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 … Read More »
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 »
FremantleMedia Enterprises (FME) and Vuguru LLC today announce a major new first-look deal for international rights to the independent studio’s original commission programming. The deal will see FME distribute Vuguru original content across all digital, linear and home entertainment platforms outside North America from 2013, further diversifying FME’s catalogue of high-quality, distinctive scripted programming and forging a new partnership between one of the most exciting content producers and one of the most powerful content distributors in the industry.
An independent multi-platform studio, Vuguru was founded in 2006 by former Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner and is also backed by Rogers Media of Canada In the intervening years it has developed and financed premium, award winning and immensely popular scripted multiplatform titles that have been distributed across online, mobile, and linear television platforms in over 40 countries around the world, attracting global audiences and global advertisers.
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 film and television production company, says Faber quoting people who have been approached about investing. What’s sought is $400 million in equity in a private placement and place $400 million in debt financing. The Eisner led production company hopes to make four to five films a year and produce two to three scripted television shows, CNBC says according to people approached to invest. Faber says Eisner is expected to invest $20 million of his own funds in the new production company. Presently dabbling in Internet content through Tornante and the occasional television program, Eisner is unquestionably a shrewd and successful businessman. But, Faber, analyzes:
Despite that track record, JP Morgan could have a tough time raising $400 million in cash for the effort, while also syndicating a revolving line of credit for a like amount. First off, it’s a very big amount of money for a start-up production company even with Michael Eisner at its helm. It’s also not clear whether Eisner has signed a distribution deal with any of the major film studios or whether Eisner will receive producing fees on the films and movies separately from the company, a potential non-starter for investors.
Then there’s the fact that ‘FrankenEisner’ isn’t popular in … 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 feature spinoff project. Toby Ascher is producing. PES (that is what he goes by) will direct the film, which will be scripted by Michael Vukadinovich, who most recently set his Black List script The Three Misfortunes Of Geppetto at Fox and Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps. PES, an award winning creator of shorts, developed the story with Vukadinovich. His latest film is Fresh Guacamole, and his other shorts include Roof Sex and Western Spaghetti. All of them have been wildly popular viral videos.
Hatched in 1985, the Garbage Pail Kids launched as an irreverent parody of the Cabbage Patch Kids (Topps eventually settled a lawsuit brought by Cabbage Patch-maker Coleco). Hatched by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman, the cards became wildly popular enough that they were banned by many schools. There was also a feature done in 1987. ICM repped PES and Vukadinovich. Here is PES’s most recent short film:
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 early days of celebrity chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger’s unique business partnership and friendship. Former Will & Grace executive producer Greenstein, repped by ICM, is executive producing with Eisner, Noel Bright and Steve Cohen, while Milliken and Feniger serve as producers. Chefs and business partners for over 25 years, Milliken and Feniger own the chain of Border Grill restaurants and its gourmet taco truck offshoot. They star in Food Network’s Too Hot Tamales and have appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
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 »
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Comic book legend Stan Lee and his company POW! Entertainment Inc. (OTCQB: POWN) today announced a partnership to produce original digital content with Michael Eisner’s independent studio Vuguru. The deal brings together two storied powerhouses in the world of entertainment that will produce and distribute studio quality films, episodic series and a variety of digital content across multiple platforms. Scott Nocas, a seasoned digital strategist who formerly held positions at Microsoft Xbox and Sony Network Entertainment, has been helping build out POW! Entertainment’s digital strategy, brokered the deal and will now help the companies further expand and develop opportunities.
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, Eisner at Disney — that Barry came to a Dopey Drive meeting with bodyguards. But that was then, and this is now. Diller obviously needs to pack his insider board with even more pals, not to mention a big media executive even more hated than himself. Besides, FrankenEisner has so much valuable experience to impart to Diller/IAC: how to lie to the media (when Michael was chairman/CEO of the Walt Disney Co. many examples of this came out during the shareholders lawsuit comparing his public statements to his private memos); how to put together one of the most insider boards in corporate history (something he did at Disney to the consternation of institutional investors); how to receive a resounding 43% ‘no confidence’ vote from shareholders (and lose the chairman title in 2005 and ultimately exit from the company). The earth will lose gravity and the universe will suffer a cataclysmic event when those two guys’ egos meet inside the IAC boardroom. From the release:
NEW YORK (March 15, 2011) — IAC (Nasdaq: IACI) today announced that Michael Eisner has been elected to the company’s Board of Directors, effective March 10, 2011. IAC’s Board was expanded to 13 members in connection with Mr. Eisner’s election.
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 Tucker Gates (Lost), stars Caprica alumna Alessandra Torresani as a 25-year-old reporter at the style section of a newspaper who loses her job and ends up on the obituary desk. The 8-10-minute presentation is now in pre-production and will start filming on Monday. Executive producing are Eisner, Brand, Gates as well as Tornante’s head of development Steve Cohen and head of production Noel Bright.
The idea for Circling the Drain was generated and developed internally at Tornante with hands-on involvement by former Disney chief Eisner. “He loved the idea of a young girl who is starting out life writing about death against the backdrop of an industry that may also be circling the drain,” Cohen said. (Eisner may actually have more faith in the newspaper business given that he had been rumored to run newspaper owner Tribune.) Brand was then tapped to write the script and Gates to direct the presentation. Both are with UTA, which also reps Torresani. Tornante, which started off producing scripted Web series, segued into TV with the animated comedy Glenn Martin DDS, which recently wrapped its second season on Nickelodeon. It used the same business … 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 tell me that Chernin has had one meeting with one creditor who asked him about the CEO job. Chernin said no. Then he was asked about the chairman’s job. Chernin said unlikely. ”They asked him if he would keep an open mind. He said OK,” one of my sources says. “He’s had no meetings or discussions whatsoever with any other creditors, the creditors’ committee, with the board, with management, etc. And he is not part of any process now.” I’m told what’s happening is frankly no different than almost every media deal cooking right now where someone comes to Chernin and asks if he would be willing to run the company. My insiders put the odds of Chernin taking over Tribune Co ”way below 20%”. Meanwhile, the best guess is that the timing for change at Tribune Co is probably February-March at the earliest.
SATURDAY 5 AM: I’ve been traveling only to return to some interesting news reports: now Peter Chernin is on the short list to possibly replace Sam Zell as chairman of the Chicago-based Tribune Co when it emerges from bankruptcy soon. Hollywood always knew that the former News Corp No. 2 who’s now the Fox TV and film mega-producer had a second act in … 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 »
Back on July 8th I was the first to tell you that construction magnate Ron Tutor and Tom Barrack’s Santa Monica-based Colony Capital led by former Disney CFO Richard Nanula had joined together to negotiate the acquisition of Miramax from Disney. And so that deal finally gets done tonight after so many frustrating and annoying stops and starts, and bidders and runners-up. (Announcement below.) Still, this was relativity speedy considering that Colony Capital only a month ago entered the deal as a big equity provider matching Tutor’s equity of several hundred million dollars. So I have to ask: Are bidding war losers Harvey and Bob Weinstein crying into their beer tonight?
All in all, $660 million is a very good price for the company because film library values have taken a hit as DVD/video has flattened. True, Disney once placed a sky-high $1.2 billion pricetag on the Miramax library. The studio hoped to get around $800 million, then $700 million, and this number comes awfully close to that. The final figure exceeds the $625M-$650M which the Weinstein brothers/Ron Burkle/Fortress-Colbeck partnership seemed ready to pay until talks broke down. Due diligence showed that Miramax is sitting on a lot of cash, as much as $300M in receivables. Also, I’ve learned that Disney stands to make even more because … Read More »