisner was “impatient and interruptive and cheerfully bullying.” But where will he take it? Will he elicit any nuances of personality from his guests? Will he expand the dialogue beyond CEO spin? During his tenure at Disney, it was extraordinarily difficult to get Eisner to talk about issues outside the corporate domain. Philanthropy seemed to bore him and he only saw politics as it impacted upon his company. Pushing my luck, I once asked him how he reconciled his own political beliefs with the fact that the local Disney-owned radio station, KABC, had become a bastion of extremist conservative talkshows. He peered at me, perplexed. “The numbers are up, aren’t they?” he replied. On his own show, Eisner still betrays leftover resentments from his Disney years. He asked the witty, quiet-spoken Stringer how he’d managed to receive favorable press coverage at Sony despite rampant layoffs, while Eisner, in his own words, “did much less and got much worse publicity.” While Stringer tactfully ducked the issue, the viewer was tempted to say, “Give it a rest, Michael.” There is after all, a life after moguldom, even if Michael Ovitz can’t access it and Michael Eisner does not seem as yet prepared to try. Metro mags perish: Every new marketing trend seems to spawn its own lexicon, with the buzzwords acquiring their own self-validation. Take “metrosexual” — a term suggesting a new manifestation of male behavior. According to this revisionist thinking, today’s male views shopping as entertainment and is heavily influenced by the buying habits of other men. Hence, the metrosexual is susceptible to persuasion that he needs the latest and hottest Hydra-power face wash or Dolce & Gabbana leather thong or Armani “code of seduction.” With the metrosexual trend in mind, Conde Nast recently started a magazine called Cargo, aimed at matching the successful shopping-intensive magazines for women like Lucky and Hearst’s Shop Etc. Good try! Cargo has now folded. So have rivals Sync and Vitals for Men. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, David Granger, editor-in-chief of Esquire commented: “The metrosexual thing is a clever phrase … but men don’t shop as a form of entertainment.” Well, that’s a relief.
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- Petrol Advertising, Burbank, California
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- Company Confidential, Aspen, Colorado
- Save the Children, Fairfield, Connecticut