Michael Eisner

Executive


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Michael Eisner speaks about starting in broadcasting as an NBC page during college. He then chronicles his early career, culminating in his being hired by Barry Diller (then Leonard Goldberg's assistant) at ABC. He discusses his quick rise through the executive ranks, where he played an important role in the network's climb to number one in the late-1970s with such programming as ABC's Movie of the Week and Happy Days. He talks about his transition to Paramount, where he oversaw Paramount Television and many of the studio's feature film successes. He then talks about his move to Disney, where he was named Chairman and CEO. He discusses how he planned to resurrect the studio, which had been "coasting" since Walt Disney's death 17 years earlier, and how he took a hands-on role at Touchstone Television. He also discusses the Disney-ABC merger, which he felt was crucial to the success of Disney as a whole. He then recounts his decision to leave Disney in 2005 and spoke briefly about his current projects and the state of the television industry today. Dan Pasternack conducted the two-part interview in Beverly Hills, CA on October 19 and 20, 2006.

"If you can't tell a story, you can own the television station, you can own the radio station, you can own the satellite. You'd better find somebody to tell a story or you're not going to own it for very long."

Highlights
Michael Eisner on his theory of how to make an effective change in television programming
Michael Eisner on "The Ted Fetter problem" which he describes as network policy to not have a pension or retirement plan in place when letting people go; and his disdain for this business practice
Michael Eisner on how Happy Days almost didn't get greenlit because network research said "the 50s won't work"; Eisner didn't believe in research
03:35
Michael Eisner on the development of The Golden Girls and the role Estelle Getty played in making the women seem "young"; on finding the audience "you can't kill a good show"
Michael Eisner on who will change the shape of television in the future- the people who can tell a story
00:21
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his family, childhood, education and childhood interests
On coming out of college in the 1960s and working at ABC; how the Vietnam war impacted him
On first seeing television; his father built his first television set; on his early interest in the entertainment industry; on being a page at NBC, working as an FCC logging clerk; delivering the morning traffic report; on getting a job placing commercials in children's Saturday morning shows at CBS

Chapter 2

On getting hired at ABC; on meeting Barry Diller 
On ABC as the "fourth network" when he began working there; the first-run movies that began airing as the ABC Sunday Movie; on his initial responsibilities at ABC in programming as an assistant
On becoming Manager of Specials and Talent at ABC; on producing Feelin' Groovy at Marine World, Cousteau  and other specials; on the office politics at ABC in 1967-68 and his role as a jack-of-all-trades there; on his theory of programming
On realizing the need to be both commercially successful and seriously responsible as a programming executive; introducing The Jackson Five to ABC's children's programming

Chapter 3

On working on General Hospital for ABC as Vice-President of Daytime programming in 1969; adding One Life to Live and All my Children to the roster to create the schedule; on how he began buying shows for ABC; how Soapnet came about
On ABC's Movie of the Week; "it was the beginning of some consciousness in that era"
On what he saw as unethical business practice in letting the older generation go when he was a young executive at ABC
On the heyday of ABC: Happy Days  and casting the show
05:24

Chapter 4

On Happy Days moving from a single-camera to a multi-camera show because of the audience reaction to "Fonzie"; on the development of Laverne & Shirley
On why he didn't believe in spinoffs; on his successes at ABC; on Roots
On programming he created with Aaron Spelling including Mod Squad, Rookies, Starsky and Hutch, etc and their somewhat contentious relationship; on Leonard Goldenson; on lessons learned at ABC
On his decision to leave ABC

Chapter 5

Part II of this interview; on his transition to President of Paramount Pictures from ABC; working with Barry Diller first at ABC then at Paramount
On his film successes at Paramount; "Foul Play" with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, "Heaven Can Wait" with Warren Beatty, "Up in Smoke" with Cheech and Chong, "Saturday Night Fever" with John Travolta, Eddie Murphy in "Beverly Hills Cop"
On Paramount Productions at ABC; Mork & Mindy with Robin Williams; on putting TV writers in the movie business
On launching a "fourth" television network with Paramount Television
On leaving Paramount Television after Charlie Bludhorn died; on becoming Chairman and CEO at Disney

Chapter 6

On coming to Walt Disney Productions as Chairman and CEO; on various movie deals he orchestrated there
On television developed at Touchstone Television; Golden Girls, Cheers, while he was CEO at Touchstone's parent company, Disney
On the team of talented people who he brought in to work with him; Jeffrey Katzenberg, Frank Wells
On hosting The Magical World of Disney; 

Chapter 7

On the Ellen DeGeneres show
On the merger between ABC/Capital Cities and Disney and his role in negotiations and planning
On the turning point for the "new" ABC; with programming such as Desperate Housewives, Lost, Grey's Anatomy; on leaving Disney in 2005
On his current projects in New Media;  on where he sees the future of programming; on his legacy; on his interview show Conversations with Michael Eisner

