CEO of Disney
“I always went into an area that was in last place with a philosophy, 'You can't fall off the floor.' And I was lucky, was at the right time and the right place with the right ideas and each one of these areas became number one.” Michael Eisner
Media baron Michael Eisner is well-associated as Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, a post he held from 1984 to 2005. He successfully helped Disney launch movies, theme parks, television networks, and sports franchises. Before coming to the Disney conglomerate, Eisner was the President and Chief Operating Officer of Paramount Pictures. During his tenure (from 1976 to 1984), he oversaw a number of box office hits and helped the No. 6 studio rise to the No. 1 position. Eisner was also a television executive. Starting out as a page for NBC, he left his job at NBC to join CBS in 1964, where he was placed in the Programming Department. However, he did not score an early triumph until he began his partnership with ABC in 1966. First serving as a programming director, he quickly worked his way up and by 1976 had become Senior Vice President for Prime Time Production and Development. With Eisner in the programming department, ABC became the most successful TV network.
“Success is not a formula, but is based on everything else; the creativity, the right people, the right team.” Michael Eisner
Following his retirement from Disney, Eisner emerged as a talk show host and TV producer. He hosted and produced his own TV talk show called “Conversations with Michael Eisner” (2006). Through his studio named Vuguru, the founder of the investment firm The Tornante Company has produced such series as the Daytime Emmy nominee “Prom Queen” (2007), “The All-for-Nots” (2008) and “Foreign Body” (2008).
Thanks to his contribution to motion pictures, Eisner was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 25, 2008. The College of Education at California State University Northridge is named in his honor.
Eisner is the married father of 3. In 1996, he underwent open heart surgery.
Childhood and Family:
Born on March 7, 1942, in Mount Kisco, New York, Michael D. Eisner was raised in an affluent family on Park Avenue in Manhattan. His father was a lawyer and businessman who became the administrator of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and his mother was the president of a medical research institute. Discipline was very important in the Eisner household. To limit the amount of viewing of television by their children, his parents required young Michael and his siblings read two hours for each hour of TV watching.
Michael was educated at the Allen-Stevenson School and The Lawrenceville School. He graduated from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, in 1964 with a B.A. in English. Michael enrolled in the university as a pre-medical student, but soon transferred to English literature.
In 1967, Michael was married to Jane Breckenridge. They have three sons.
Conversations with Michael Eisner
“You can't succeed unless you've got failure, especially creatively.” Michael Eisner
A 1964 graduate of Ohio's Denison University, Michael Eisner broke into the entertainment industry while he was still in college with a summer job as a page for NBC studios in New York. Upon graduating, he rejoined NBC to serve as a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logging clerk, but soon moved to the Programming Department at CBS. Eisner, who was responsible for slotting commercials in the right positions in children's programs, quickly grew bored with his job and decided to leave the network in 1966.
Thanks to the help of Barry Diller, Eisner was recruited as Assistant to the National Programming Director at ABC in 1966 and stayed in his position until 1968. Meanwhile, in 1967, he was spotted producing his first TV special, “Feelin' Groovy at Marine World.” Eisner progressed to become Manager of Specials and Talent in 1968 and then Director of Program Development for the East Coast in 1969, for which he was given the responsibility of Saturday morning children's programming.
Still at ABC, Eisner was appointed Vice President for Daytime Programming in 1971. He was responsible for boosting such successful soap operas as “All My Children” and “One Life To Live.” Four years later, he became ABC's Vice President for Program Planning and Development, and within a year, became Senior Vice President for Prime Time Production and Development, where he encouraged a number of hit primetime sitcoms, including “Welcome Back Kotter,” “Happy Days,” “Barney Miller” and “Starsky and Hutch.” With Eisner sitting in the programming department, the No. 3 ABC rose to No. 1, leaving behind the major competitors NBC and CBS.
Following in the footsteps of Barry Diller, his former mentor at ABC, Eisner made the leap to film in 1976 when Diller, then Chairman of the Board of Paramount, gave him a spot as President and Chief Operating Officer at Paramount Pictures. During his years at Paramount, Eisner managed to keep the studio's costs down and successfully elevated the studio from last place to the first among the six leading studios. Several box office hits produced during his era were the John Schlesinger-directed “Marathon Man” (1976), the John Travolta vehicles “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and “Grease” (1978), Steven Spielberg's “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981, starred Harrison Ford) and Martin Brest' “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984, starred Eddie Murphy). As Diller's protégé, it was assumed Eisner would inherit Diller's position as studio chief, but when he was passed over for the job, he decided to leave Paramount in 1984. Shortly after, he began his long-running journey with the Walt Disney Company.
As Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Eisner joined Disney when the company was in financial trouble. Discovering Disney was depended chiefly on its theme parks for profit, the New York-born executive decided to look to other forms of revenue. He re-released Disney's most popular films on video, opened theme parks in France and Japan, began a retail chain of Disney stores, and sold Disney's old films and cartoons to television networks in syndication deals. Within a few years, he had transformed Disney into a media conglomerate.
By 1994, the Disney Empire had acquired the Disney Channel, Walt Disney Television, Touchstone Television, Hyperion Books, Miramax Films, and the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. With the acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC in 1995, Eisner further verified his career was in full-swing. Through the corporate deal, the company now has control of 8 TV stations, 21 radio stations, magazines, and cable channels, among others.
Despite the victory, Eisner's time in Disney was marked by a conflict between him and Jeffrey Katzenberg, also a top executive at Disney. Katzenberg resigned when Eisner passed him over for a promotion. Originally a private one, the conflict combusted into a public lawsuit that caused Disney to lose a lot of money and receive negative publicity. Eisner again shared a degree of notoriety when he recruited his friend, the famed agent Michael Ovitz, to take the position. Ovitz's stint at Disney was short, but the company had to spend another great deal of money to release him from his contract.
By the new millennium, Eisner and Disney had started an important collaboration with Pixar for new technology in computer animation. The results, “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo,” were all hits at the box office. However, when Pixar head Steve Jobs decided to end the fruitful partnership, major shareholders complained. This eventually resulted in Eisner's retirement from his chairman position in 2005. He was replaced by Senator George J. Mitchell. Eisner stepped down as an executive and a member of the board of directors in September 2005.
After leaving Disney, Eisner served as a guest host on “The Charlie Rose Show.” His performance caught the attention of CNBC President Mark Hoffman, who gave Eisner the opportunity to host his own chat show in early 2006. “Conversations with Michael Eisner,” a one-on-one interview show, centers on politics, business and entertainment. Eisner also serves as a producer.
In March 2007, through his investment company, The Tornante Company, Eisner started a studio called Vuguru, whose purpose is producing and distributing videos for cell phones, the Internet and portable media devices.
“Prom Queen,” the first series produced by Vuguru, was released on April 2, 2007. Starring Sean Hankinson, Katy Stoll, David Loren and Laura Howard, the drama has collected a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Broadband Program – Drama, a TV Guide nomination for Original Dramatic Program and a Teen Choice nomination for Choice V Cast Video (all 2007). Vuguru next produced the series “The All-for-Nots,” created by Thom Woodley and Kathleen Grace. It debuted on SXSW on March 11, 2008. Eisner next executive produced the drama series “Foreign Body,” adapted from a book by Robin Cook. It premiered on May 27, 2008.
Eisner's most recent project is “Back on Topps,” a mock-documentary style show about the takeover of Topps Co., the renowned bubble-gum and collectibles firm purchased by The Tornante in October 2007. Made just for the Internet, the series stars the comedic team of brothers Jason and Randy Sklar.