UPDATE: Beverly Hills entertainment attorney Irwin Russell, whose clients included ex-Disney head Michael Eisner, Jim Henson, Theodore Geisel AKA Dr. Seuss, Joan Crawford, and Carol Burnett, died Friday of complications from leukemia. He was 87. Russell found himself in the eye of the firestorm of corporate governance criticism over the Walt Disney Company’s notorious hiring and firing of Michael Ovitz for huge sums of money. Russell’s dual role was scrutinized in a 2004 Delaware Chancery Court shareholders lawsuit and trial for being both Eisner’s personal attorney and the Disney board member who was chairman of the company’s compensation committee. Russell helped Eisner negotiate Ovitz’s 1995 Disney contract to become president and then 14 months later oversaw Ovitz’s huge $140 million payment after the Disney president’s December 1996 firing. Shareholders unsuccessfully sued over accusations Disney money was wasted because of flawed corporate governance by the directors running the company. Russell had to testify during the Delaware trial.
The NY-born Russell earned his J.D. from Harvard and represented the National Wage Stabilization Board from 1951 to 1953 before moving in and out of private practice in LA. There he repped a number of landmark biz deals including Bob Banner Associates’ Candid Camera TV show, the syndication deals of Hee Haw and Baywatch, and Henson’s deal to bring the Muppets to Sesame Street. Russell famously helped install then-ABC and Paramount veteran exec Eisner as CEO at The Walt Disney Company during the 1984 takeover as well as Frank Wells as President. He served on the Disney board himself until 2001 and continued to represent Eisner after the exec departed Disney, including at Eisner’s new Tornante shingle set up at Universal.
Said Eisner of their 40-year association: “He was able to write – and get all parties to agree to – a one-page deal, something unheard of in American business. Ethics, doing it right and being fair were embedded in his DNA. This is a deep loss for all of us.”
BREAKING: Michael Eisner, who got out of the movie business when his 21-year run ended at Disney in 2005, is back in the feature game. Eisner’s Tornante Company has made a multi-year worldwide distribution deal at Universal Pictures for a slate of films his Tornante will fully finance.
Eisner will shortly begin putting together a staff of executives to develop a slate of pictures. He chose Universal because he liked the team there. The arrangement gives the studio more product for its distribution pipeline, without requiring it to fund or supervise the films. Universal will only put up the P&A and supervise marketing. The studio will release Tornante product globally and receive a distribution fee. The move gives the town a much-needed new buyer for material. Read More »
CNBC’S David Faber is reporting that the fundraising effort by 70-year-old Michael Eisner, the former chairman/CEO of Walt Disney, kicked off last week and is being led by JP Morgan. He wants to raise $800 million for a new … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Michael Eisner’s The Tornante Company will finance and produce the development of a feature film based on Garbage Pail Kids, the trading card line published by Topps. Eisner bought the card company in 2007 and this is his first … Read More »
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame Committee announced today that it has tapped reality show producers Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jonathan Murray, Michael Eisner, Sábado Gigante game-show host Don Francisco, Sherman Hemsley, lighting designer Bill Klages, Chuck Lorre and I Love Lucy duo Vivian Vance & William Frawley for induction into the academy’s Hall of Fame. The 21st annual induction ceremony is set for March 1 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The nine new inductees were recognized for their extraordinary contributions to TV after candidates were submitted to the Hall’s selection committee, which is chaired by WME Entertainment board member Mark Itkin and includes Fox alternative president Mike Darnell, Warner Bros TV president Peter Roth, veteran executive Fred Silverman, CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler and Dolby Labs’ Steve Venezia. Bunim, Vance and Frawley will be honored posthumously. From the TV Academy’s release highlighting the new members: Read More »
Michael Eisner is back in the mouse house, this time as a TV producer. ABC has bought a period single-camera comedy project that Eisner is executive producing. Set in the 1980s, the untitled comedy, written by Jeff Greenstein, chronicles the … Read More »
James Murdoch isn’t going to succeed his father Rupert as CEO of News Corp — if you don’t believe that yet, then wait for November 10 when he’s due to testify again before the parliamentary committee investigating the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal. Media execs and close News Corp watchers tell me that James would have to perform a PR miracle to enhance his already tarnished reputation: He’s on the defensive after former NOTW legal affairs manager Tom Crone and editor Colin Myler testified in September that he knew more about the lawbreaking earlier than he has let on — raising the possibility that he was engaged in a cover-up. James’ testimony comes after institutional shareholders just made it clear that they don’t want him: Guardian columnist Dan Sabbagh called the News Corp Deputy COO “dead man walking” last week after 75% of voting shareholders aside from the Murdoch family, other directors, and Rupert’s ally Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal opposed James’ election to the board. Analysts and reporters will have a chance to raise more questions about the company’s governance Wednesday after News Corp reports its earnings for the quarter that ended in September.
A lot of people say James is in a similar predicament to the one that former Disney CEO Michael Eisner was in before he was forced out in 2005. Eisner initially fended off efforts by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold to oust him from power. But their steady criticisms soured institutional investors to the point where Eisner’s presence hurt Disney’s stock and made it impossible to hang on. Read More »
Sure they’re frenemies now. So forget the fact that, once upon a time, Michael Eisner worked for Barry Diller at Paramount and then betrayed him. Or that the two men became such bitter business rivals — Diller at Fox, … Read More »
EXCLUSIVE: Michael Eisner’s Tornante Co. is making its first foray into live-action series with Circling the Drain, a single-camera comedy presentation it is self-financing and independently producing. The project, written by Josh Brand (Northern Exposure) and to be directed by … Read More »
UPDATE 1:30 PM: I’ve now had time to do some reporting of my own to put perspective on the Wall Street Journal‘s — and this idea of Peter Chernin taking over Tribune Co is a real longshot. Insiders … Read More »
UPDATE: Here’s the reason why Michael Eisner is first choice among prospective candidates who could operate Tribune Co once it emerges from bankruptcy: John Angelo of NYC hedge fund Angelo Gordon & Co which is one of the Chicago-based media company’s biggest creditors. (See photo of Angelo, Eisner’s son, and Eisner.) Not only are Eisner and Angelo childhood pals who grew up together. “He was my sidekick from the age of 6,” Eisner said in his autobiography about Angelo, whose mother was in turn Eisner’s mother’s BFF. In the book’s acknowledgements, Eisner equates Angelo with his own sister because they ”have been an important part of my life longer than almost anyone else”. Even now, the two men remain best friends and Angelo’s son Jesse (an editor at the New York Post) is Eisner’s godson. Eisner even devotes a chapter to Angelo Gordon & Co in his forthcoming book, Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed and describes Angelo as someone who “I know as well as perhaps anyone, aside from my own wife and children.”
On Angelo’s advice, Eisner, 68, has been accumulating Tribune Co debt. Tribune Co and its creditors are still struggling to negotiate a settlement. But just last week, the latest round of talks surrounding the disastrous Sam Zell management collapsed. On Friday, Tribune Co is supposed to submit a proposed settlement plan which the court could approve. It’s clear that senior creditors like Angelo Gordon & Co will end up owning Tribune Co because of their $8.6 billion in claims. Meanwhile, Angelo Gordon Co has accumulated several newspaper holdings post-bankruptcies in the last year. Because of the Angelo connection, Eisner was first approached about becoming a member of a reconfigured Tribune board by him. Reports say those conversations led to discussion of a potentially larger role for Eisner with Tribune Co, and today he is being touted for the top job. Read More »