Former Disney topper to host 'Conversations'

There is life after the Mouse, apparently. Meet Michael Eisner, talkshow host.

The former chairman-CEO of Walt Disney Co., who stepped down in September, has signed with CNBC to host a bimonthly primetime interview program, “Conversations With Michael Eisner.”

The hourlong, one-on-one interview show “will focus on the importance of creativity and innovation in all pursuits, from business to politics to entertainment.”

Eisner said the show will form an integral part of his post-Disney career by helping him stay current as he seeks out investment and acquisition targets with the hope of assembling an independent media company.

“It will keep me on top of my game in the areas outside the show, because I will be talking to people in industries I am interested in,” Eisner told Daily Variety.

Eisner ran Disney for 21 years, building it into one of the world’s largest media companies, but he came under attack for his management style in his last few years at the company. Eisner ceded control to his No. 2 Bob Iger after a drawn-out battle with shareholder activist Roy Disney, and he was taken to court by shareholders furious over a $140 million severance payout to Michael Ovitz in 1996.

Eisner said he wants to build a new company, but perhaps not right away.

“I am taking my time. I don’t want to jump into something that is incorrectly valued or get involved with people who don’t share the same point of view I do,” he said. “I am going methodically and slowly.”

Why CNBC?

“They asked,” Eisner said. “It seemed to me that with the position I came from that they were the classy, professional kind of organization that I could maybe excel in.”

CNBC president Mark Hoffman said the net decided to explore a show with Eisner after watching him interview John Travolta and Barry Diller when he subbed for Charlie Rose in October.

“He was able to get responses from them you’ve never heard before,” Hoffman said. “I was blown away by his performance.”

Eisner’s program will originate from Studio 8-H at NBC Universal headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where Eisner worked as a page for “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” in the 1960s.

Eisner isn’t known as the most gregarious media personality, and few have made the transition from CEO to entertainer.

As chief exec, Eisner was rarely available to answer questions, but as a manager, he said his style was to ask “incessant” questions — a trait he believes will help him attain success in his new line of work.

“If you’re on just twice a month, you can deal with things you’re really interested in and with people you know,” said TV producer Steve Friedman, who helped revamp CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in 2002. “The question will be, does he care enough about the people who are on to listen to what they have to say?”

CNBC, which came under Hoffman’s management last summer, is looking for marquee talent to generate buzz and beat back an expected challenge from Rupert Murdoch’s upcoming Fox Business Channel.

Eisner’s show will air in primetime, a problem area for CNBC, which focuses on the financial markets until they close in the afternoon. In the evening, CNBC has tried several hosts, including John McEnroe and Dennis Miller. Former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown helmed a Sunday-night show that generated media buzz, if not ratings, and she bolted the net for a book deal in spring.

James Cramer’s “Mad Money” is airing to critical acclaim but averages just 150,000 viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Eisner will exec produce his show, which will air worldwide on CNBC, CNBC Europe and CNBC Asia. A premiere date will be announced shortly, the network said.

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