Michael Eisner was born in Mount Kisco, New York, and raised on Park Avenue in Manhattan. He attended the Allen-Stevenson School followed by The Lawrenceville School and graduated from Denison University in 1964 with a B.A. in English. He is a member of the Delta Upsilon Fraternity. His great-grandfather, Sigmund Eisner, was one of the first uniform suppliers to the Boy Scouts of America.
ABC and Paramount
After two brief stints at NBC and CBS, Barry Diller at ABC hired Eisner as Assistant to the National Programming Director. Eisner moved up the ranks, eventually becoming a senior vice president in charge of programming and development. In 1976, Diller, who had by then moved on to become chairman of Paramount Pictures, recruited Eisner from ABC and made him president and CEO of the movie studio. During his tenure at Paramount, the studio turned out such hit films as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, the Star Trek film franchise, and Beverly Hills Cop, and hit TV shows such as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Cheers and Family Ties.
Diller left Paramount in 1984, and, as his protege, Eisner expected to assume Diller's position as studio chief. When he was passed over for the job, though, he left to look for work elsewhere and lobbied for the position of CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
Walt Disney Productions had been struggling since its founder's death in 1966, and had narrowly survived takeover attempts by corporate raiders when its shareholders Sid Bass and Roy E. Disney brought on Eisner and former Warner Brothers chief Frank Wells to replace Ron W. Miller in 1984 and turn the company around.
During the second half of the 1980s and 1990s, the studio revitalized, and the division had a "golden age" with annual box office hits with such regularity that even their creative structure started to be known as the "Disney formula." This fact needs citing. Disney also broadened its adult offerings in film when then Disney Studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg acquired Miramax Films in 1993. Disney acquired many other media sources, including ABC and ESPN.
During the early part of the 1990s, Eisner and his partners set out to plan "The Disney Decade" which was to feature new parks around the world, existing park expansions, new films, and new media investments. While some of the proposals did follow through, most did not. These include WestCOT, Disney's America, Disney-MGM Studios Paris (eventually opened in 2002), and various film projects including a Who Framed Roger Rabbit franchise.
Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash in 1994. (The Lion King, which is the most successful hand-drawn animated picture, was released slightly over two months later in his memory). Shortly thereafter, Jeffrey Katzenberg resigned and formed DreamWorks SKG with partners Steven Spielberg and David Geffen because Eisner would not appoint Katzenberg to Wells' now-available post. Instead, Eisner recruited his friend Michael Ovitz, one of the founders of the Creative Artists Agency, to be President, with minimal involvement from Disney's board of directors (which at the time included Oscar-winning actor Sidney Poitier, the CEO of Hilton Hotels Corporation Stephen Bollenbach, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, Yale dean Robert A. M. Stern, and Eisner's predecessors Raymond Watson and Card Walker). Ovitz lasted only 14 months and left Disney in December 1996 via a "no fault termination" with a severance package of $38 million in cash and 3 million stock options worth roughly $100 million at the time of Ovitz's departure. The Ovitz episode engendered a long running derivative suit, which finally concluded in June 2006, almost ten years after it began. Chancellor William B. Chandler, III of the Delaware Court of Chancery, despite describing Eisner's behavior as falling "far short of what shareholders expect and demand from those entrusted with a fiduciary position..." found in favor of Eisner and the rest of the Disney board because they hadn't violated the letter of the law (namely, the duty of care owed by a corporation's officers and board to its shareholders).
The Save Disney War and Eisner's ouster
In 2003, Roy E. Disney, the son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney, resigned from his positions as Disney vice chairman and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation, accusing Eisner of micromanagement, flops with the ABC television network, timidity in the theme park business, turning the Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company (against everything Walt Disney believed in and stood for), and refusing to establish a clear succession plan, as well as a string of box-office movie flops starting in the year 2000, such as Return to Never Land. In addition, several classic and beloved attractions were removed under his watch, such as the original Universe of Energy, PeopleMover, Journey into Imagination, and the Submarine Voyage.
On March 3 2004, at Disney's annual shareholders' meeting, a surprising and unprecedented 43% of Disney's shareholders, predominantly rallied by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, withheld their proxies to re-elect Eisner to the board. Disney's board then gave the chairmanship position to Mitchell. However, the board did not immediately remove Eisner as chief executive.
On March 13, 2005, Eisner announced that he would step down as CEO one year before his contract expired. On September 30, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a member of the board of directors, and, severing all formal ties with the company, he waived his contractual rights to perks such as the use of a corporate jet and an office at the company's Burbank headquarters. Eisner's replacement was his longtime lieutenant, Bob Iger, who has managed to restore prosperity, popularity and profitability to the company, as well as fix Disney's image by re-capturing the rights of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and reviving Mickey's classic image.
On October 7 2005, Eisner hosted The Charlie Rose Show, filling in for Rose. His guests were John Travolta and his ex-boss, Barry Diller. Impressed with Eisner's performance, CNBC President Mark Hoffman hired Eisner in early 2006 to host his own talk show, Conversations with Michael Eisner. The show mostly features CEOs, political leaders, artists and actors. Eisner is also an executive producer of the show.
Eisner has recently invested in an Internet video distribution network named Veoh Networks. In March 2007, Eisner's investment firm, The Tornante Company, launched a studio, Vuguru, that will produce and distribute videos for the Internet, portable media devices and cell phones. "The entire concept here is 'content is king'," Eisner said in an interview. "What will drive traffic is interest in the subject matter." Through these companies Eisner has acquired the rights to the internet series SamHas7Friends. The first series produced by Vuguru is Prom Queen, created by Big Fantastic (the same team behind SamHas7Friends), which launched on April 1 2007. The second series produced by Eisner and Vuguru is The All-for-nots (theallfornots.com), created by Thom Woodley and Kathleen Grace of The Burg (theburg.tv). It premiered March 11, 2008 at SXSW.
Eisner, through Tornante, took over Topps Co., the well-known bubble-gum and collectibles firm in October 2007. He is now filming a mock-documentary style show about his takeover of the Topps company, called "Back on Topps." His studio Vuguru is filming it, the episodes are being aired at first exclusively with Fox Sports, and is sponsored by Skype. The College of Education at California State University Northridge is named in his honor. He made a cameo in an episode of Family Guy, acting as an antagonist from Indiana Jones.
- He has three sons named Breck, Eric, and Anders Eisner.
- "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."
- "You can't succeed unless you've got failure, especially creatively."
- "Diversity is a great force towards creativity."
- Disney War by James B. Stewart (ISBN 0684809931)