Chapter 8

On how television has/ has not changed; on advice to aspiring television executives
03:29
On the role of "television" in the future and where he sees it going
01:34
Shows

ABC Sunday Movie, The

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Michael Eisner on ABC starting to air first-run movies on ABC 
00:36

Conversations with Michael Eisner

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Michael Eisner on how the hourlong interview show Conversations with Michael Eisner came about on CNBC

Ellen

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Michael Eisner on how Ellen DeGeneres approached him about coming out on television; and how he pushed her to define what more the Ellen  series would be about

Feelin' Groovy at Marine World

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Michael Eisner on producing Feelin' Groovy at Marine World for ABC

Golden Girls, The

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Michael Eisner on the development of The Golden Girls and the role Estelle Getty played in making the women seem "young"; on finding the audience "you can't kill a good show"

Happy Days

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Michael Eisner on the development of Happy Day s; on casting Fonzie
05:08
Michael Eisner on how Happy Days almost didn't get greenlit because network research said "the 50s won't work"; Eisner didn't believe in research
03:35
Michael Eisner on the development of Happy Days; the pilot didn't have Henry Winkler as Fonzie; on casting that role
01:41

Jackson 5ive

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On balancing commercial programming with educational programming while running children's programming at ABC; introducing the Jackson Five

Laverne & Shirley

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Michael Eisner on the development of Laverne & Shirley which he worked on with director Garry Marshall; Cindy Williams' role was originally played by Liberty Williams

Magical World of Disney

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Michael Eisner on hosting The Magical World of Disney while he was the CEO of the Disney  

Mork & Mindy

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Michael Eisner on the Happy Days' spinoff Mork & Mindy with Robin Williams

That Certain Summer

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Michael Eisner on the early days of ABC Movie of the week, such as That Certain Summer with Hal Holbrook, "it was the beginning of some consciousness in that era"

Who Wants to be A Millionaire

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Michael Eisner on the development of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
Topics

LGBTQ

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Michael Eisner on how Ellen DeGeneres approached him about coming out on television; and how he pushed her to define what more the Ellen  series would be about

Television Industry

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Michael Eisner on the theories of ownership of programs on the major networks in the 1960s
Michael Eisner on lessons learned about broadcasting from his tenure at ABC

Vietnam War

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Michael Eisner on how the Vietnam War impacted him while he was working at ABC
Professions

Television Executive

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Michael Eisner on his theory of how to make an effective change in television programming and his impact in that field. "Take a job where you can't fall off the floor"
Michael Eisner realizing the need to be both commercially successfull and seriously responsible as a programming executive
Michael Eisner on advice to an aspiring television executive "get your ass in the door"
People

Ellen DeGeneres

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Michael Eisner on how Ellen DeGeneres approached him about coming out on television; and how he pushed her to define what more the Ellen series would be about

Barry Diller

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Michael Eisner on meeting who he thought was Leonard Goldberg when getting hired at ABC; it turns out it was really Barry Diller! (he was Goldberg's assistant at the time)
Michael Eisner on working with Barry Diller first at ABC then at Paramount

Ted Fetter

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Michael Eisner on "The Ted Fetter problem" which he describes as network policy to not have a pension or retirement plan in place when letting people go; and his disdain for this business practice

Leonard Goldberg

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Michael Eisner on meeting who he thought was Leonard Goldberg when getting hired at ABC; it turns out it was really Barry Diller! (he was Goldberg's assistant at the time)

Leonard H. Goldenson

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Michael Eisner on Leonard Goldenson and his role at ABC

Jeffrey Katzenberg

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Michael Eisner on working with Jeffrey Katzenberg

Garry Marshall

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Michael Eisner on his working relationship with Garry Marshall; "he made my career" with his shows

Eddie Murphy

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Michael Eisner on his role in Eddie Murphy's career while President of Paramount

Michael Ovitz

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Michael Eisner on the "debacle" over hiring Michael Ovitz at Disney

Fred Silverman

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Michael Eisner on first meeting Fred Silverman at CBS who tried to explain to him Hollywood Squares by just playing him the audio; he would later compete with him after going to ABC

Aaron Spelling

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Michael Eisner on the successful programming he developed with Aaron Spelling for ABC; on how the Spellings tried to get him fired; the end result was him saying yes to more Spelling projects and producing Love Boat, Dynasty, etc
05:03

Cindy Williams

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Michael Eisner on how Liberty Williams was originally cast on Laverne & Shirley; but once he saw Cindy Williams' performance he locked the film with Liberty in a closet 
04:02

Henry Winkler

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Michael Eisner on the development of Happy Days; the pilot didn't have Henry Winkler as Fonzie; on casting that role; how his character helped the show
01:41
Michael Eisner on trying to do a Happy Days spinoff featuring Henry Winkler as the Fonz

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