So which is more pathetic… That Michael Eisner is desperate for personal publicity? That he gets his Hollywood insider information now from reading newspapers? That he’s pitching dumb TV shows to his former competitor Viacom and not to Disney? That Nickelodeon TV prez Cyma Zarghami thought Eisner was phoning her looking for a freebie as “another zillionaire too cheap to pony up for a suite at the hotel” despite the more than $1 billion in salary, bonuses, and stock options he raked in during his 21 years as Head Rat at Disney. Or that, in The New York Times today, he appears to take credit for every idea during his tenure?
I’m constantly amazed how the Hollywood media seem to have no institutional memory when it comes to the Industry’s culture. That’s why none reported with any fanfare on that showbiz institution Morton’s shutting its doors at the end of the year. Namesake Pam Morton is so verklempt about it, all she could say to me Tuesday was, “It’s time for me to pursue other passions.” Sure, the restaurant has been eclipsed by The Grill for lunch and wherever is trendiest for dinner. And Morton’s is best known to civilians as the site of the Vanity Fair Oscar party. But during its heyday throughout the 80’s and 90’s when the Art Of The Deal meant The Art Of The Meal, the power players went to Spago for leisurely dinners and to Morton’s for business meetings. Rarely did a negotiation get done in Hollywood without a trip to the dimly-lit eatery at the corner of Melrose and Robertson. First, some forgotten trivia: Producers Larry Gordon and Joel Silver once cast the maitre d’ at Morton’s as a security guard in the first Die Hard. The art of table-hopping at Morton’s was perfected by Jeffrey Katzenberg who made it like ballet, pirouetting from table to table but never lingering. Spy magazine’s “Celia Brady” ended her columns with the teasing line “See you Monday night at Morton’s”. Frank Sinatra actually talked to reporters and photographers at a private party at Morton’s when he introduced his signature spaghetti sauce. Malcolm Forbes used to list Morton’s as one of his three favorite places on earth to eat. Larry Tisch took over CBS and then headed to Morton’s during his first meet-and-greet trip to Los Angeles. CAA under Mike Ovitz deemed Morton’s one of only three “approved” restaurants for expense-account dinners. Michael Eisner, then head of production at Paramount, signed young actor Eddie Murphy to a landmark $15-million, five-picture deal over dinner at Morton’s. Later, it was over dinner at Morton’s again that Eisner decided to jump to the Walt Disney Co.
Perhaps nothing illuminates Morton’s place in the Industry’s cosmos more than this anecdote: The year was 1985, and MGM-UA had just split into separate companies. The entertainment industry was searching for clues as to who would ultimately take over the previously contracted-for projects — MGM President Frank Yablans, or United Artists’ new president, Alan Ladd Jr. Forget the fact that both executives had assured everyone that all the movies in progress were divided on a “mutually cooperative” basis; no one believed them. One night, so the story goes, both men made reservations at Morton’s. Yablans arrived first and was shown to the perfectly placed front table usually occupied by MGM-UA top executives. Laddie arrived a few minutes later to find that all eyes in the dining room were upon him. Where would he be seated? And would it be in a better or worse position than Yablans? Laddie displaced Yablans from the key table. The next day, all of Hollywood claimed to know the score on the MGM-UA schism.
