Like jets landing at O’Hare, the entertainment world’s power plays — from Disney’s deal with Capital Cities/ABC to the musical chairs at Warner Music Group — just keep on coming. But not even the best radar could have picked up this latest blip: Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s startling announcement that Creative Artists Agency titan Michael Ovitz, 48, would become his head Mouseketeer.
Surprised but delighted, Hollywood and Wall Street called Eisner’s decision to hand over the Disney presidency to Ovitz — his buddy of more than 20 years — a masterstroke. ”It’s a business and social relationship,” says Bernie Brillstein, whose company manages the likes of Brad Pitt. ”Why bring someone on board you don’t know well?”
Apparently, Eisner knew Ovitz well enough to suspect he might want to make a move, even though the agent could have had the top job at MCA (and a reported $250 million) just two months ago. ”We’ve been talking about working together for 20 years, at least,” says Eisner. ”Each time I came to him he had something exciting going on. With ABC and Disney together, he couldn’t resist.” Eisner lured Ovitz with the chance to run the world’s largest media conglomerate. ”MCA didn’t have all the advantages Disney now has,” reasons Disney-based producer Jerry Bruckheimer. ”More theme parks, ESPN, so many toys for Ovitz to have fun with.”
Which will be a welcome change for Ovitz, because CAA isn’t as much fun as it used to be. Since top talent finesser Ron Meyer jumped from CAA to MCA in July, Ovitz has had to pick up the slack. ”He found himself in a very unpleasant place,” says one Ovitz confidant. ”Alone, his friend and partner had left him. He was facing an increasingly recalcitrant and difficult group of hungry agents.” No wonder he flew to join Eisner in Colorado to talk about a new job. ”This gives Ovitz an opportunity to be a player on the world’s business stage,” says United Talent Agency partner Jeremy Zimmer.
But as much of a win-win situation as this is for Ovitz and Eisner — even DreamWorks’ David Geffen concedes, ”Eisner answers concerns about having a potential successor” — it’s a serious setback for CAA.
At press time, the transition team running CAA was bracing for raids on the company’s strato-spheric clients. ”It’s V-J day in the agency business,” chortles entertainment lawyer David Colden, who, like many others, expects a free-for-all by rivals for CAA’s hot young agents and for its A-plus client list (which includes Barbra Streisand, David Letterman, Steven Spielberg, and Tom Cruise). Muses one studio executive: ”Think of a pack of wolves starved for weeks and a giant carcass of meat thrown into their midst. We’ll see who ends up with what chunk.”
Additional reporting by Gregg Kilday and Richard Natale