"THERE ARE NO SURE THINGS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY, BUT THIS COMES CLOSE." When Michael Eisner said those words in an email to all Disney employees about the impending release of Pearl Harbor in 2001, did he know how wrong he was?
In reading investigative journalist James B. Stewart's book DisneyWar, that question keeps coming up over and over again. Whether it's overpaying massively for the Fox Family Channel, rejecting shows like Survivor and CSI (and the Lord of the Rings films) or trying his best to screw up the few successes Disney did have (whether panning Finding Nemo and Lost upon their debuts, oversaturating WWTBAMillionaire or urging Johnny Depp not to be all weird in Pirates of the Caribbean), it is pretty stunning that Disney still exists as an independent creative company in 2005, and that Eisner lasted as long as he did.
And that's even without getting into the interpersonal shit: whether it's Michael Ovitz, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steve Jobs, Harvey Weinstein or Roy Disney, there's not a key relationship that Eisner doesn't screw up with a combination of arrogance and brazen treachery.
Between the corporate governance issues and the creative ones, this is rich terrain for a journalist, and Stewart provides rich detail for the sadist in all of us who wants to see powerful people get smacked around. I mean, in Eisner, we're talking about someone whose first creative response to the death of John Ritter on the network's 8 Simple Rules was to continue the series with Ritter's on-screen wife (Katey Sagal) now pregnant with the dead character's baby.
There is something frustrating about the book, and that's that it ends a few months too soon -- before the juicy Delaware trial over Ovitz's compensation package, before Eisner agreed to step down in 2005, a year early.
But this is a tale told well, whether you're more interested in the creative successes and miscues or the corporate governance horrors, from Eisner's ascension through the ultimate success of the Save Disney movement.
My best comparison for this book? It's like The Power Broker, only with movies, tv shows and theme parks instead of buildings, highways and bridges.