Conversations With Michael Eisner

For the record, before I give my review of Michael Eisner’s new show, allow me to state that I am not a hater.  I believe that Eisner, overall, did some very positive things for Disney that tend to be forgotten.  Did I think his tenure had run its course?  Yes.  Am I glad he’s gone?  Yes.  Am I glad he stopped by?  Yes- even if he outstayed his welcome.  On May 5th I stood amid a throng of people in the rain to celebrate Disneyland’s 50th celebration.  I did not add my voice to the chants of "Roy", even though I agreed.  Instead I stood aghast that mob-mentality was prevalent on this most happy of occasions, and that a riotous few would sacrifice Walt’s greater legacy for a chance at resentment.  Point?  I had no preconceived notions regarding his show.  That said…

Tuesday night was the premier of Eisner’s newest venture, talk show host on CNBC.  The show consisted of three different guests being interviewed one at a time while sitting at a table made for 10.  The set appeared to be located in the conference room of a Best Western tastefully layered in shades of grey, not unlike the legacy of Eisner himself. The interviews were fairly short and seemed more geared towards Eisner’s own redemption than the plugging of the guest. 

Guest Martha Stewart joined Eisner in defending and justifying their admittedly unique, yet admittedly similar, personal style, namely micro-management and politics- all of which have derived dirty connotations in Eisner’s view by anyone that might criticize said style. Together they agreed they were misunderstood and insinuated they were both victims of other peoples envy.  The majority of her interview was spent by Eisner trying to paint a picture showing the inability of others to understand their great strengths and making light of Stewart’s jail time.

Bran Ferren, Head of Technology at Disney under Eisner for over a decade, has an impressive beard and a love for cargo jackets.  He sat across the table from Eisner looking like Ernest Hemingway crouched over a campfire.  They spent some time in memory lane patting each other on the back for their work together, specifically MGM Studios Tower of Terror. 

Mr. Ferren is no slouch.  In addition to his time at Disney and his three Academy Awards he currently plays the role of advisor to such organizations as the National Security Agency, the FCC, the Security Exchange Commission, General Motors and many more with equally impressive names.  His optimistic views of a future where the worlds of George Orwell and Isaac Asimov run rampant were met with smiles and nods from Eisner.  They discussed the lack of trust and communication between the creative entities and the business world and why that is potentially a recipe for disaster for corporate America, as well as America itself.  In parting Eisner thanked Ferren for "reminding us that creativity counts." Perhaps Eisner should have called his friend a few years sooner.

The last guest, Sir Howard Stringer, the first American CEO of the Sony Corporation, appeared to be every bit as genuine, modest and honest as Eisner claims to be. The conversation focused on assuming the helm of a ridiculously large conglomerate without the understanding of its content and being able "to know what you don’t know."  They were talking about Mr. Stingers arrival at Sony, but it seemed to resonate equally with Eisner.  The topic ran to taking the company back to basics and the setting aside of egos, which Eisner quickly implied, half-jokingly, was not something that he could do.

Overall Eisner was not an ungracious host, and spoke well of Disney and even gave Steve Jobs his due.  His interviewing process, being played as "conversation" seemed forced and uncomfortable at times, and though the powers that be obviously chose the set they did for a reason, it appeared to contribute to the stiffness of the interaction and kept Eisner from ever allowing himself to relax.

I understand that the wounds are still fresh, but for Eisner to succeed in this venue he needs to loosen up, and for that he needs to shake the proverbial monkey off of his back.  Or in this case the mouse.

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