You have to admire his chutzpah.
After enduring a raucous two years in which, among other indignities, shareholders called for his resignation, Disney’s former top Mouseketeer voluntarily stepped back into the spotlight last week — as host of his own CNBC show, “Conversations With Michael Eisner.”
He could have just gardened or golfed or sat around counting the millions in his exit package. Instead, Eisner will now subject himself to ratings, reviews and the arm-wrestling to get good guests.
Being a mogul may be a magnet to attract other moguls — just as being a basketball star helped Magic Johnson attract other basketball stars to his (short-lived) talkshow, and Roseanne Barr managed to lure, well, other sitcom stars to her (short-lived) gabber.
Other moguls generally have things to say, if they’re enticed to do so, and Eisner’s first show last week did elicit some perspectives on that rarefied position.
Martha Stewart came across as an uncanny reflection of Eisner himself, having gone through her own cleansing fires in the form of Camp Cupcake. Both she and Eisner seem to feel they’re more sinned against than sinning. Without a trace of humor, Stewart said of her jail mates: “I made their lives brighter.”
The conversation tended toward the self-reverential, with the two reinforcing each other’s character traits: “You and I think alike, that way,” Stewart said, talking about everything from their belief in branding to their tendency to micro-manage. See, she does it and it works; I did it and got clobbered for it, Eisner seemed to intimate.
With Howard Stringer, now the chairman of Japanese conglom Sony, we got a classic study in corporate contrast.
The self-deprecating Welshman couldn’t be further in style from the prickly Eisner. Where Stringer sees his role of company chairman as that of “a facilitator,” Eisner was the ultimate control freak. Even in the show he never relinquished the upper hand or let the discussion develop its own momentum.
Chatting about their different histories and Stringer’s streamlining of CBS News back in the 1980s, Eisner interjected: “I was hiring and getting killed and you were firing and getting awards.” Sometimes, the Sony chairman admitted, you have to subjugate your ego. “And being Welsh, was that hard?” Eisner wondered aloud. “There was nothing to have an ego about,” Stringer quipped.
Eisner’s third guest, tech guru Brad Ferren, was the type one would like to see more of on TV, but probably never will. He had worked for Disney as chief Imagineer but now consults for the Army, the Navy, the Defense Dept., the SEC and General Motors.
To his credit Eisner apparently “got” what Ferren was onto while at the Magic Kingdom, countenancing, even welcoming, his intrusions up the chain of command. Ferren, we learn, came up with the theme park’s Tower of Terror, having persuaded the Otis Elevator Co. to go against 100 years of doing everything to keep elevators from falling and to help him craft a ride that thrillingly drops.
Ferren’s most intriguing forecast of how high-tech will eventually impact us: tiny implants. “Within 25 years, kids will be getting a ‘Net job rather than a body piercing.”
Unfortunately, “Conversations” is not yet loose enough, and its host not yet spontaneous enough to just let things happen or inquisitive enough to drill down to much that’s substantive.
So, where the show leads is anyone’s guess. There are only so many moguls to muster up.