Ostensibly, it’s in honor of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. But if you ask me, Barry Diller’s annual Oscars picnic today, complete with four buffet stations, is the ultimate mogul meet’n'greet. Sure, on Friday night, Bryan Lourd’s party got the stars (but would it kill him to actually serve dinner?) and Ed Limato’s got talent and execs and Ari Emanuel’s got two tents’ worth of celebs and studio heads. And tonight Jeffrey Katzenberg’s got money ($50,000 a ticket to benefit the Motion Picture Home), which is why Clint Eastwood, Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Rick Fox, Serena Williams and Alan Horn put in an appearance at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool where the cabanas were taken over by McDonald’s, L’Oreal, Lexus, and Target. But Diller’s luncheon sur l’herbe (VIPs sitting at picnic tables with a careless let-them-eat-cake air) was filled with cashmere polo-shirted raw power — and a few has-beens for comic relief. I’ve sleuthed out who was there this afternoon between 12:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., and even I’m impressed. Let’s put it this way, I’m told Jann Wenner’s eyes looked like they were going to bug out of his head — if, for no other reason, than that he was small fry among all the Big Media bigwigs. But super-casual gatherings like this also come with pitfalls: Jeff Zucker probably didn’t want to run …
We all heard the other day that Michael Eisner is an investor in the Internet TV network Veoh, an ad-supported YouTube-like consumer-generated video site that claims 4 million unique monthly users. Here’s more on what FrankenEisner is up to during his post-Disney days. Business Week reports that, more than a year after leaving the rat hole following 21 years, ”thanks to the more than $1 billion in salary, bonuses, and stock options he raked in during his 21 years as Head Mouse, Eisner, 64, is quietly building a private media company. Freed from the prying eyes of shareholders and board members, Eisner can be Eisner–inking deals, acting snarky, and, well, being master of his own universe.” The mag says that universe is the five-person Tornante Co., staffed by an ex-Disney MBA and a coupla secretaries and dealmakers. Operating from Beverly Hills, Eisner, in addition to his stake in Veoh, “has gone all new media, plunking down an undisclosed sum to buy Team Baby Entertainment, which makes sport-themed DVDs for children… He got Regis Philbin and other buddies to lend their voices to Team Baby DVDs.” For Veoh, Eisner reportedly tracked down Jann Wenner, a former Disney partner in Us magazine, and persuaded him to put its celebrity sightings on Veoh’s new broadband Celebrity Channel. Interestingly, BW says it was Eisner who went to United Talent Agency and cut the deal whereby Veoh would create a special UTA site where aspiring filmmakers can …
Disney dumbly doubled Teflon Bob’s pay to $24.9 million last year. To me, that’s a shitload of money to give someone who hated Desperate Housewives and Lost, the two shows that finally turned around ABC after 10 years of failure. According to a regulatory filing today, the Walt Disney Co. forked over to CEO Iger $2 million in salary, a $15 million bonus, $2.92 million in options, long-term pay of $4.3 million and $666,000 in other compensation. Back when he was prez, Iger made $12.7 million. OK, I guess factored into the new pay is that Disney profit rose 33% last year and its stock price reached a new 52-week high today of $35.21, a 46% increase since Iger was upped in October 2005. In that time, Disney fixed ABC, had some movie hits, bought Pixar, and began selling TV shows and films on Apple’s iTunes. (On the other hand, Iger still has Mickey Mouse’s Karl Rove – she-devil Zenia Mucha — working for him.) So how does Iger’s pay stack up against other overpaid Big Media CEOs? Dick Parsons/Time Warner: $16 million in 2005. Philippe Dauman/Viacom: $21 million. In case you were wondering, Eisner made $10.3 mil in his last year as CEO after years and years of stuffing his pockets with Disney über-compensation.
Brad Grey: Redstone “Owns The Candy Store”, Freston’s Ouster “High-Stakes Poker”; Diller: As Old Media “Get More Diversified, They Get Less Well Managed”
There was an after-dinner chat with Brad Grey last night at the Forbes MEET 2006 confab held at the Beverly Hills Hotel. PaidContent.org filed on the Paramount Pictures chairman & CEO’s talk. (The website is a media sponsor of the confab.) According to Staci Kramer, “Grey, whose desire to stay at Viacom was questioned in the wake of Tom Freston’s departure, was quite careful to distance himself from Chairman Sumner Redstone’s way of handling both Freston and Tom Cruise—and was equally careful to do respectfully. ‘Sumner Redstone, in my opinion, is Sumner Redstone .. that’s his prerogative and that’s his privilege. He owns the candy store.’ He quickly corrected himself given Viacom’s status as a public company — ‘the majority of the candy store.’ As for Freston, he said he feels badly and misses him ‘but this is high-stakes poker.’ Grey is a funny guy — he actually had a pretty tired audience laughing out loud with his tales of business life with Michael [Eisner], Barry [Diller] and Sumner — but he’s quite serious when it comes to Paramount’s new media future. The subject didn’t come up until the end of the after-dinner conversation with Brent Pulley, Forbes senior editor, but Grey got his message across: ‘Everybody would be very foolish not to embrace technology,’ he said, adding later, ‘For us not …
OK, I’ve heard the stories about how cheap Michael Eisner is. How he asks for change back when he slips a fiver to the valet parking attendant. And so on, ad nauseum. Still, it came as a huge surprise to me when TMZ.com, the Internet gossip site, reported that the ex-Disney honcho and wife Jane flew Jet Blue from LA’s Burbank Airport to NYC yesterday. But now I’m told that Eisner, even though he’s worth a cool half-billion dollars easy, loves Jet Blue and flies it all the time because he considers it safe and efficient. Frankly, I just don’t get this; not when he can afford to timeshare a Gulfstream or at least fly commercial First Class. (Tip to Mikey: if you want to save $$$, then fly United’s LAX-JFK Business Class Premium Service, which is nicer than first class and offers amazing legroom and edible food.) Could it be that Eisner is either a Jet Blue shareholder, or channelling cheapskate investor Warren Buffett, or angling for an endorsement contract? One thing I do know: Eisner was not heading to tape his no-rated talk show for CNBC, for which GE Travel routinely books all NBC worker bees on the lowest-priced flights available. Even so, talent usually negotiates first class into their contracts. According to the report, Eisner and his wife showed up at Burbank Airport and bided their time in the terminal with iced coffees, which Eisner fetched himself. Then they boarded with everyone else and settled in 12th row seats. Next: the couple lining up for Barney’s Santa Monica …
“Brad, I’ll vouch that you never knew Pellicano. Hell, I’ll vouch that you never knew Brillstein…”
Jim Wiatt, left, CEO of William Morris Agency Inc, hugs Brad Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount, Friday.
“Is there anything in my teeth? I just ate my young.”
Richard Lovett, president of Creative Artists Agency, arrives, Friday.
“Herbert requested I leave the leather chaps back in my room.”
Barry Diller, chairman and CEO of InterActive Corp., returns by bicycle after changing into shorts, Friday.
“I may be retired, but at exactly 3 p.m. today, I’m gonna fire Mike Ovitz all over again – just for the hell of it.”
Michael Eisner, left, former chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., checks his watch as he heads to a morning session with wife Jane, Friday.
“See, I am qualified to run Disney. I’ve got Keira Knightley as the screensaver on my cell phone.”
Bob Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., gives a wave as he arrives, Friday.
“Jeffrey, I can’t sell Paramount for you. You don’t own it. It owns you.”
Herbert Allen, of Allen & Co., left, walks with Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation, Friday.
Even rival studios are now predicting that Disney may soon be able to boast this summer’s No. 1 and No. 2 movies. That Disney’s record-breaker Pirates of the Caribbean 2 will be on top is obvious. But it also looks like Disney / Pixar’s Cars, after a non-record-breaking start, sped past $200 mil this weekend. It’s got enough momentum to overtake X-Men 3‘s $235 mil. Though Disney has a notorious history of being cheap when it comes to paying their working stiffs (as opposed to Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz and Bob Iger), studio chief Dick Cook should receive a fat bonus. Unlike so many other suits, he deserves it. Which just goes to show where great studio execs come from: not law firms, not production companies, not rival executive suites. Instead, Cook began his career at the Magic Kingdom in 1970 operating the steam train and monorail rides at Disneyland.
Some history is in order: When named chairman of Walt Disney Studios back in February 2002, Cook took over a deeply downsized movie operation at a time when the flailing company was desperate to avoid exposure to the financial risks of filmmaking. The choice of ultimate corporate insider Cook merely served to make official the job he had been doing ever since the departure of short-tenured Peter Schneider.
But Hollywood raised eyebrows that a …
Wow, so much misinformation and omission in recent newspaper articles, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, about Walt Disney Co.’s incoming chairman John Pepper Jr, the ex-CEO of Procter and Gamble. Granted, he looks like he just got cast by ABC Family for an Americanized remake of Mr. Chips, fretting over whether his brood of preppies will horribly haze the new kid. (On second thought, maybe he’s planning to do just that to still new Disney prez Bob Iger.) But The New York Times quoted experts claiming he lacks media experience and doesn’t bring much to Disney’s party. Huh? As if hiring former Senator George Mitchell was a stroke of genius by Franken Eisner and his board of flunkies. Look how well George didn’t turn out. If you ask me, this new guy has Mitchell beat by a mile. Obviously, none of the following was in any of the official press releases: 1) The most obvious, first: as one of the largest consumer product advertisers on the planet, his ex-company’s brands like Bounty, Crest and Pampers live or die on the basis of the success of its TV commercials and other media outlets. 2) P&G has long owned and operated TV soap operas; in fact P&G literally helped put the soap in soap operas. P&G produced and sponsored the first radio soap operas in the 1930s and became dominant when the soaps switched onto TV. P&G’s past soaps have included Another World, The Edge of Night, Search for Tomorrow, Somerset and Texas. Two veteran soaps are still distributed by Proctor and …